Rawtenstall Library*

1906 – Lancashire, England. Lat/Long 53.700556 -2.288611

Rawtenstall Library occupies a dominant corner site. The architects used it to set out a two storey “open book” shaped plan featuring a single storey top lit radial arrangement of stacks to the rear set between two side lit reading rooms that could all be overseen from the lending desk. As with many others, the library was part of a scheme including municipal offices. The Birmingham based architects went on to win competitions for Carnegie libraries at Worthing and Wednesbury.

Architects: Crouch Butler & Savage of Birmingham.

Heritage designation: LG II, 1971. Purpose built library; Carnegie grant: £6,921 11/7/1902 and 21/3/1908.   Open library, council managed.

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Nick Bury (Rawtenstall Librarian) notes:

“The building was originally intended to form part of bigger scheme of civic buildings. That accounts for its footprint at one corner of the site, with public gardens behind on the area which was not developed (for a Town Hall and Assembly Rooms). That is also why the front of the building is dressed stone, but the rear is in brick. Mr Carnegie provided funding for the library – the rest of the scheme was never realised and became the gardens.”


1902 Andrew Carnegie offers town £6000 for the erection of a new public library. Rawtenstall Town council adopts the Public Libraries Acts 1892 – 1901 in order to accept Carnegie’s offer. This imposes a 1d rate for maintenance of building and bookstocks.

1903 Competition to design new Library won by Messrs Crouch, Butler and Savage Architects, of Birmingham.

1904 Foundation stone laid and work commenced on building at “Queens Meadow”. The original plan was to incorporate the library into a grand scheme, including a town hall and assembly rooms. Shortage of funds resulted in the plan being abandoned and only the library was built.

1905 Hargreaves Wilkinson of Burnley appointed first librarian of Rawtenstall.

1906 30th June. New library opened to the public, with 6,000 volumes on “open access” – a new idea at that time.

1907 1st June. Official opening by Andrew Carnegie ( Freeman of the

Borough ).

1908 Electric lighting replaces temporary oil lamps.

1914 Librarian Hargreaves Wilkinson and Rossendale MP “Lulu” Harcourt negotiate additional funds from Andrew Carnegie to extend the lending library. Apparently they were the only people ever to persuade the shrewd Scotsman into parting with a second grant!

1938 New “juvenile” room created from what was previously a staff workroom.

1939 Lending stock was re-classified to the Dewey system and a new catalogue compiled.

1949 The photograph and newscuttings collection was started. The reading room opening hours were reduced – to close at 8pm instead of 9pm.

1950 Ground floor reorganised – the old children’s room became part of the general lending area; the old magazine room with a separate entrance from St.Mary’s Terrace was turned into a new children’s area. The bookstacks were lowered and a new beech block floor was laid.

1955 Staffroom and toilets were added at the rear of the building by the Borough Council.

1956 Library celebrated it’s Golden Jubilee with an exhibition in the lecture hall and the publication of a souvenir booklet.

1958 Library open each weekday until 8pm.

1959 Booking of the Lecture Hall was approved free of charge to all literary, cultural, social and welfare organisations in Rossendale. Became a very popular venue.

1960 Rossendale Free Press newspaper file was microfilmed.

1964 Gramophone record library established. There is an initial charge of £1 for a special ticket, which entitles the borrower to one loan at a time. The disc is given a visual inspection by staff on return.

1971 The Housebound/Handicapped Reader Service becomes a fully integrated part of the library service. There are 180 readers served by these means.

1973 Internal “modernisation” work which commenced in 1960 is brought to completion. This had included, amongst other things the removal of the glass windowed partitions which had previously separated the periodicals and children’s departments. There was new lighting and a new lending counter, which was moved from its original central position.

1974 Under the Local Government act of 1972 Lancashire County Council assumes control of Rawtenstall Library, which is now part of a new Rossendale District .

1991 Traditional cardboard tickets replaced by new computerised system for recording loans and borrower details. Stock management and catalogue searching now computerised on a countywide database.

1992 Next few years sees the introduction of loan material in new formats: audio books, compact discs, videos, and then DVD’s.

1994 Further Local Government reorganisation sees Rossendale Libraries administered by a newly formed Blackburn Division.

1998 Next restructure involves libraries in Rossendale and Hyndburn forming a new South-East Lancashire Division as Blackburn becomes it’s own unitary authority.

1999 Rawtenstall Library absorbs a new service in the form of an Education Information Officer, who dispenses information, guidance and application forms from within the lending library.

2002 A passenger lift for the public is installed, which allows disabled access to the first floor.

A bank of computers is installed for use by the public, enabled by central governments “new opportunities funding”. Amongst other things these provide free access to the internet.

2003 A major internal refurbishment takes place. This includes new adjustable shelving and a new counter in the downstairs area; as well as new carpeting and redecoration, to create a more open feel to the place.

2006 A new Information Service is launched, working alongside the Education Information Service. This provides access to travel information and tickets, theatre and leisure information and booking, and local accommodation.

Rawtenstall Library celebrates its centenary.