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Camborne Library

A Grade II Listed Building in Camborne, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.2115 / 50°12'41"N

Longitude: -5.298 / 5°17'52"W

OS Eastings: 164795

OS Northings: 39819

OS Grid: SW647398

Mapcode National: GBR FX93.VC9

Mapcode Global: VH12J.4Y16

Entry Name: Camborne Library

Listing Date: 30 April 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1424637

Location: Camborne, Cornwall, TR14

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Camborne

Built-Up Area: Camborne

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Camborne and Tuckinghill

Church of England Diocese: Truro

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Camborne Public Library, built in 1894-5 for Passmore Edwards, by Silvanus Trevail.


Library, 1894-5, by Silvanus Trevail, for John Passmore Edwards. The builder was John Symons & Sons of Blackwater. Free Jacobean style, in an Arts and Crafts idiom.

MATERIALS: rock-faced pink elvan stone, with granite quoins, and other dressings in Bath stone. The roof is of Delabole slate with decorative ridge tiles and finials. The building retains its original metal-framed windows with hopper sections, most of which are set within Bath stone window surrounds with mullions and transoms.

PLAN: responding to an irregularly-shaped site, the asymmetrical building plan consists of two long ranges set at right angles, forming an L-shape: the angle points to the north, with the ranges extending to the south-west and south-east. Filling the space between the ranges to the south is the stair block, with the entrance tower facing The Cross.

EXTERIOR: designed to be viewed from all angles from the south-west through to the south-east, owing to its open position overlooking The Cross, these parts of the exterior present an asymmetrical and complex surface, with blocks receding and projecting, canted corners and bay and oriel windows; this is reflected in the complex and varied roofline. The south-east facing frontage is of three unequal bays, with the library’s entrance in the tower which forms the narrow central bay. Set deep within a three-centred arch with convex and concave mouldings, is the original eight-panelled door. Above is an ogival hoodmould with a scrolled finial at the apex. Within the spandrels, carving of twining husks and acanthus. The square pilasters to either side have recessed panels, and capitals with small central heads. These support the frieze, in which a panel reads ‘PASSMORE EDWARDS / FREE LIBRARY’ in raised lettering. The doorcase is topped by a tented pediment. Above this, two vertical single-light windows. The upper stages of the tower are of limestone: below the parapet, a stage with three tall narrow round-headed windows, separated by attached shafts; the parapet itself has pierced strapwork decoration in a Jacobean style, with ramped corners. The gabled right-hand bay is of two storeys: each has an elaborate window, the two windows forming part of a single design feature: the ground-floor window is of four lights, with two wide mullions framing the two central lights, and a narrower central mullion and transoms; moulded corbels springing from the wide mullions support the canted oriel window of the upper storey, which has five round-headed lights, and a pedimented centre containing a cartouche. Above this, a louvred ventilation opening divided by a shaft (clasped by two scrolled straps) rising through the centre of the gable’s pedimented finial, with its pulvinated band with acanthus carving. Below the ground-floor window, a foundation stone with inscription, commemorating the laying of the foundation stone by J. Passmore Edwards on 10 April 1894. The right-hand edge of this bay is defined by a shallow offset buttress, from which a shaft clasped by scrolls rises into a finial. The left-hand bay represents the two-storey stair block, set back between the entrance tower and the long south-west range, with a single-storey block (now containing a kitchen) in front; the south corner is canted. The stair block has square-headed windows to the first floor; to the ground-floor block, three small windows in limestone frames with recessed decoration to the heads, below a parapet with ramped corners. At the south end of the south-west range, the upper and lower reading rooms project in a deep canted bay, with square-headed lights to the ground floor and round-headed lights above. Above the ground-floor windows, foliate corbels supporting angle pilasters. Above the first-floor windows, a panel of scrolled acanthus. The gable is pedimented, above a ventilation opening, as in the right-hand bay to the south-east frontage. The parapets in this elevation are shaped, rising to either side of the central pediment. The straight north-east elevation, running alongside Cross Street, is much less elaborate, being in a single plane, with two-light mullioned and transomed windows to the ground floor, and plain window openings above; the elevation is given interest by the stone stack which rises above the eaves, with a scrolled plinth and attached shafts. The north-west elevation, facing a yard, is not designed for public appreciation, and is built of rubblestone, with granite lintels to the openings, the left-hand part being blank, with a lean-to shed at ground-floor level, and three bays of windows lighting the reading rooms the right; a door in a modified opening gives access to the yard. The southernmost bay forms the end of the canted end of the reading room range, and the design treatment corresponds with that given to that public-facing part of the building.

