Lynn’s Heritage Open Day allows a new look at historic town library

King's Lynn Library will be taking part in the next heritage open day - Official opening by Andrew Carnegie
King's Lynn Library will be taking part in the next heritage open day - Official opening by Andrew Carnegie
Have your say

ON May 18, 1905, some 4,000 Lynn people watched as steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie - dressed in a tightly-buttoned frock coat - hurried up the steps to the door of the new library building.

Holding aloft a key he declared: “There are few doors which a golden key will not unlock!” Then he opened the door and stamped the first book.

He had already been wined and dined at the Town Hall by the Mayor and Corporation and left the new library almost immediately in a “well-appointed vehicle, upholstered in chocolate”.

It was rumoured he had left in a sulk because Edward VII had not come to the opening, despite assurances that, being only at Sandringham, he was bound to attend. The King did pay for the library railings, however.

Thomas Maw, the first Borough Librarian, could look back with satisfaction over the last six years of hard work which had culminated in the new library. He had been appointed after the town had adopted the Public Libraries Act in 1898.

But when he arrived the old Stanley library was closed to the public and it took him four months to re-open it as a free library supported from the rates.

This old library was where the St James swimming pool is now and was started with the collection given by Lord Stanley.

This wonderful collection - a “gentleman’s library” made up of travel books, atlases, natural history, prints and bound journals - will be open to view on Heritage Open Day - Sunday, September 11.

Maw made the library open access and set about persuading Carnegie that Lynn should take precedence over all the other 350 local authorities clamouring for a new library. And he succeeded.

Membership of the new library at the end of the first year was 1,905 readers, who borrowed 30,634 books. The next year the library committee banned Maw from buying novels and the issues dropped to 22,200.

Maw left in 1910 and J.H. Rennie, a clerk in the King’s Lynn Dock Company, was appointed librarian. He took on the job with gusto and instituted lectures in the town hall.

The First World War was an interesting time for the library. Blackout made evening opening difficult.

As with a lot of jobs during the war, a woman, senior library assistant Miss Willings, was left in charge and took over.

The 25th anniversary saw 100,000 books issued, a telephone installed for the first time and an incident of assault against a library assistant by the mother of a boy who had been banned.

When war came again, staff were called up to the forces and land army and a retired Customs Officer, Mr Charles Webb, took over as librarian.

In 1963, Mr Ron Bowyer was appointed as assistant/driver for the new mobile library service and in 1964 the first professional librarian since Maw was appointed.

Ray Wilson arrived to a below-standard of staffing and he spent the rest of his career reorganising and improving the book stock.

Visitors to the library on Heritage Open Day will be able to see rare volumes.

In 1974, the library trasferred to Norfolk County Council. Many new services have been introduced, the most notable being the internet service offered on computers.

o Take the opportunity to visit the library, which is at the London Road junction, during the Heritage Open Day on September 11.

You can pick up a Heritage Day brochure at the Tourist Office at the Custom House, telephone 01553 763044 or and click on the link.