Bristol’s Libraries – 400 years old today

07Dec13

LibraryFrom John Latimer: The Annals of Bristol in the 17th Century (William George’s Sons, Bristol, 1900)

A highly interesting donation to the city was offered to the Council on December 7th. Mr. Robert Redwood, a wealthy Bristolian living in St. Leonard’s parish, proffered his “lodge near the Marsh” for conversion into a library for the benefit of the citizens; and the gift was thankfully accepted.

With one exception — at Norwich — this was the first public library established in England. The donor had probably been in correspondence with Dr. Tobias Matthew, Archbishop of York, born over the shop of his father on Bristol Bridge, and may have been induced by his grace to take the step just recorded. At all events, the Archbishop hastened to forward a number of books drawn from his extensive library, which he desired should be preserved “for the free use of the merchants and shopkeepers of the city.”

In January, 1616, the Council resolved that “40s yearly should be allowed to him that now keepeth the new erected Library.” In a few years the institution became so popular as to require extended accommodation, and in April, 1634, the Corporation determined on its enlargement, “for which, purpose,” says the minute, ” Mr. Richard Vickris hath freely given a parcel of ground adjoining the said Library.”

A vote of not exceeding £30 was then granted “as well for new building the addition to be made as for repairing the old house,” the money being handed over to a gentleman charged with superintending the work, whose tragic fate was then undreamt of — “Mr. George Butcher” (or Boucher).*

In 1640, when the extension had been completed, an ironmonger was paid £3 17s 6d. “for 15 dozen and a half of book chains for the Library, “a mode of protection against thieves that, having regard to the portliness of most of the volumes, seems somewhat superfluous.

So then, Bristol’s library service, 400 years old today. Two days after the mayor decided that the two lower floors of the Central Library, built for the benefit of Bristol and all Bristolians, should be handed over to a selective “free school” that has lobbied behind the scenes – and in front of them with the help of a public relations firm which, by the way, you’re paying for – in what is one of the most shameless and brazen local land-grabs in Bristol’s recent history.

I could go on.

(* The undreamt of tragic fate was that Boucher was later hanged for plotting to hand Bristol over to the Royalists during the Civil War.)

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7 Responses to “Bristol’s Libraries – 400 years old today”

  1. It is disappointing that someone who edits the Bristol Post’s respected Bristol Times local history section should take such a stance. Cathedral Primary School is, of course, not “selective” in any normal sense of the term: there is no academic selection and there is no faith criterion in our Admissions Policy (that is, we welcome children from families of all faiths and none). Families may apply from anywhere in Bristol and from BS postcodes in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. Places are then allocated through random allocation, overseen by an independent body. We are proud of the diversity of our first intake of 30 children, who started in Reception this September.

  2. I’m disappointed you’re disappointed. Let’s contain our respective disappointments.

    1. If the school is not selective, what proportion of these children are on free school meals? For the Cathedral secondary school it’s 5% against a local average of 32%.

    Of course the school is selective. It does what a lot of free schools do, they specialise in certain subjects and exude an ethos which says that some kids will fit in here, and that many will not.

    2. How much money is this taxpayer-funded school spending on marketing and public relations?

    After all, a strong moral or practical argument doesn’t need spin.

    This blog is personal, but if you’re going to bring Bristol Times into it, then I’m astonished at the sort of magical thinking that could imagine how anyone who cares even slightly about Bristol’s heritage could possibly approve of this move.

    Both in that capacity and as someone who works extensively with Bristol’s history in other roles, I am certain that this move will seriously damage the Library’s ability to provide books and archival material for all its customers, from casual readers of popular fiction all the way to academic researchers.

    Flogging off the city’s heritage to a school at less than the going market rate for a prime city centre site is a lousy deal for Bristol.

    • Interesting that you regard having a specialism as evidence of selection. By that definition, there are many, many selective schools in Bristol. As I said, we are not selective in any normal sense of the term.

      It’s hard to see what the relevance of the free school meals percentage for Bristol Cathedral Choir School is, but the figure you quote is incorrect in any case. The figures you seek for Cathedral Primary School are on the Bristol Post website http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Bristol-proud-schools/story-20020040-detail/story.html I repeat: we are proud of our diversity.

      Like many state schools in the area, Cathedral Primary School has some external marketing support. In recent months, it’s primarily been directed at correcting outright misinformation disseminated by those opposed to our proposal.

      • 4 Roger

        There are precisely zero figures for free school meals in that link, Cath Prim, nada, zilch, zippo, just a vague assertion that FSM numbers are “growing”.

        As a governor of an outstanding local community primary school taking in pupils solely within its catchment area, what I find absolutely staggering is your mendacious assertion that “If CPS were to accept only children living nearby, that would make partnership, at best, challenging.”

        This is utter hogwash. We have been running successful partnerships with a number of local and international schools for years and experience not the slightest hitch that can’t be overcome with a bit of practical common sense thinking. Your assertion deserves to be loudly denounced for the sham and shameful excuse it is for selective entry and social engineering.

  3. 5 Christine Townsend

    ‘not ”selective” in any normal sense of the term’

    I note a very interesting development of word use from Edge Media here (the publically funded company being paid by the Cathedral Primary School as part of the school’s ‘steering group’).

    So it all depends on how a person might define selection in a ‘normal’ sense of the term does it? I think not, because lucky for us we no longer need to interpret ‘selection’ in a normal or any other sense as the legislation now does that for us!
    The non-denominational status you have tried to emphasise so much Edge Media is in fact subject to the same pieces of legislation as any other such school in the city. This legislation specifically makes unlawful ‘selection’ on the grounds of parental finance.

    And so, here we are again returning to that still unanswered question of how your admissions arrangement ensure children whose parents don’t have that spare cash to cover transport can actually be in a position to attend the provision.

  4. Roger – sorry you couldn’t see the information about Cathedral Primary School: here’s the relevant paragraph in that link we gave: “Early indications are that CPS may become even more diverse. Exactly a third of Reception children are BME, while 23 per cent are eligible for free school meals.”

    Delighted to hear that your primary school is rated ‘outstanding’. Not all Bristol primary schools are in that position and some could find their precarious position in terms of admissions numbers undermined by the opening of a heavily oversubscribed new school nearby. If you have read the article carefully, you will realise that that is only part of the argument for our city-wide admissions policy. We fervently agree that partnership is the way forward for Bristol’s schools, regardless of whether they are free schools, academies or community schools.


  1. 1 Eugene Byrne @EugeneByrne on 400th birthday of Bri… | Bristol Festival of Ideas

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