Report - Woodside free library, Dudley, May 2016

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MOP cutout specialist
28DL Full Member
Feb 21, 2010
Sandwell & Dudley
Hi Guys and Gals. Billy no mates here bringing you another solo explore. A bit gutted this one but some nice features remain. Same old story, wished I'd looked sooner. I always assumed from the netting and scaffolding from the frontage that it was going to be restored but that's just there for safety, apparently.

It sounds like something from Ray Bradbury'sFahrenheit 451, a combined library and fire station. In the 1953 novel "firemen" burn outlawed books but in Victorian Woodside, although they shared a building, the offices of the fire station and library remained separate.

It was a classic Victorian move, to house two distinct functions in the same building. In fact, the building served three purposes as it also contained two police houses and a holding cell for any Woodside miscreants.

The establishment of public libraries in Dudley borough was a drawn-out affair. The Free Libraries Act, 1850, allowed local authorities to levy a rate of one halfpenny in the pound towards the building of a library and the 1855 Act raised the rate to one penny in the pound. However, in many cases it was several years before local authorities adopted these powers.

In Dudley it was William North, who became mayor in November 1877 who led the drive to establish a library. This process began at a meeting of the town council on July 2, 1878, when Councillor Henry M. Wainwright moved that a public meeting should be held to decide if the Free Libraries Act should be adopted in the borough. But it was not until September 25, 1878, that William North was able to chair a public meeting at the Dudley Institute. The proposal to build a public library was carried unanimously.

A few months later, the 1st Earl of Dudley intervened in the matter. He came to Dudley on February 6, 1879, to distribute prizes at the School of Art. At that time the school was in a building in Upper King Street that would later be used for the St Thomas' Higher Grade Schools.

During his visit the Earl of Dudley remarked on the inconvenient location of the School of Art and suggested that if the borough was going to build a free library it should also put up a new building for art purposes. The earl then offered, if the people of Dudley could decide on a more suitable site, to contribute a proportion of the profits from the Castle Fetes that were held every year at Whitsun towards the cost of building a new School of Art.

The Free Library Committee decided to follow the earl's suggestion and announced plans for a new building that would house both the library and a new School of Art. The two institutions would be quite separate, with their own entrances, but housed under the same roof. The Earl of Dudley agreed with the scheme and eventually a house and land, fronting Priory Street and St James' Road, were bought by the town council for £700 from the local industrialist and landowner Sir Horace St Paul.

The old house was demolished in 1883 and construction of the new library and art school began. The foundation stone was laid on July 3, 1883, by Earl Beauchamp, the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire. Dudley builders Webb and Round were the contractors and construction took around a year.

The opening ceremony was on July 29, 1884, and was conducted by the 1st Earl of Dudley's sister, the Honourable Julia Claughton, wife of Bishop Thomas Claughton and the mother of Sir Gilbert Claughton. She was last-minute stand-in as the original plan was for the Countess of Dudley to open the new library but she was unable to attend due to the recent death of her brother-in-law, Sir Charles Forbes.

The buildings at Woodside consist of two blocks, fronting the main road from Dudley to Stourbridge. Queen Anne style, best red bricks, relieved with stone dressing and carving. First block consists of a bold entrance in the centre, carried up as a tower with a cupola roof. Entrance hall, 35ft. by 9ft., with doors leading into the reading room and lending library. Staircase at one end of hall to the Recreation Room on first floor. Reading Room well lighted at side and end, 35ft. by 20ft., divided from lending library by glass screen. Lending Library, 30ft. by 15ft., fitted with pitch-pine shelves, counter, etc.; lavatory under stairs. First floor: Landing, 12ft. by 9ft., doors leading to Recreation Room and Retiring Room. Recreation Room, with platform at one end, 50ft. by 20ft.; retiring room, 15ft. by 9ft. Heated by hot water, fixed by Mr W. Attwood, Stourbridge. The second block consists of Fire Station, one cell, two police houses, and caretaker's house over Fire Station. Total cost, £2,900."

In the 1980s the police house and fire station became an "Improvements and Innovation" centre while the library remained in use until 2008. Since then the building has faced an uncertain future. Some renovation work was begun but came to a halt and the library remains partially scaffolded and in an unfinished state.























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Exploring With Jake

Is this place still standing, if so could you send me the address please??

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