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Gainsborough Library

A Grade II Listed Building in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

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Latitude: 53.4001 / 53°24'0"N

Longitude: -0.7779 / 0°46'40"W

OS Eastings: 481354

OS Northings: 389950

OS Grid: SK813899

Mapcode National: GBR RY03.DW

Mapcode Global: WHFFZ.0SVR

Entry Name: Gainsborough Library

Listing Date: 4 June 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1424936

Location: Gainsborough, West Lindsey, Lincolnshire, DN21

County: Lincolnshire

District: West Lindsey

Civil Parish: Gainsborough

Built-Up Area: Gainsborough

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Gainsborough All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln

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Public library built in 1905 to the designs of Scorer and Gamble.


Public library built in 1905 to the designs of Scorer and Gamble.

MATERIALS: rich red brick laid in English bond with ashlar stone dressings and a roof covering of slates laid in diminishing courses.

PLAN: the library faces north onto the road opposite the Old Hall. It has an approximately rectangular plan consisting of a single-storey entrance front and a parallel double-height range behind, flanked by projecting cross wings.

The late C20 staff room on the south-east side and the boiler room on the south-west corner are not included in the listing.

EXTERIOR: the building is in a decorative late Tudor style. It has windows with ovolo moulded mullions and transoms with a fillet, and a lively roofscape with terracotta ridge tiles and moulded parapets at the kneelered gable ends terminating in stone finials. There are moulded stone cornices, and string courses at lintel and sill level and across the gable heads. The symmetrical north frontage has a single-storey, flat-roofed entrance front with a moulded stone parapet. The central bay projects to form a classical stone porch which has flanking paired columns on panelled plinths and a moulded architrave with ‘PUBLIC LIBRARY’ engraved on the frieze. The round-arched doorway is embellished with egg-and-dart, and the spandrels with carved lions’ heads. The keystone above the door is carved with the date 1905. The double-leaf round-arched door has two lower panels and a glazed upper panel with a single lozenge-shaped glazing bar. The bays either side of the porch are lit by multi-pane cross windows, the upper lights of which are rounded, set in a blocked architrave with a moulded lintel. Behind this rises the double-height range which is dominated by three projecting triangular gabled dormer windows positioned across the eaves. These are lit by windows in the same style as those flanking the porch. The roof is surmounted by a large octagonal copper lantern with trefoil-headed louvred openings and a bell-shaped roof, terminating in a wind vane. The cross wings are lit by large twelve-light mullioned and transomed windows with Tudor hoodmoulds. The inner return walls have gabled dormers in the same style as those already described. The outer return walls are lit by cross windows. That on the west side has two panels below containing stone memorial shields inscribed with the names of the prominent people associated with Gainsborough.

The west side elevation is dominated by a triangular gabled bay lit by a twelve-light mullioned and transomed window embellished with more memorial shields. The return walls are lit by cross windows, as are the bays flanking the projecting bay, all bearing shields. The angle on the right hand side has been infilled by a C20 single-storey brick extension. The east side elevation has a projecting gabled bay lit by a three-light mullioned window and a two-light window above, both with round arched lights and Tudor hoodmoulds. There is a ridge stack with stone banding and two tall ceramic pots. In the angle on the right hand side is a single-storey flat-roofed element housing the lavatories. This has a parapet and moulded stone string course at lintel level, and is lit on both walls by a single-light window in a blocked stone surround. The subsidiary rear elevation has a moulded brick parapet and is lit by nine-over-nine pane sashes windows with gauged brick arches.

INTERIOR: the entrance door opens into a small stone-clad porch through to the main double-leaf door. The semi-circular arched doorways have carved soffits, and above the second arch is a metal scroll-shaped tablet inscribed with ‘THIS LIBRARY WAS ERECTED IN THE YEAR 1905 BY THE MUNIFICENCE OF ANDREW CARNEGIE’. The principal open-plan space imparts an air of C18 elegance with its lofty proportions and classical plasterwork. The porch leads into a single-storey foyer, panelled to dado height, which is divided into three bays by fluted pilasters and wide raised ribs on the ceiling with a moulded modillion cornice, each compartment further divided into four squares with a central circle from which radiates an ornate plasterwork design. There are three arched openings opposite the front door, three on the right and two on the left (one of which has been filled in). These have keyed arches springing from an egg-and-dart cornice and they open into the double-height cross wings and rear range. The cross wings have bow-shaped ceilings with elaborate, Baroque-style plasterwork in the tympanums, a moulded modillion cornice and arcaded frieze, and ceiling roundels encircled by bands of foliage. It is not known if the library originally had built-in bookcases but, if so, none of these remain.

