With the Echo’s enthralling behind the scenes look at the changes taking place at the city’s Central Library recently, today’s feature takes us back to when it all began.
In the mid Victorian Era it was agreed that a new location was needed to house the Earl of Derby’s collections which were overwhelming the museum which had then been housing them. This building had at that time been located at the corner of Duke Street and Colquitt Street but a new location was sorely needed. With this clear realisation local architect and historian Joseph Picton led the charge in convincing the council to spring into action.
In 1853 it was announced that wealthy merchant and M.P William Brown had heard of the community’s cultural plight and had come forward with an offer of £6,000 to build a library and museum, if the council would provide the site. After much debate in the council chamber, a plot was finally chosen.
Three years later, the philanthropic Irishman laid the foundation stone of the brand new museum and library amid great public intrigue. The day began with a ‘breakfast party’ during which local dignitaries met with learned members of the city’s educational institutions in celebration of the day’s upcoming scholastic events.
At midday the party arrived at the new site of the museum and a crater in the foundation stone was cut open. It was packed full of coins and newspapers of the day along with a medal commemorating of the Treaty of Paris, itself marking the end of the Crimean War the previous year. The stone was soon laid followed by a series of speeches and a grand banquet in the recently opened St. George’s Hall across the cobbles.
When construction work was officially complete it was generously described as, “a gift to the inhabitants of Liverpool.” It was on the Thursday of 18 October 1860 when William Brown himself presented the new Free Public Library and Museum to the Mayor of Liverpool. All shops, banks and markets closed for the day and bunting was hung about the streets and ships in port. A jovial procession was organised to march around from the Town Hall up to the new library and museum, where the splendid ceremonial hand-over took place.
It still boasts the pleasant honour of being the only street in Britain to consist of pure cultural buildings; libraries, museums and galleries stand alone on the site. The cost of the creation exceeded all expectations prompting Brown to personally donate £41,000 of his own funds to finish the mammoth project. His benevolence led to the street to be rechristened (formerly known as Shaws Brow) in his honour, the name it still holds to this day.
Liverpool Central library is due to open once again this May when its £50m refurbishment is over with many original features restored and plenty of new gadgets installed to educate and captivate future generations of learners.