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History of Wrexham Public Library

Engine of Literature - Wrexham Public Library 1878-1973

Wrexham is not a place of literature in the proper sense of the term; the tastes, refinement and elegance of literary life being very little known, but this is attributable to the circumstances that our population generally is not of that class to whom these blessings are attainable. Wrexham is a population of shopkeepers, tradespeople, grocers, drapers, millers and miners.

Wrexham Registrar, 1849

The first Public Library Act was passed in 1850. It permitted town councils to levy a rate not exceeding ½ d in the pound for library purposes. None of the levy, however, was to be used for the purchase of books!

Wrexham Borough Council adopted the Act in March 1878. A Library Committee was formed, and the first free library and reading room were opened on 10 December 1879 in the Upper Assembly Rooms of the old Town Hall. The first Librarian, Richard Gough, was appointed in November the same year.

Every person above the age of 14 years was able to use the Library as "A means of recreation and healthy entertainment which would prove a sufficient counter attraction to the evil and sensual habits of the people they found existing around them; and ... affording a means of continuous education and would assist in perpetuating the knowledge which many of their younger friends especially had not had the privilege of acquiring at school."

Wrexham Advertiser 13 December 1879

The Library was transferred to the Guildhall on Chester Street in 1884. Lending and reference departments were established in 1889 due to a gift of £390 from the surplus fund of the National Eisteddfod held at Wrexham in 1883. (The Library received a further gift of £250 when the National Eisteddfod visited Wrexham in 1912).

Rules of the Reading Room
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The supply of books was dependent on private subscriptions in cash and kind, on grants of the dividend of £25 a year from the Working Men's Hall Trust Fund, and £10 from the Lady Cunliffe Memorial Fund.

In 1894 the library had 4,140 books but by 1900, this had increased to 19,011 and the space available in the Guildhall had become inadequate to meet the needs of the town's population of 14,000. An appeal to the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie resulted in a grant of £4,000 to build and £300 to furnish a new library.

The Mayoress, Mrs Birkett Evans, laid the foundation stone on 1 January 1906 and Sir Foster Cunliffe of Acton Hall opened the new Library in Queens Square on 15 February 1907.

More than 100 architects submitted plans for the design of the new library: the successful architect was Vernon Hodge of Teddington (London). The building was constructed of Cefn stone and Ruabon terracotta facing brick. The front roof was covered with Westmoreland slate and the back with Bangor slates.

On the ground floor was a Ladies Room to seat about 20 readers, a reference room of the same size, a general reading room to seat about 50, and a librarian's office. The lending library was capable of holding about 20,000 volumes. On the first floor was a large lecture hall, with seating for 200 - which later became a local museum, and then a reference library room - a meeting room, a book-club room and a book store.

Job Advert
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Lending List
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As the local population increased to 30,000, the first qualified Librarian, Miss Myfanwy Davies, was appointed and the Library extended in 1933. World War II had a major impact on the Library. In 1939, Wrexham received 9,600 children who were evacuated from Merseyside: as a consequence, the Library received 500 juvenile and 700 adult books from Liverpool Library. The Blackout also led to an increase in reading and the number of library borrowers increased dramatically. Part of the Library was taken over by the Food Office and an Information Bureau.

A further major extension - at a cost of £6,641 - was undertaken in 1951 to: "Make possible a notable advance in the services which the library can render to the community and may lead to its being openly recognised as a centre of information, education, recreation and culture throughout the area. A community such as Wrexham needs a wide range of reading matter and the interests of the general reader should not be sacrificed to the demands of the specialist. The contents of the library shelves must be regarded as a balanced book stock striving to meet equitably the needs of all grades."

Wrexham Library Annual Report, 1949−50

In addition to providing modern facilities throughout, the enlarged library contained the 'Wrexham Room' - for books, illustrations, manuscripts and records of local interest - and an 'Exhibition Room' for the display of art and craft, and lectures.

The Library moved to Llwyn Isaf in 1973, and the current Library and Arts Centre building was opened on 24 January 1974.

Andrew Carnegie - Captain of Industry 1835-1919

Wrexham Library was built and furnished in 1907 with a grant of £4,300 from Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Fife, on 25 November 1835. Although poor - his father was a handloom weaver and his mother, the daughter of a tanner and shoemaker - Carnegie received an education and developed a passion for reading at an early age. Key influences in his life were Colonel James Anderson, who opened his personal library of 400 volumes to working boys each Saturday night (Carnegie was a regular borrower), and the radical views of his relatives, who were active supporters of the political and social reforms of the period.

Prompted by the economic depression of 1848 Carnegie's family emigrated to America, where Andrew began work in a local cotton factory but continued his education by attending night school. In 1851, Carnegie became a telegraph messenger boy in the Pittsburgh Office of the Ohio Telegraph Company, at a weekly wage of $2.50.

From 1853 Carnegie was employed as a secretary / telegraph operator in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. He rose rapidly in the company and began to invest in the railroads and related industries. His rapidly growing fortune was boosted by the Civil War: in 1861 he was appointed as Superintendent of the Military Railways and the Union Government's telegraph lines in the East; and Pittsburgh became a centre of industry for the war, providing iron products and munitions carried by the railroads.

By shrewd investment in oil, iron and steel, Carnegie's empire continued to grow. He made regular visits to Britain, where he observed the rapid developments in the iron industry and was especially impressed by Henry Bessemer's new Converter. In 1870 he erected his first blast furnace and by the late 1880's Carnegie Steel was the largest manufacturer of pig iron, steel rails, and coke in the world, with a daily capacity to produce 2,000 tons of pig metal. By 1889, the U.S. output of steel exceeded that of the U.K., much of it owned by Andrew Carnegie. At the height of his career, Carnegie was the second-richest person in the world, behind only John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil.

In 1901, Carnegie's steel enterprises were bought out by the United States Steel Corporation, which had been specially formed by the banker John Pierpont Morgan, for that purpose. Carnegie's personal share from the sale was $225.6million.

In his article 'The Gospel of Wealth', published in 1889, Carnegie wrote that a "man who dies rich dies disgraced" and on his retirement, he used his vast fortune to set up a trust fund "for the improvement of mankind". In particular, he provided funding for the building of 3,000 public libraries - on the basis that he would build and equip, and the local authority would provide the site and maintenance. By the time he died in 1919, Carnegie had given away $350million and a further $125million was gifted to the Carnegie Corporation to carry on his good works.