Stafford Old Library: The Origins
Andrew Carnegie started offering towns and cities grants to build libraries in 1881, a process enabled by the Museums and Gymnasiums Act of 1891. In return for the money communities had to show that they could keep their libraries operational and stocked with books. The Council did this by adding a half penny to the rates.
In 1912 Stafford Corporation asked for entries to design the new library and 210 competitive designs were received. The designs were displayed at the Guild Hall (where is now the Guildhall Shopping Centre) and the public were invited to express their preferences.
On February the 8th 1912, the top three were revealed. Third place went to Messrs Castle and Warren of Norfolk Street, London and second place to Messrs Sutton and Gregory from Bromley House, Nottingham. First place was awarded to Messrs Briggs, Wolstenholme and Thornely, based in Liverpool.
A copy of the winning design was sent to Andrew Carnegie for approval. Carnegie gave a grant of £5000 for the building and furnishing of the library, but declined to offer more when in April 1912 the Council decided to add the upstairs galleries to the plans. Andrew Carnegie was invited to open the building officially in April 1914, but did not return to England from New York until June 1914, a month before the outbreak of the Great War.
The Wragge Museum had been housed in several locations up until this point – including the technical school (Chetwynd Centre) and the Borough Hall, but it was given a gallery on the first floor above the new library. This was a contentious issue as the agreement with Wragge was to house the collection independently and the agreement with Carnegie was for a purpose built library.
The building continued to operate as library and museum until the 1990s. It was then used as a base for the Council arts and music education service. The building was sold by the County Council four years ago to a local businessman who obtained planning permission for it to be converted into a bar and restaurant. The building was put on the market in early 2015.