This is the view looking out of Morley library - it has a wonderful art house aspect, not often I capture an image which has something special about it.
And Morley? Well, as this photo suggests, it's an old mill town. Morley, just south of Leeds, is where I was born. I've not lived here for more than forty years, but of late - perhaps age, my father's death, all sorts of stuff - I've been drawn back. The other day, I stopped here for an hour and discovered - perhaps rediscovered, but if I did know once I had forgotten - the majesty of Morley library.
It's a Carnegie library - built with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish businessman and philanthropist. He funded the construction of approaching 2,000 libraries in the United States and more than 600 in Britain and Ireland. And judging from this wonderful building - with a striking tiled lobby (Burmantofts tiles, I was told) - which stretches over three floors, these were substantial libraries befitting the ambition than underlay his generosity.
Hall Caine was one of the most popular novelists and dramatists of the era. According to Wikipedia: 'Writing fifteen novels on subjects of adultery, divorce, domestic violence, illegitimacy, infanticide, religious bigotry and women’s rights he became an international literary celebrity, selling ten million books. Caine was the most highly paid novelist of his day. The Eternal City is the first novel to sell over a million copies worldwide.' So it sounds like he was quite a catch to open the library - and Morley was on a roll at this time ... Morley-born Herbert Henry Asquith was Chancellor of the Exchequer and became Prime Minister two years later.
Morley achieved borough status in 1886, and a few years later its remarkable - and magnificent - town hall was built. It still stands, just a stone's throw from the library, though Morley was absorbed into Leeds back in 1974.
The library lobby has a wonderful mosaic floor featuring Morley's coat of arms, devised when it became a borough. The legend 'Industria Omnia Vincit' translates as industry conquers all - you can see why that might appeal to the millocrats who were the dominant political force in late Victorian Morley.
And the emblem - well, top row a couple of cannon balls to represent the civil war battles of the 1640s fought in and around the town, and in the middle a cotton boll (this puzzles me, Morley was part of the heavy woollen district - Lancashire was cotton). Then a shuttle representing textiles which at this time was Morley's defining industry. And below a shove and pick to reflect the small coal mines which dotted the town and adjoining villages, and which by this date were starting to peter out.
This same splendid coat of army features on stained glass in the doors on the library's first floor. A classy touch! And that floor is also now home to the community archive and local history collection. On this version you can see more clearly the ram's head representing the woollen industry - alas now all gone (though a few of the mills, and rather more of the chapels, remain). Below is an aerial view of the town from 1922 from an excellent history and planning document.
Once upon a time, E.P. Thompson taught extra-mural classes at the library and made good use of a stout oval wooden table in the reading room. I asked if it was still around. There's a solid wooden table in the computer room upstairs, but it doesn't quite fit the bill.
In 1964, Thompson commented of his Morley classes: 'Within living memory ... it seems, miners have worked lying down in eighteen-inch seams, children have been in the mills at the age of nine, urine has been collected from pub urinals for scouring, while the brother of one of the students still uses teazles to raise the 'nap'. It is difficult to believe that the industrial revolution has yet occurred in Morley, and next year's syllabus (in the later 19th century) will seem like a tour through the space age'.
There are wonderful design touches to the library - no wonder it's a listed building (and, happily, well used). What a bobby dazzler!
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