‘We don’t need a public library‘ said the woman with all the authority of her position, ‘I have never used it and the children I have spoken to, don’t either. Therefore it should be left to volunteers.’ This view, is a reflection of that espoused by those with the power over the future of Dover’s public library. Through a series of cut backs it’s function has been demeaned instead of allowing it to evolve and it is Kent County Council who have the statutory responsibility to provide the resources to enable public libraries to evolve. The cut backs have been used to finance a £20million facility near the headquarters of the Kent County Council in West Kent. Dover’s first public library opened on 13 March 1935, though it had taken over a hundred years to get one! Below is that story. The second part – From Winning to Broken Promises – covers the events from 1935 up to late spring 2015 when powerful locals, like the woman above, persuaded Kent County Council that Dover folk were not interested in the full public library facility as had been promised ten years previously.
In 1807, Dover council purchased, from the executors of William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737-1805), some valuable papers. These included one relating to surveys of the harbour, pier, and Castle fortifications and dated between 1559 and 1591. The paper included reports on their decaying condition and proposals for their repair by Sir Thomas Fludd (c.1545 – 1607), surveyor of Kent in 1578. Also in the collection were surveys of the Maison Dieu, then a storehouse, made in 1590 and 1591; ‘A Discourse of the Harbour, from the Time of Julius Caesar to 1604’, by John Fooke, a Jurat of Dover. Papers relating to the taxations for repairing the harbour dated 1625 and formerly belonging to Sir Julius Caesar (1557/1558-1636). Plans of the Castle, town and harbour, in 1581, made by Thomas Digges (c1546-1595). The accounts of Thomas Marchaunt the Receiver of the Constabulary of Dover in 1405, and a fragment of the fifteenth century Register of St. Martin’s Priory. These were to be added to the council’s library and are one of the earliest acknowledgements that such a library existed.
For the gentry and middle class residents of Dover there were libraries and reading rooms such as John Horn’s Apollo Library. Horn attracted members by issuing tokens with a nominal value that could be used to purchase goods from his shop. In 1769 a Mr Newport of Snargate Street advertised that his library had a stock of 7,000 books but by 1792, both Mr Newport and his books seem to have disappeared. At 86 Snargate Street there was George Ledger’s Albion Library that opened in 1782. Ledger published the first book to be printed in the town – Volume 2 of Rev. John Lyons History of the Town, Port and Castle of Dover in 1799. Rev. Lyons was the Minister at St Mary’s church and keenly interested in local history. Ledger also published the first ‘Dover Historical Sketch,‘ which was aimed at the town’s fledgling tourism market. Following the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), with the influx of affluent visitors, the number of such libraries proliferated with many going into publishing and some acting as employment bureaux!
As a seafaring town, there were mariners and because of the tempestuous Strait of Dover, many were victims of shipwrecks. Those who survived were taken to the British International Sailors’ Society refuge in the Pier District. Founded in 1818, not only did the Sailors’ refuge provide bed, board and help, it also had a library and reading room. Two years later what later became the Unitarian Chapel in Adrian Street opened and included a library. Squier’s Bazaar, in nearby Snargate Street had a large reading room that included a library where, apparently, the local youths and ‘belles’ of the more affluent families would meet! By that time, Zachariah Warren had taken over the Albion library and created a ‘handsome reading room.‘ These and other privately run libraries worked by members paying an annual subscription that allowed them to borrow books. Most catered for the popular taste providing fiction and lighter non-fiction material.
Archibald Wilson, of Coulthard and Wilson the shoemakers, lived at 7 Market Street and it was here, on 26 January 1826, he welcomed young men with an interest in gaining mechanical expertise to use his library. His philanthropic gesture enabled the young men to develop their interest and gain better employment. Later that year, (1826), William Batcheller, a schoolmaster at the Dover Charity School, had a library built on the corner with New Bridge and Snargate Street. Batcheller had bought local builder Frederick John Hillier’s old house, had it demolished and built a fine Regency mansion he named ‘The King’s Arms,’ after the then King George IV (1820-1830).