INTERIOR: the front doors open to a small lobby, within which is a brass plaque commemorating the donor, Octavius Allen Ferris. The inner door, to the stair hall, is framed by an arched wooden surround containing fanlight and marginal lights, the spandrels pierced with quatrefoils sweeping upwards to a pediment with curved top broken to provide a niche for a ball finial. The door, a later replacement, has C19 decorative engraved brass bar handles. Both lobby and stair hall have original polychromatic tiles and dado panelling. A lift shaft has been inserted in the northern corner of the stair hall. The open-well stair rises from the south east, with a landing beneath the bay window. The two lowest treads are wide with curved ends, and the open strings are carved with strapwork decoration. The balusters are turned with more elaborately turned and carved newel posts. Beneath the stair landing is an original timber panelled door, of a piece with the panelling. On the ground floor, the wall between the north-east room (originally the lending library) and the room to the north-west (originally the newspaper reading room) has been largely removed, providing a single public library space. The inner angles of the windows are chamfered, and the beaded beams are exposed; the floors are covered. Within the former lending library, a marble bust of Richard Trevithick, presented by Passmore Edwards in 1903. The doors to these rooms are modern. On the first floor, the vaulted roof of the large reading room (originally the periodical room and reference library, and now the local history library) has five chamfered timber trusses with decorative mouldings to the angles; the doors to this room are original. The north-east range originally had a committee room to the south (later the museum), with a book repairing room and a librarian’s room to the north. The space is now reconfigured, with a lobby: the south room retains its vaulted roof and trusses, but the two other rooms have false ceilings, and all the doors in this area are new. The upper-storey floors are covered.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the low wall, with ramp and steps, and a decorative open metalwork panel, dates from the early C21, and takes the place of an earlier low wall which originally surrounded the area in front of the library. Pursuant to s1 (5) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that this addition to the building is not of special architectural or historic interest.


The Public Libraries Act of 1850 first gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries, but it was not until the 1880s and 1890s that the new pattern of public philanthropy emerged which provided both the motivation and means for local authorities to adopt the Act; some were built in response to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887, and unprecedented numbers appeared following the Libraries Act of 1892. The Cornishman John Passmore Edwards, who made a fortune as a newspaper owner, and became a Liberal Member of Parliament, was one of the philanthropists at the forefront of the movement for establishing public libraries, endowing a large number in both his home county and in London.

Camborne Library, one of the first of Passmore Edwards’ Cornish libraries, was designed by Silvanus Trevail; the Cornish architect worked on several of Passmore Edwards’ projects in Cornwall and elsewhere. The prominent site chosen was on the north side of The Cross – a junction of five roads, with the approach to the railway station to the south. The Camborne Public Rooms, on the south side of The Cross, had been built to Trevail's design in 1891. The foundation stone was laid in 1894, and the library was opened in 1895. Funding for furnishing and books came from the bequest of Octavius Allen Ferris of Truro, commemorated by a plaque in the porch.

The library has received some internal refurbishment and reconfiguration, notably in 1951, and subsequently.

In front of the library stands a memorial statue to the engineer Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), born near Camborne; the statue, executed by L S Merrifield in 1928, is listed at Grade II.

Reasons for Listing

Camborne Library is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a particularly successful library building by prominent Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail, demonstrating flair in its bold asymmetrical composition, the strong massing lightened by eclectic historical motifs;
* Historic interest: as one of the first libraries funded by John Passmore Edwards in his native Cornwall; the collaboration between Edwards and Trevail was a fruitful one;
* Intactness: the exterior of the building remains much as it was when it was first constructed, whilst the impact of the fine stair hall remains strong;
* Group value: the library occupies a commanding position at the south side of The Cross, from where it communicates with the Old Council Offices and Fire Station of circa 1900 (listed at Grade II) and the Trevail’s Public Room of 1891 (unlisted). The 1928 statue of Richard Trevithick which stands in front of the library is listed at Grade II.

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