National Libraries Week 2020: Headingley, Hunslet and Middleton Libraries

Headingley Library

We continue our celebration of the local libraries across Leeds, with a trip to the north of the city. There has been a library presence in Headingley since 1884 when the first branch library opened on an evening in Bennett Road Board School (1882, now the Headingley Heart Community Centre), In 1892 it moved to the end of North Lane end of Bennett Road into a corner building shared with the police and in 1912 extended its opening to daytime also.  In 1925 the branch became open access, meaning you no longer had to ask the library staff to retrieve books for you, you as a member of the general public were allowed to roam the shelves to your hearts content.  In 1933 the library was ‘reconstructed’ or refurbished by todays terms as it had expanded into the next door police building two years previous.

Undated. Interior view of the original Headingley Library building,which was located on North Lane at the junction with Bennett Road (c) Leeds Libraries,

I loved visiting this library with my Mum and Dad in the 1950s.  It had highly polished floors, there was a lovely strong smell of wax polish and a real hush as people made their book choices. – Maureen, 2009,

By 1983 this branch was replaced with the newer, more modern, open plan, Headingley Library on North Lane and the old library became a community centre.

1983. New Headingley Library, officially opened in 1983. The counter is on the right, readers are using the facilities (c) Leeds Libraries,

Hunslet Library

When we first married in 1971 … I remember walking into this library and being amazed at the range of books stocked.  I used to take my mates from Headingley in there to show it off. – Jim, 2008,

30th November 1960. On the left are the back-to-back terraces of Bagnall Street. The large building at the center of the image is a warehouse. The front has been decorated with stone ornaments. Figureheads flank the arch of the doorway while two more are mounted below the eaves. On the right is Mosdale Street. This building was orignally the Hunslet Mechanics Institute and Leeds Free Library (c) West Yorkshire Archive Service,

Hunslet holds the distinction of being the first free public library in Leeds.  After the Public Libraries act was adopted in 1868, the Hunslet branch library began to open on evenings on October 10th 1870 in a room at the Hunslet Mechanics Institute. Becoming a day branch in 1912 and being housed in turn at the Hunslet Council School and later in a temporary site on Waterloo Road, the current site was purchase in 1925.  On the 23rd February 1931 the new building was opened by the Rt. Hon. Arthur Greenwood P.C. MP and Minister for Health.

Undated. The childrens room at Hunslet Library is visible in this view. The room is well lit with skylights and windows with geometric patterned curtains. Fixed bookshelves line the walls on either side with subjects running across the top. Single desks can be seen to the left desks can be seen to the left with small display stands to the right. Square and circular tables are positioned in two rows in the centre. On the back wall is a wooden fireplace with a rug in front and a clock on the mantlpiece. Above this is a large painting depicting a group of children looking over a wall towards the sea. Either side of the fire place are shelves containing ‘Books That Answer Questions’ (c) Leeds Libraries,

I loved this library. Grew up with it in the 1960’s, visiting on my own most Saturdays. The entrance area had large `lecterns’ for reading the newspapers. There was a separate adult and children’s part. I remember beautiful oak lined rooms, brimming with bookcases. Parquet floors, huge coal fire in children’s library where I used to sit for hours looking at National Geographic’s and Reference books. The Children’s library had sloped desks for study and a wonderful smell of wood and books. – Anonymous, 2011,

The adult section was extremely impressive but very intimidating to a child. The staff were unapproachable and alienated the children who should have benefited from the provision. Surely, that was the whole point of it, (Carnegie) however, the philosophy behind the provision of free reading for the working classes overlooked the attitude of the middle class staff toward the working class children. I do think that libraries today are much more accessible and children are positively welcomed. Despite this I did develop a love of reading, encouraged by my mother’s example. She used the library from 1936 when she moved to Hunslet until her death in 1994. – Christine, 2012,

Middleton Library

An evening library service opened in the Middleton Council School in 1927 moving to this purpose built branch with two giant walls of windows in 1956.  The library was designed for use also as a community centre.  Books were shelved on trolleys so that the floor space could be cleared for events including art exhibitions staged by Middleton School.

Undated. View of Middleton Library situated on Middleton Park Avenue, with adjoining police station to the right. The library was opened in 1956 but both properties were demolished. At the right edge a health centre is visible. The library and police station have since been replaced with a Health Centre with an attached chemist’s shop on the site (c) Leeds Libraries,

Memories of being told I could only have two books at a time and me being such a voracious reader I was there three or four times a week in the school holidays! – Christine,

1956, Interior view looking towards raised platform. The library had been designed for use also as a community centre. Books were shelved on trolleys so that the floor space could be cleared. The platform had shelving for reference books, table and chairs. There was a trap door in the platform which led to a storage area. Art exhibitions were staged in library by Middleton School, which was the opposite. The staff from Middleton also ran a part time branch at Belle Isle, which was housed at the crypt of St John and St Barnabas Church until a permanent library opened in 1965 (c) Leeds Libraries,

Looking at this photo of what appears to be such a small library, it is difficult to recall how huge the place seemed when I was a child.  Part of the magic was being transported around the world with Doctor Doolittle, Biggles, and various other literary characters. – Tarrant, 2009,


Reading through the shared library memories left on the Leodis website something becomes clear very quickly, and that is the number of you who recall our libraries smelling of polish, so much so that should you catch a whiff of a polished floor today you are instantly transported back to the junior sections of your youth.  Now for the first few years of Leeds Libraries existence this would undoubtedly have been the copious amounts of polish used upon the bookshelves and floors, but how has this smell continued to linger into the era of metal shelving and carpet?  We’ll let you into a little secret, we use furniture polish to clean the plastic book jackets.

What also occurs are the comparisons between libraries back then and those of today, many of the comments recall librarians whose stern demeanour and ferocious shushing not only kept order, but also put them off using the library.  While another set of comments lament libraries no longer being the quiet bastions of silence they remember from their formative years, though it’s questionable how quite they really were when it turns out some of today’s more mature visitors were the noisy youngsters of years gone by.  The staff of Leeds Libraries have spent years working to remove barriers, both physical and emotional that have put people off from using us, and over the years what we’ve found is that a little less shushing, fewer stern looks and a bit more book chatter has increased the number of people walking through our doors.  Despite the current covid restrictions we are constantly working to create once again the safe open library spaces that our visitors young and old enjoy.

Comments have been edited for length/clarity, full quotes can be found on the website. Contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982 or via to learn more about our local history resources, or to contribute your memories about Leeds’ local libraries.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Padfield says:

    There seems to have been a connection between Leeds librarians and the police – first Headingley shares a building with the police for some 30 years from 1892, then the police occupy part of the same building as the Central library, then the new Middleton library is built attached to a police station in the 1950s. What is the link? I await more blogs with interest, wondering how many more libraries will have the police as neighbours.

    1. Hi Jane,
      Thank you very much for your comment! You’re quite right about the connection between Libraries and the Police at several of our sites; I have to admit we don’t know the exact reason why, and it’s something that’s quite hard to research under the current circumstances (with limited access to our stock at present). We’ll look into it some more when we can – it may have just been that it was cheaper to house two services under one roof, together with a certain amount of ‘social control’ being a motivating factor behind the development of both public libraries and the Police force. Glad you enjoyed the current blog series, and do please let us know if you have any further questions at
      Leeds Central Library

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