Batcheller boasted that his library had 5,143 books, six daily and thirteen weekly provincial papers, magazines and reviews. These were all available to subscribers who paid 1 guinea (£1.05p) a year to borrow or alternatively use the reading room. To use both the price was 1½guineas (£1.57½p). At Batcheller’s premises, stationery and musical instruments could be purchased and for special occasions the musical instruments, including pianofortes, could be hired. Above the library, there were card rooms and an Assembly room. The latter proved so popular for dances that Batcheller bought the adjacent property and opened a much larger Assembly room where the town’s grand balls and dinners were held. Like many other library owners, Batcheller was into publishing and produced numerous engravings of Dover and annual Guides to Dover that were published for some 40 years. However, in July 1829 disaster struck the King’s Arms library when a storm broke 46 panes of glass and the rainwater damaged most of the stock of books.
By 1830, Zachariah Warren reported that there were several libraries in the town and he had taken over Boynton’s Marine Library that had opened in 1823 on Marine Parade. Warren wrote that this library was fitted up ‘with considerable neatness’ and commanded views of the harbour and French coast. The reading room, ‘is well supplied with the daily papers, periodical publications and the county papers.‘ He was still running the Albion library at 86 Snargate Street and one subscription covered both libraries. However, the author of Ingoldsby’s Legends Richard Barham (1788-1845) commented, in Monster Balloon off Dover that Dover folk ‘flocked to peruse, That same evening in crews, Scorning Batcheller’s Papers and Warren’s Reviews.’
The Warrens were an old Dover family and George Warren, of the same address as Zachariah, published many lithographs by Dover artist William Robert Waters (1812-1880). They also published Dover’s first newspaper the Cinque Ports Pilot, in 1824. William Batcheller started the Dover Telegraph in 1833 that ran until 1927 and in 1834 a Mr Prescott started the Dover Chronicle from his library. That year, Zachariah Warren died and the Albion library and the Marine Parade Library were taken over by a Mr Hendry, who had a reading room extension built to the Albion library. Henry Harris and his partner succeeded him some 20 years later and opened another library in the then Market Place, now Market Square.
The affluent classes of the town founded the Dover Museum in 1836 and that too contained a library and reading room for the members. The following year, at 66 Snargate Street, Thomas Rigden established the Queen’s Arms Library. Known, these days, for the lithograph views of Dover that he published, Rigden also published, in 1844, A short historical sketch of the Town of Dover and its environs collected from ancient records and other authentic materials. The library, it would seem, closed in 1850. Churches were also setting up libraries and schools for the children of their parishioners. Russell Street Independent (Congregational) Chapel, that opened in 1838, had schoolrooms and a library. Two years later, on 27 August 1840, the Salem Chapel opened in Biggin Street with schoolrooms and library attached. Meanwhile, Batcheller’s Guides to Dover, were proving best sellers and in 1838 he published Lieutenant B Worthington, R.N’s the Proposed Plan for Improving Dover Harbour.
The Public Libraries Act of 1850 permitted the councils of towns with over 10,000 population and the approval of two-thirds of the local government electors, to provide a building, light and fuel and employ a librarian. The total annual cost was not to exceed a ½pence rate. No provision was made for the purchase of books on the assumption that benefactors would donate them. Although Dover could have taken this up, the council, after only cursory debate, decided that the affluent were well provided for and the remainder of the town’s population were too ignorant to learn to read. However, there were those, like Archibald Wilson, who thought that those adults who could not read should be taught.
In 1852, after extending his house in Market Street, Archibald Wilson opened the building as the Mechanics Institute. The curriculum included basic and advanced reading, writing and numerical skills and courses in technical education plus the library. To use the library the three-month subscription was 1 shilling 6 pence (7½p) for men and 1 shilling (5p) for women. However, only men were allowed to enrol for courses and even though most of them worked long hours and had growing families, the number of students soon overwhelmed the Wilson household. The family moved to a new place and the adjacent houses in Market Street were purchased for the renamed Dover Working Men’s Institute. Shortened to Dover Institute, the demand for courses was such that it outgrew the premises and in 1878, it was decided a larger, more purpose built building was needed. The Institute moved to 6 Biggin Street and was officially opened in 1891. Wilson’s premises in Market Street were renamed Lawson Hall and used for religious and philanthropic purposes.
