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Walsall Central Library

A Grade II Listed Building in St Matthew's, Walsall

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.586 / 52°35'9"N

Longitude: -1.9791 / 1°58'44"W

OS Eastings: 401511

OS Northings: 298692

OS Grid: SP015986

Mapcode National: GBR 2F1.WV

Mapcode Global: WHBG1.K8SB

Entry Name: Walsall Central Library

Listing Date: 30 April 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1422993

Location: Walsall, WS1

County: Walsall

Electoral Ward/Division: St Matthew's

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Walsall

Traditional County: Staffordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Walsall St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Lichfield

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Summary

A central borough library opened in 1906 and designed by James GS Gibson and William Wallace with carving by HC Fehr.

Description

A central borough library opened in 1906 and designed by James GS Gibson and William Wallace with carvings by HC Fehr.

MATERIALS: red Flemish-bond brick with ashlar dressings and a plain-tiled roof.

PLAN: the ground floor originally had a central entrance hall with a reading room to the north and a lending library to the south. A projecting, square staircase bay at the back led to the first floor level, where the large, vaulted space was divided to its lower body by wooden screens with glazed upper panels. The three spaces thus formed were a Ladies’ Reading Room, a Magazine Room and a Reference Library.

EXTERIOR: the front to Lichfield Street has nine bays, symmetrically disposed, with banded quoins to the corners and an entablature across the front. The central, projecting bay has a sandstone frontispiece which extends the full height of the building. It has banded rustication and a large, central niche which encloses a portal at ground floor level which is flanked by Ionic columns which support sections of entablature. Above this is an open pediment with relief carving of two adorsed figures at either side of a cartouche which bears the wording ‘FREE / LIBRARY’. Below this is the date ‘1905’. The first floor has a large, arched window with an aedicular window surround to its centre. This is flanked by blank panels and has a bracket as keystone which connects with the segmental pediment above.
To either side are four bays; the ground floor windows have round-arched ashlar surrounds with keystones, which descend to ground level, giving the impression of a colonnade. The recessed windows have stone cills. Windows at first floor level have moulded, shouldered surrounds.

The south flank has a two-light window to the ground floor and an arched window to the first floor with a wooden, aedicular surround to the centre. To left of this is a lower wing, housing a staircase.

The original north-eastern flank was remodelled when it was attached to the early-C21 entrance lobby, which has glass walling. This is, in turn, attached to the1960s extension housing the museum and children’s library, which is covered with a veneer of Travertine limestone to the street fronts.

The rear has plain brick walling and there is a projecting staircase bay to the centre which has Serlian windows to its flanks at first floor level.

INTERIOR: the former reading room has a round-arched colonnade to its western side and skylights to the ceiling at the rear, with panelled surrounds. At the centre of the west side is the projecting bay which formerly held the staircase but which has now had a floor inserted. At first floor level, this same bay has Serlian windows to each flank wall with panels of stained glass. The first floor room has an uninterrupted vault with a shallow dome to its centre flanked by segmental vaulting. This is divided into panels with richly-moulded, plaster surrounds showing fruit and foliage.

Pursuant to s1 (5) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the Library and Museum extension, joined to the northeast of the library building, and the Walsall Gala Baths, which are joined to the rear, north-western side of the building, are not of special architectural or historic interest.

History

The library was designed by James GS Gibson and William Wallace as part of the major group of civic buildings which included a new Town Hall and Council House, built between 1901 and 1905. The architects won the commission in a competition held in 1900. The library, which received a grant from the Carnegie foundation, carries the date 1905. The ground floor and first floors, which were formerly each divided into three distinct areas, are now both opened into a single room and the staircase has been moved. Additions to the northern end were opened in October 1965, including a children’s library and a borough museum. A further addition in 2006 formed an entrance hall with stairs and lifts. A swimming baths building was attached to part of the rear in the late C20.

Reasons for Listing

The Central Library, Lichfield Street, Walsall is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the building is a good example of Edwardian Baroque architecture, designed by James S Gibson with carving by HC Fehr, which forms part of a notable group of civic buildings which he designed, including the Town Hall and Council House (both Grade II);
* Degree of survival: although there have been additions to the rear of the building and to the northern flank, the form of the original building is still clearly evident, including notable architectural sculpture and the richly decorated plaster vault of the first floor room.

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