Bristol’s Libraries – 400 years old today
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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