Dover’s Ragged School for Boys had opened on 1 January 1850 at the corner of Ladywell Lane and Park Street (where the Police station is now), to provide a basic education for very poor boys. Two years later, there was a thriving Girls’ Ragged School in Adrian Street and shortly after a lending library was added with books provided by the affluent members of Dover’s society. This library was not only for the girls but also for other female members of their household. For women who could not read, classes were provided and were well attended. The library proved to be very popular.
By 1860, there were six private libraries in Dover run on philosophical principles. They were the Dover Museum and Philosophical Institution, Market Square – Hon. Secs: A Phillips and Alexander Bottle. Dover Institute at 7 Market Street – Hon. Secs: John Agate and Mr Bentley. Dover Youths Institute, St James’ Street – Treasurer Steriker Finnis and Hon.Sec Reverend F R Stratton. Dover Crimean Institute, Castle Street open to everyone with free lending for non commissioned officers’ and soldiers stationed in Dover: Hon Sec: Reverend T Maynard, Treasurer Edward Hills. Dover Proprietary Library, Castle Street and the Dover Young Men’s Christian Association, Adrian Street.
The 1845 Museums Act empowered boroughs with a population of 10,000 or more to raise a ½d rate for their establishment. Dover did take this up and eventually the museum founded by the Dover Philosophical Institute in 1836 moved into the upper floor of the newly built Market Hall that opened in January 1849. In December 1852, Dover MP (1835-1852), Edward Royds Rice (1790-1878) in a House of Commons debate, asked for reports relating to arts, manufactures and commerce, to be made available to bodies such as the Dover Philosophical Institute, so that they could be read at the museum.
This was eventually accepted and an extended library opened within the museum for members of the Philosophical Institute. In 1874 the former Town Clerk, Edward Knocker was elected Honorary Librarian to the Corporation, a position he held until his death in 1884. His son, Town Clerk Wollaston Knocker who held the post until his death on 22 September 1907, succeeded him. During both their incumbencies a library of ancient and modern books and documents appertaining to Dover Corporation were acquired.
Subsequent Public Libraries Acts following the Act of 1850 had raised the rate limitation to 1penny (1855), permitted the purchase of books and newspapers and repealed the population limit. By 1880, 98 authorities had adopted the Acts and in 1882 Nottingham pioneered Britain’s first children’s library. In Dover, the council stated that the town did not need a public library as those who wanted to read could belong to a private library and those who did not were obviously not interested in gaining knowledge. Both the Knocker father and son gave public talks on Dover’s heritage and encouraged other local historians, such as Mary Horsley, Reverend S.P.H. Statham and John Bavington Jones to do the same. They all wrote local history books and in 1886, the Library Society was formed. Besides private libraries, many of Dover’s church and chapel schools joined. By May that year there were 80 member libraries sharing the books.
Dover’s famous Kings Arms Library, established by William Batcheller, was bought by Messrs Harvey and Hemin around 1876. Messrs Dawson and Son were the next owners followed by the Cuff Brothers who ran it for some 80 years. The building was converted to a hotel in 1950 but was demolished in the early 1970s to make way for the widening of Townwall Street.
Another well-known library was the Dover Proprietary Library established in 1844, at 2 Castle Street, above Hills Coachworks. A fire at the coachbuilders on 5 January 1888 destroyed the library, which, according to an invoice compiled two years before contained approximately 7,000 volumes. These included the following, all of which were lost: Domesday Book of Kent, William Darell’s The History of Dover Castle published in 1786. Edward Hasted (1732-1812) The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent all the volumes published in 1797. Edward Knocker’s Grand Court of Shepway – a rare copy. William Lambard’s A Perambulation of Kent published in 1576. Rev. John Lyon’s The history of the town and port of Dover and of Dover Castle published in 1814. Rev. John Puckle’s The Church and Fortress of Dover Castle published 1864. Lt. B Worthington’s Plan for Improving Dover Harbour. Histories of Kent by authors such as Paul de Rapin (1661-1725), James Anthony Froude, (1818- 1894) and Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), David Hume (1711-1776), were also destroyed.