The rear range has an inserted mezzanine accessed via a straight flight of stairs, probably added in the last quarter of the C20: this is not included in the listing.

The private rooms in the library also retain some original joinery and fittings, including six-panelled doors with raised and fielded panels, window ironmongery, parquet floors, and fitted cupboards. The windows are set in cambered arch surrounds with moulded spandrels. The original wall tiles in the lavatory survive but have been painted over. Some of the doors have been replaced by fire doors.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: on the east side of the library is a pair of red brick square gatepiers with a wide stone band and flat moulded caps.


There were very few public libraries before the mid-C19 as even private subscription libraries were often unable to afford to build their own premises. In 1850 an Act permitted local authorities to build libraries but only 125 were erected until Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887 stimulated a flood of libraries dedicated as permanent memorials. A further Libraries Act in 1892 made it easier for urban authorities to raise funds, and thenceforth libraries were built in unprecedented numbers. Private benefactors funded libraries, such as Andrew Carnegie, and other patrons endowed one or a small group of libraries that took their name. In most early libraries the public did not have free access to the book stock but had to make their choices from a catalogue. It was only in the 1890s that large lending libraries with open shelves supervised from an issue desk became customary.

The decision to set up a free library in Gainsborough was made in 1891 but it was not until 1902 that Councillor Joseph Barlow, Chairman of the Urban District Council, wishing to commemorate the accession of Edward VII, asked Andrew Carnegie for financial help. Carnegie, the Scottish American philanthropist, had an abiding interest in libraries and provided the funds to establish almost 3,000 public libraries throughout the English-speaking world, 400 of which were built in England. Any community was eligible as long as it could provide a suitable site and was willing to adopt the Public Libraries Act. Carnegie offered £4,000 towards the library in Gainsborough and Sir Hickman Bacon gave a site in the Mart Yard on the condition that the design of the new library harmonised with the C15 Old Hall opposite.

The library was designed by Scorer and Gamble who were in partnership in Lincoln from 1901 to 1913. The firm’s architectural style was eclectic, ranging from the late Tudor style of Gainsborough Library to the more disciplined English Renaissance of Horncastle School (1908). In 1903 H. G. Gamble, who was considered the more talented of the two, was appointed architect to the Lindsey County Council Education Committee. He also designed the neo-Georgian Nurses’ Home at Lincolnshire County Hospital (1914) which is listed at Grade II, and is associated with three other listed churches that he either enlarged or restored. William Scorer appears to have specialised in church restoration as he is associated with five listed churches in Lincolnshire, and he designed the Church of St Olave (1885) in Maidenwell, Lincolnshire which is listed at Grade II.
The library in Gainsborough opened in 1905. It was administered by the Urban District Council and held 1800 books in the lending library and 80 on reference. In the first week 500 people joined and by the end of six weeks there were 1000 members. In the first six months 16,268 books were issued. It is the oldest purpose-built library still used as such in Lincolnshire. The building has been subject to some alterations over the years. A mezzanine and staircase has been inserted at the rear of the principal room, probably in the last quarter of the C20, and in 1992 a single-storey brick staff room was built onto the south-east end. The south-west corner has been infilled with a boiler room.

Reasons for Listing

Gainsborough Library, built in 1905 to the designs of Scorer and Gamble, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: it is a good example of an Edwardian public library, demonstrating through its architectural quality the civic pride of the town and the patronage of Andrew Carnegie;
* Architectural interest: it harmonises with the C15 Old Hall opposite (as required by Carnegie), presenting a handsome and well composed building in the late Tudor style, characterised by a lively skyline and expansive mullioned and transomed windows;
* Interior: the well crafted interior, embellished with delicate plasterwork and classical motifs, is characterised by a lofty elegance reminiscent of the C18;
* Intactness: the original plan form of the library remains legible and it retains a high proportion of its windows, doors, joinery and plasterwork;
* Group value: the building’s interest is enhanced by its association with the Grade I listed Old Hall with which it has strong group value.

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