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.
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, www.leodis.net
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.
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, www.leodis.net
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.
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, www.leodis.net
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, www.leodis.net
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.
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, www.leodis.net
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, www.leodis.net
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 www.leodis.net website. Contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982 or via firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our local history resources, or to contribute your memories about Leeds’ local libraries.