Other books and manuscripts lost covered the Ports and Forts of Kent, Kentish Genealogies, a parliamentary report on Dover Harbour dated 1819, the poll book for Dover of 1841. Law reports including one on Harbours of Refuge, a Charter relating to Cinque Ports dated 1668 and another dated 1662. The President of the Library was the Rev. J. B. Bampton, the Vice President Dr. Parsons, Librarian the Rev. F. A. Hammond, Treasurer Alexander Bottle and the Hon. Sec. was J. Bolton. In 1877, the Granville Gardens opened on the Seafront and following the fire, the committee had a new library built. It was stocked with books that had been salvaged from Castle Street and new ones bought with the £2,500 received from the insurance company. At the time, the Gardens were owned by Dover Harbour Board but in May 1893, the council took them over and the Dover Proprietary Library was kicked out. The library building was converted into a glass-roofed conservatory cafe, called Granville Bars.
On 28 November 1893, Dover Corporation received an official letter from the Dover Chamber of Commerce recommending the adoption of a Public Library in accordance with the 1850 Public Libraries Act and subsequent Acts. The council declined on the grounds that there were plenty enough private libraries and the poor who could read were not so inclined. A public meeting was held in Connaught Hall at the end of March 1894 and addressed by Thomas Greenwood (1851-1908) a great advocator of free public libraries. The Hall was packed, and the resolution for a Dover Public Library was put forward by outfitter John Falconer, on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and backed by the Dover Express. This was overwhelmingly endorsed but there were objectors, such as a Mr Sutton, who claimed that the Chamber of Commerce was ‘foisting a library on Dover ratepayers.’ At about the same time, Henry James Goulden, who had a large bookshop in Canterbury, offered Dover a gift of a large collection of books on condition that the council put the Free Public Libraries Act into operation. The council declined the offer, on the conditions stipulated, by a vote of 14 to 7.
In 1900, Maison Dieu House was bought by the Corporation and became the offices of the Borough Engineer and Medical Officer of Health. The electricity generating station owned by the council was just round the corner in Park Street, and in 1904, the Medical Officer moved out in order to provide office space for the electricity station staff. At the same time the demand for a public library increased and towards the end of 1900 ‘an extensively signed’ petition was organised by John Falconer. Falconer, born in Scotland, had a tailoring and outfitting business at 17 Bench Street and lived at Moray House on Maison Dieu Road.
Two years went by and in 1902, John Falconer wrote asking for a grant for a Dover Public Library from Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist who had made his fortune in the American steel industry and became a noted philanthropist. Among his many projects was the establishment of public libraries for which he gave substantial grants. These were on the understanding that the local authority matched the grant by providing the land and a budget for operation and maintenance of the library. Carnegie responded to Falconer in February 1903 agreeing to give £10,000 to set up a public library on condition that the council provided a building and adopt the 1850 and subsequent Public Libraries Acts. John Bavington Jones, owner of the Dover Express, was delighted and suggested that the ground floor of the Market Hall be converted as a compliment to the museum on the first floor. This was generally agreed but not by the council. They made it clear that they were not willing to devote a penny rate in perpetuity when there were plenty of private libraries around for those willing to pay for the privilege of reading.
Following the council’s rejection of the Carnegie grant, the committee of the Dover Institute borrowed a sum that they could ill afford, to make major alterations to the ground floor of their Biggin Street building. A new and larger library was created, alterations were made to the reading room and an annexe was built to provide teaching rooms. The Rt. Hon George Wyndham, Member of Parliament (1889-1913), opened the newly refurbished Institute on 19 November 1904. Along Biggin Street, the Co-operative had opened a large store within which they had created a library for its members to use.
Not only were an increasing number of middle class inhabitants becoming frustrated with the council’s lack of motivation in providing a public library, they were also angry that Dover’s ancient records were being lost to national libraries and museums. John Bavington Jones, voiced these concerns adding, with regards to a public library, ‘Although it has to be recorded that Dover of to-day does not possess a centre of enlightenment, public opinion appears to be growing in favour of spending public money in a moderate way, not only for mental recreation, but for liberally furnishing the minds of citizens with information on public affairs to enable them to rightly exercise the duties of citizenship.’ (First edition of Annals of Dover – 1916).
