The Free Library

The Free Library was built along Station Road, Hinckley in 1888.

Library before the Council Offices had be built in Hinckley
Before the erection of the council offices, c.1900

Early records show that the Library was at ‘No.18, The Borough, Hinckley’ between 1857 and 1888.

During November 1873 a meeting took place to discuss the building of a permanent public Library in the town.

Isaac Barradale of (St. Georges Chambers, Greyfriars) Leicester was commissioned as the architect for the design of the building. The contractors were John & William Harrold of Hinckley who built St.Mary's Vicarage.

On 16-May-1888 the new Free Library was opened along Station Road, the overall cost for the building was £1,022.

The building was designed in two sections, along the South of the building there was the reading room and along the North was thee lending room. Also along the North of the building was the entrance which was an internal porch design and led into the lending section near to the St. Marys Road corner. The books were only borrowed through a system of catalogue-choice.

The interior decoration in the two large halls which made up the Library building was less remarkable than the exterior. There were eight tall square-headed windows along the North side (facing St. Marys Road), this was a feature of Isaac Barradale since his windows are often designed in horizontal sets, close together. Across from the entrance next to a brass plaque to Arthur Atkins, is a semi-circular niche about two feet high stands a miniature statue of the Venus de Milo which has been said that it was a gift from the Architect. The conditions of the statue was that it was not to be removed as long as the building stands.

The Free Library in Hinckley
The Free Library c.1905

A similar empty niche backs on to the occupied niche (with the statue) of the arcade, this arcade consists of four large open arches between the two rooms. The square piers are heavily proportioned, with mouldings but on capitals. The arches themselves also bear heavy moulding on their outer face and are coffered on the underside with circular and lozenge shapes.

A console (a scroll shaped bracket characteristic of the Baroque style) is included in the design of the arches. They look like they tie the expansive curvature of the moulding tighter with three on each arch.

The piers are also designed with circular, chevron and lozenge shapes which are also heavily moulded. These features are said to owe something to the taste of Amos Hall (was responsible for the Silver Arcade of 1899 in Leicester), who was an assistant of Issac Barradale.

The ceiling in the reading room is a coffered ‘depressed’ barrel-vault and the treatment of the central light-well with its pattern of the square sub-divisions which seems modern in style, this seems to conform to Issac Barradales arts and crafts style.

On the exterior of the Library it displays further remarkable features for a building of this status and also of late 19th Century buildings. Along the West end of the reading room where the balcony (built during the 1930s) is situated is finished off on the outside with twin stepped gables, which are joined by a miniature archway in the style of the Dutch and French-renaissance mode.

The very steep roof that rises from behind the gables and with the inclusion of a fleche at the Northern apex also has the look and feel of the continental character, along with other features such as the consoles on the gables, the boldly treated keystones and the elongated inset window panels. The brick throughout is of a high quality which is nicely finished, often neatly moulded in string-courses and giving a varied texture in terracotta colour along the façade of the building. The inclusion of a miniature concave pilasters is a clever addition to the building that is on the corner of St. Marys Road.

Library Architectural Plans
Sketchplan and architectural details, by Peter Foss

In February 1889 the lending department of the Library was opened.

During 1920 The Atkins Brothers had electric lighting installed to a cost of them, into the Library.

February 1923 At a meeting at the Hinckley Urban District Council (HUDC), the councillors decided that the library was to be closed for renovation work to be done, it would take 14 days to complete. At the meeting, there was also concern raised at the cost of the electric lighting that had been installed just three year previously. The councillors were concerned with the £27 electric bill, when the library was lit with gas lighting the bill was between £6 and £7 a year.

In 1933 the walls of the library porch were reconstructed with terrazzo which are buff panel with green surrounds, this was at the expense of the Atkins Hosiery Firm.

Also during the 1930s the reading room and lending room were changed around and open access was allowed to all the shelves. As existing cottage at the back of the premises was reconstructed to serve as the Librarians house. A balcony was built over the reading department for the purpose of chess and draughts, but it was never used for this purpose.

In 1949 the reference section was housed on the balcony area that over looked the reading department.

In 1961 the old counter was removed and a circular one was put in its place.

In 1967, when the new Council Offices in Argents Mead were finished, the Old Council Offices were converted to be used by the Library, this was to be a temporary measure.

October 1972, The Hinckley Union District Council bought a building along Lancaster Road under a compulsory purchase. The building was originally Percy Taylor Ltd, manufacturers of ‘Ladies Pure Silk, Rayon and Mixture Hosiery’, then taken over by Courtaulds in the late 1960s. The building was to be converted in to a new Library.

23-Aug-1974 in the Leicester Mercury, K. Baldwin (Assistant County Planning Officer) under the heading of ‘Hinckley's old library may be saved’; wrote ‘I form the opinion that this is one of a limited stock of buildings which had their design origin in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century, adopting the approach of a free traditionalism in architecture as opposed to the more pedantic and copious historicism which characterised most Victorian architecture.'

June 1975, the new Library along Lancaster Road was opened to the public.

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