West Sussex Library


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
West Sussex Library Headquarters, Tower Street, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1QJ
Statutory Address:
Tower Street, Chichester, PO19 1QJ


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Statutory Address:
Tower Street, Chichester, PO19 1QJ

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

Location Description:
West Sussex Library Headquarters, Tower Street, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1QJ
West Sussex
Chichester (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Public library and headquarters for the county library service. It was built in 1965-6 by West Sussex County Council under the county architect F R Steele, succeeded by B Peters; the engineers were Ove Arup and Partners.

The extension added to the south-west of the building in 2009 is not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

Reasons for Designation

West Sussex Library, 1965-66, by county architect F R Steele, succeeded by B Peters, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: in the elegant unbroken rhythm of its curved exterior, and the sculptural quality of its internal spaces, which are carefully lit and expressed in a simple palette of contrasting materials; * Internal plan: a visually striking and flexible floor plan, largely dictated by primary structural elements; * Historic interest: a large and impressive example of a county library headquarters, built at a time of particular growth in these services.


West Sussex Library Headquarters was built in 1965-6 to the designs of the county architect, F R Steele, who was succeeded in 1964 by B Peters; the engineers were Ove Arup and Partners. The building was formally opened on 24 January 1967 by Asa Briggs, Vice-chancellor elect of the University of Sussex.

The considerable expansion of library services which had started in the late 1930s, picked up pace once more after the Second World War. However with government restrictions on building, it was 1959-60 before libraries of any architectural ambition were built in significant numbers. Influenced by the modern libraries of the United States and Scandanavia, combined with better budgets and the enthusiasm of county librarians and architects, the 1960s saw a flowering of library buildings and the services they offered. County libraries were the area of greatest growth in the 1960s, and West Sussex Library is a large and impressive example. The brief was for a lending library, a reference library and reading room, a library for music and drama, and office accommodation for the county library service, including a reserve book store and facilities for its vans (which provided a mobile library service and distributed books between the outlying libraries). The building is set between the large, but concealed, bulk of county hall – a building begun before the war by C G Stillman but completed only afterwards, and the narrow, historic Tower Street, at the south end of which is the cathedral. The two-storey circular form was in part a response to this setting, but F R Steele did have a penchant for circular libraries, with more modest, single-storey, examples found at Crawley (now demolished) and Selsey (both West Sussex). The library was noted for its pioneering computer issue system, the first in Britain, and a computerised catalogue which was completed in 1973.

The nature of the library's structure and plan allows for a flexibility in its layout, which has seem some spatial divisions come and go since its opening. Broadly however, the arrangement of open shelves to the east of the building, and 'back of house' to the west, remains the same. In 2009 an extension, providing a lift, new stair, and staff room, was added to the south-west by M H Architects. This extension is excluded form the listing.


Public Library and headquarters for the county library service, built in 1965-6 by West Sussex County Council to designs by F R Steele, the county architect until 1964, and succeeded by B Peters; the engineers were Ove Arup and Partners.

MATERIALS: the building is formed of 72 prefabricated concrete portals erected around a central drum of exposed red bricks. Each portal is set at ten degree intervals and is exposed internally, supporting a pre-cast concrete floor slab (the first floor) and the flat roof. The roof over the central drum has a centrally radiating concertina form, built of timber covered in copper, and incorporating clerestory windows. The elevational windows are metal-framed, with dark grey opaque glass spandrel panels.

PLAN: the building is circular in plan, with a 92 foot (28 metre) diameter. The central circular drum forms a double-height staircase hall which originally contained the music and drama library (now part of the general adult lending). Set around the drum to the east is the open-plan adult lending library, and to the west is the children's library (formerly the reserve book store), flanked by the work room where staff handle incoming and outgoing books, and a lobby which gives access to the lift and stair in the extension. On the first floor are the open-plan reference, periodicals, and local studies libraries to the east, with offices, the reserve book store, and a stair and lift lobby, to the west.

The extension to the south-west, which contains the lift, a stair, and a staff room, steps out from the building and follows its circumference for approximately 60 degrees. This extension is excluded from the listing and is not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

EXTERIOR: the building's drum-like form stands on a low brick plinth, which accommodates the slight change of levels across its footprint, and forms a paved walkway around its circumference. Two steps and flanking ramps lead up to the main entrance. The building's elevation is broken down into double-height bays by the exposed outer face of the white-painted portals. The bays have segmental heads, below a deep white-painted fascia. The glazing and spandrel panels are set in from the building's frame, held in a light grey painted metal framework. The first-floor spandrel panels are dark grey, their curved bottom edge providing a segmental head to the ground-floor windows below. The ground-floor windows are essentially full-height, but are broken horizontally into three lights, the glazing variously back-painted in light grey to obscure parts of the interior – this is an original feature of the building. The original entrance doors to the building were low-key side-hung doors, designed to reflect the glazing pattern of the windows so not breaking the uniformity of the elevation. The doors have been replaced with automatic sliding doors, however these have a similar glazing pattern to the originals.

INTERIOR: the building is entered from the east into a small lobby, formed of a curved screen which separates it from the open-plan library; the screen is lined in Verde Issogne marble. The library space wraps around the central brick drum, which forms the centrepiece of the interior. The drum is pierced at ground floor by five wide archways, and is lit by small triangular clerestory glazing set within the concertinas of the roof form. The inside face of the roof is lined with closely-spaced thin aluminium lathes, these have been replaced in recent years on a like-for-like basis with the originals. There is a large central pendant light, and further lighting has been added close to the roof. Around the inside of the drum is a curved stair, cantilevered from the walls, with a decorative steel balustrade. Although now covered by carpeting, the floor has a black and white geometric starburst pattern, believed to be laid in linoleum.

Outside the central drum the structural portals are expressed – the inner face of the uprights canted outwards from floor to ceiling, and the horizontals supporting the first floor and roof, canted upwards towards the drum. Non-structural walls which divide the various enclosed spaces are built below the portals; some are original, others are new, however there is no obvious visual distinction between old and new. There is a small quantity of simple original joinery.


Books and journals
Library Association, , Library Buildings 1967-8, (1969), pp. 29-31
West Sussex County Council, , 75 Years of West Sussex County Council Library Service, 1925-2000, (2000)
'Computer Library Sets Pattern for the Future' in Public Service, (March 1967), pp. 12
'Untitled' in Building, , Vol. 212, (24 March 1967), pp. 79-81


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

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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