Two years before, in January 1913, John Falconer had died but before his death, he had again approached Andrew Carnegie to ask him to re-offer his substantial grant. This time the council held a special meeting under the chairmanship of Mayor William Crundall, who pointed out that the grant would mean Dover being required to comply with the Public Libraries Acts. At the meeting, Councillor Edward Chitty, who advocated a public library, responded, saying that ‘only one-fifth of teenagers in Dover, on leaving compulsory education received any form of instruction from either the local Education Committee or the Dover Institute and a free library would go someway in rectifying this.’ However, Councillor William Burkett countered the argument by saying that ‘a free library was a luxury that the ratepayers of Dover could ill-afford and that the ratepayers already contributed 1pence in the £ towards elementary education, which many saw as a waste.’
Following World War I (1914-1918) the Public Libraries Act of 1919 repealed the penny rate limitation and authorised County Councils to adopt the Libraries Acts for any areas not already served. The management of such libraries was to come under their education committees. Dover, as semi-independent, argued that besides the various private libraries in the town, the Dover Institute had reopened and had a library containing 11,000 volumes for its members, finishing by saying that if people wanted to read they should pay. At the time, the garrison had their own library for all the military personnel and was well used. Boots the Chemist operated a commercial lending library and the Cooperative had a library for its members. Albeit, at the time, due to the economic depression unemployment and poverty were high which meant that more than half of Dover’s population, due to the lack of means, did not have access to any of the facilities the council mentioned. However, those who supported the council’s stance, stated that instead of wasting their time reading the unemployed should be out looking for work and providing food for their families.
Dover’s councillors and supporters on this issue, were no different to many other towns including many that had set up Carnegie funded libraries in more affluent times. This was now being seen in the wide variation in the standards of existing public libraries and the Kenyon Committee was appointed in 1924 to look into the problem. Three years later, they published the Report on Public Libraries in England and Wales, in which they recommended that existing library authorities should continue as they were, but that there should be a much greater co-operation between library authorities on a voluntary basis. The Committee recommended a system of co-ordination based on a National Central Library as a central store for books to be lent to local libraries and as a link between all public libraries. Although, no legislation was enacted the scheme for co-ordination was adopted and the National Central Library was born.
In 1931, Dover Borough Council received a proposal from Kent County Council (KCC) to open a public library in Dover, but this was not backed by any finance to purchase premises, fixtures or fittings. Correspondence took place and although a library was not forthcoming KCC implemented a charge on Dover council of £700 a year for the non-existent library! On 9 December that year, new premises for KCC’s Dover Boys’ County School were opened by Prince George – later George VI (1936-1952) – in Astor Avenue. The headmaster, since the school’s inception in 1905, was Fred Whitehouse who had also shown great deal of interest in the general education of all Dover youngsters.
Throughout the previous decade, Dover’s economy had oscillated between depression and desolation and in 1933, it was at its lowest ebb. In January that year, about 2,500 adult males, out of a total population of 41,281, were unemployed. For the children of the unemployed, Mayor Alderman Frederick Morecroft set up a soup kitchen providing 1,500 dinners a week. One of those helping was Fred Whitehouse who expressed concern that the pupil-teacher ratio in Dover’s elementary schools was very high and that there were no library facilities for these youngsters. Not long after, Lady Violet Astor (1889-1965), the wife of Dover’s Member of Parliament, John Jacob Astor – MP 1922-1945 opened a Social Services centre for the unemployed in Market Square. The newspapers gave a great deal of coverage to Lady Violet, saying that she looked stunning as she was wearing ‘a particularly pretty astrakhan coat.’
Both Mayor Morecroft and Headmaster Whitehouse were embarrassed while many of the middle class onlookers were sickened. Whitehouse wrote to the Carnegie trustees asking if Dover were still eligible for a grant, to be told that monies were only available for the improvement of the book stocks of existing libraries set up under the various Public Libraries Acts. Morecroft contacted KCC, who responded by saying that, ‘owing to the financial stringency of the past few years it has not been possible to make any progress with the proposed County scheme of regional libraries, and at present see no likelihood of any such scheme being started in the immediate future.’ The council was angry, as they had been paying KCC £700 a year since 1931 for a public library service that had not been delivered! Following heated correspondence, KCC agreed that Dover was free from the liability and sent a cheque for £2,355!
