Marking 75 years of town’s ‘cheap’ library

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In a small ceremony on July, 8, 1937, Belper’s dignitaries gathered on Bridge Street to see the ribbon officially cut on the town’s new library.

Having been adapted from the home of the late Dr GAF Heyworth, several of those assembled remarked on the significant saving the choice of location had made to the public purse.

Indeed, the grounds, building and the renovation of its interior had cost taxpayers a total of £2,100 – enough to buy about 140 hardback books at today’s prices.

The thrifty nature of the initiative was reported in that week’s edition of the Belper News. It said: “Mr D Wilson, chairman of Belper Urban Council said that Belper had got a magnificent library much cheaper than if they had purchased land and built a library as had been urged in the past. The cost of the land alone would have been £2,500.”

There was even cash left over to stack the shelves with more than 6,000 books, many of which were promptly loaned-out to the 1,000 people who had signed-up to become library members.

Seventy-five years later and despite the dawn of TV, internet and dwindling funding for local councils, the library is still going strong and staff are celebrating its landmark birthday this week with a packed programme of events, including a behind the scenes tour of the mid-nineteenth century building.

Now people can enjoy a tour of the venue as part of a celebration at the library. A Derbyshire County Council spokesman said this week: “There are still a few places left on the tours and for the talk but places are going fast – they are free but you need to reserve a place in advance by calling the library on 01773 824333.

“The house is thought to have been built in the 1870s and was formerly called The Hollies. It was previously owned by the Pym family and a doctor.

“As well as taking in the main floor, the tours will also visit the Bridge Street library’s two upper floors and other interesting features including a coal chute and dumb waiter as well as staff areas and attic store rooms.”

The main celebration will be a garden party on Saturday, July 14, from 2pm to 4pm. An illustrated talk about Belper in the 1930s by World Heritage Site co-ordinator Adrian Farmer is also being held on Thursday, July 12, from 7.30pm to 9pm.

The spokesman added: “Everyone is welcome to the garden party. Join us for tea and cake to celebrate our birthday.”

Tours of the building are being held at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm today, Thursday and Friday.

For more information contact the library by phoning 01773 824 333.

Among the resources built-up at the library over the years are Strutt Mill School Records; old maps of Belper, including copies of some Strutt estate maps; information files on local celebrities such as Timothy Dalton, Florence Nightingale and Narvel Annable; newscuttings packs for all the surrounding villages and a collection of more than 1,000 slides, postcards and photographs of Belper and some neighbouring villages.