Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 48211 74432




GV II Library and former librarian's house, now largely occupied by the Tavistock Museum, except for the reading room of the Subscription Library. c.1830 by John Foulston in a Gothic style for the sixth Duke of Bedford.

MATERIALS: Rubble, probably slatestone, with granite and plaster dressings and an embattled parapet above a moulded cornice. The roofs are slate. The window openings consist of square-headed frames with hoodmoulds and sash windows with arched lights.

PLAN: Roughly L-shaped plan on the site of historic plots that define the north east corner of the Great Court of Tavistock Abbey. It comprises the two storey former library range built against the north east wall of the former abbey gateway and, at right angles, the two storey former librarian's house which incorporates an earlier crenellated turret at its south end and was extended to the rear to provide additional accommodation, probably in the 1860s.

EXTERIOR: The front (south west) elevation librarian's house is of two bays with a projecting turret to the far right. It has a central flat-headed entrance with a timber door with vertical beading, flanked by a sash window with plaster surround and a granite sill to either side. The two first floor windows match those to the ground floor. The ground floor turret window is also similar, though the first floor window is a false casement; both have granite rather than plaster surrounds. The rear elevation of the house is of painted brick to the ground floor and slate hung above; the windows are all sashes. The library range is built in matching materials and in the same Gothic style. Its principal elevation faces south east and has a narrow half-glazed entrance door with a single-light sash alongside, both set within a square-headed frame. The rear (north west) elevation has a symmetrical arrangement of three two-light windows with arched heads to both the ground and first floors.

INTERIOR: The plan of the librarian's house has not changed significantly since the late C19. The entrance door leads into a hall with two rooms to the left; all retaining C19 fireplaces and joinery. At the rear of the property in the 1860s addition is a kitchen and a pantry or scullery. A staircase with stick balusters positioned alongside the turret, gives access to the first floor. Upstairs there are two front rooms and three back rooms. The second front room has a fireplace with a timber surround that has roundel decoration, and in its north wall is an alcove which marks the position of the former doorway into the library. The ground floor of the library range comprises a small lobby with a narrow passage and the reading room of the Subscription Library which has a fireplace with a chamfered granite surround. A staircase at the south west end of the range has stick balusters and a curtail step and it leads to a first floor landing and the former lecture room above the Subscription Library. This room has a vaulted ceiling rising from deeply moulded cornices and an elaborate Gothic chair at its east end; but the two doorways and timber screen at the entrance are not original.

HISTORY: In 1823 the Plymouth architect John Foulston was commissioned by the sixth Duke of Bedford to repair the `old buildings' in Guildhall Square, the site of the former Great Court of Tavistock Abbey. The repairs included alterations to the principal gatehouse of Tavistock Abbey - the C12 Court Gate, renovation of an old house in the south east corner of the Court, and constructing a Gothic screen which included a crenellated turret to hide a water mill at the north east corner.

The Duke became the President of the Tavistock Subscription Library (founded in 1799) in 1810, a family connection which continued until the 1950s. From 1822 the Library occupied a classical building in what is now the south west corner of Bedford Square, to the north, but in 1829 as part of his proposed redevelopment of this part of the town, the Duke offered the Library alternative accommodation above the Court Gate arch. By the end of 1830 a two storey range of three bays (for the Subscription Library and the Tavistock Institution) had been constructed to the north east of Court Gate and, at right angles, a house for the librarian. The crenellated tower that was part of Foulston's re-fronting of the mill was incorporated within the design of the house and its south east wall seems to have been a wall to Foulston's mill building. The architect's scheme gave the librarian direct access through a doorway to the first floor room of the library, which was designed as a lecture room. In the later C19 the house was extended to the rear.

A succession of librarians occupied the house until 1928, after which it was used by employed caretakers. In 1964 Court Gate and the library building were purchased by Tavistock Town Council. By that time the Library only rented a room and lobby on the ground floor; the upper rooms were let separately, as was the house, until 2004 when both were leased to the Tavistock Museum.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: There is a low boundary wall of granite blocks to the front garden of the librarian's house, although the associated railings were removed in the mid-C20. In the rear yard is a lean-to wash house, though its slate clad roof has partially collapsed (2008).

SOURCES: Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants, `An Assessment of Tavistock Police Station and Guildhall, Guildhall Square, Tavistock' (2005) Mary Freeman, `Notes on History of Librarian's Cottage' (2007), unpublished H.P.R. Finberg, `Tavistock Abbey - A Study in the Social and Economic History of Devon' (1969)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION: The library and librarian's house is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * The overall high level of architectural quality to the exterior which is a strong Gothic composition * The historic plan form is largely intact and the interiors retain many internal fixtures and fittings * Group value with rich time-depth of designated assets in the immediate vicinity: the Grade I abbey gatehouse to the west; the Grade II* police station and Guildhall immediately to the south, and the scheduled medieval remains of Tavistock Abbey * Contribution to the planned ensemble of early- to mid-C19 buildings of which they form a part


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 09 Oct 2002
Reference: IOE01/08921/22
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr David J. Rippon. Source Historic England Archive
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