Mayor Morecroft, then set up a special council committee, headed by himself and with Cllrs Donald and Goodfellow and co-opted – Fred Whitehouse. Later the committee was expanded to include Alderman Hilton Russell and Cllr Lorna Bomford. They decided, with full council approval, that ‘if a Public Library is established (in Dover) it should be on autonomous lines for the Borough alone and entirely independent of the Kent Education Committee.’ Council officials quickly discovered that by taking this line Dover town library would be entitled, on the payment of small annual subscription, the full privileges of the National Central Library and the Students’ Central Library.
As for the premises, the council voted to acquire and adapt the Dover Institute in Biggin Street. This was estimated to cost approximately £6,000 without provision for furniture and books. The Committee of the Dover Institute agreed and except for the billiard tables, the sale included fittings, fixtures, furniture and all the books in their existing library. It was noted that the front of the ground floor of the building was let to a shop at £100 per annum.
On 19 February 1934, at the request of the council, William Charles Berwick Sayers (1881-1960), Chief Librarian of Croydon, came to Dover. He had been invited to inspect the Institute building and the provisional plans for its adaptation prepared by the Borough Engineer. Beyond certain modifications, Sayers gave his approval and agreed to write an advisory report. It is of note that Sayers, has since gone down in the annals of British history as a member of a small but remarkable group of librarians who gave some measure of distinction to the British public library service during the early decades of the present century.
Sayers, submitted his report giving useful information and suggestions including:
- that the minimum number of persons using the lending library should be estimated from 10% to 15% of the population;
- that a minimum satisfactory level of stock as asserted by the Government Public Library Committee Report of 1927 was 30 volumes per 100 of the population, representing 12,000 volumes for Dover. Though as a start, he added, there could be fewer, but hardly with less than 8,000 at an estimated cost of £1,660.
He also specified the stock percentages by reference, fiction, non-fiction and children’s volumes. Stating that as most libraries find their stocks rapidly deplete he would prefer a stock of 12,000 volumes at a cost of about £2,490.
The eminent librarian said that book stock was a capital charge and loan repayments had to be made in ten years. He then gave the usual percentages of library income devoted to various items and suggested that the annual figures, based on an expenditure of a rate of 2pence in the £ would be:
Books and binding 22% @ 2pence rate = £440
Newspapers and periodicals 5% @ ditto = £100
Salaries and wages 46% @ ditto = £920
Postage, printing, heating etc. 27% @ ditto = £540
Total = £2,000
Sayers added that loan charges would lessen the amount available for books and salaries but about £100 per annum might be received in fines.
He also supplied information regarding the usual hours of opening for town libraries and suggested that the staff should consist of a Librarian; assistant Librarian, assistant for the Children’s Room; a Caretaker Cleaner; and 3 or 4 secondary school boys or girls leavers as juniors. The Librarian should at least hold the Associationship of the Library Association and the salary should be about £300 per annum. His report included tabular information appertaining to 17 towns, which could be compared with Dover, giving population, rateable value, library rate, library expenditure, staff, volumes in stock and issued, and registered readers.
It was agreed to apply to the Minister of Health (then a requirement) for the sanction to borrow £10,000 for capital expenditure under the Public Libraries Act 1892. The breakdown of figures given was:
Purchase of buildings and expenses = £4,040
Structural alterations = £2,400
Furniture = £900
Books = £2,490
Incidentals = £170
Total = £10,000
To pay for the capital loan plus the estimated yearly expenses an additional 2pence in the £ rates was agreed.
Dover’s first municipal public library opened at 6 Biggin Street on 13 March 1935 and William S Munford, aged 23 and with a Bachelor of Science degree, was appointed Dover’s first public librarian. The capital cost of the new library was approximately £7000 and the annual expenditure was expected to be about £3,000. The library was stocked with over 7,600 books and in the fortnight before opening 900 people had registered as readers! Immediately after opening people queued all the way down Biggin Street to enrol and two weeks later 19,641 books had been issued.
It was commented in the local press that a Centenary Party should have been held, as it had taken that long to get a facility that the people of Dover had so obviously wanted!
Part 2 of this story looks at what happened in less than a century.
- Presented: 13 March 2015