Belsize Library

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1431237

Date first listed: 18-Mar-2016

Statutory Address: Antrim Grove, NW3 4XN

Map

Ordnance survey map of Belsize Library
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Location

Statutory Address: Antrim Grove, NW3 4XN

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

County: Greater London Authority

District: Camden (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ2752684824

Summary

Branch library, built in 1937 to the designs of Gold and Aldridge. The small staff and service rooms to the north-east and south-east of the building are of lesser special interest.

Reasons for Designation

Belsize Library, 1938, by H A Gold and R de W Aldridge is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Authorship: Gold and Aldridge were a successful and prolific firm of architects specialising in libraries; their work, not least at Belsize Library, was held in high regard and the building’s success was noted in several contemporary sources; * Architectural and historic interest: the building is an exemplar of the small inter-war branch library, its stripped geometry and its luminous, open, understated interior demonstrates the skill and experience of its architects; * Degree of survival: unusually for this type of building, it survives well; the simple lines of its interior fittings, such as the original shelving and seating, and open-planning being particularly distinctive elements of its interior character.

History

Belsize Library, designed by H A Gold and R de W Aldridge, was opened as a branch of the Hampstead Metropolitan Borough library service in March 1937, replacing an earlier library on the same site. It was opened on 18 March 1937 by The Mayor Hampstead Lewis G Glover.

Hugh Gold designed or modified more libraries between the wars than any other private architect, and in his role as architectural adviser to the Carnegie UK Trust (a major sponsor of public libraries) influenced the modernisation of many more. Having worked in collaboration with several architects during the 1920s, he took on the younger Rowland de Winton Aldridge as a partner in 1932. The practice of Gold and Aldridge was a successful and prolific firm, designing many libraries, including four for the Borough of Purley alone. Perhaps their most important commission was the National Central Library and Library Association Headquarters of 1933, created from a converted Bloomsbury warehouse. The project won acclaim from librarians and was one of the few remodelling projects to receive substantial coverage in the architectural press. Stylistically their work bridged the divide between the more adventurous modernism of library architects such as the Middlesex County Council duo, William Curtis and Howard Burchett, and the neo-Georgian of the standard interwar civic building. In planning terms however, Gold’s wide experience as a library architect and adviser, resulted in his work representing some of the most up-to-date ideas about library planning, in particular the use of open-plan spaces for main library functions; an approach which became almost universally adopted in the post-war period. Gold and Aldridge have one other listed library to their name – Purley Library, Croydon, Greater London, opened in 1936, listed Grade II.

Gold and Aldridge’s libraries did receive attention in the architectural press, including Belsize, which, unusually for a small branch library, was illustrated in the Architect’s Journal. It also received warm praise from the Library Association in their journal (The Library Association Record) and in their 1938 ‘A Survey of Libraries’ (ed LR McColvin), where it is described as being “a one-room library- a gem of its kind- designed by an architect who is a specialist in library buildings and incorporating the soundest principles of library practice as formulated by an expert librarian”.

The library was run by Camden Council until 2012, which remains its owner. It is now however run by The Winchester Project as a library and community space. The building has undergone few alterations, perhaps the most obvious loss being that of the central issue desk and the replacement of a single window to the rear of the building. Otherwise, the more obvious changes are mainly limited to the staff and service rooms in the north-eastern aisle of the building.

Details

Branch library, built in 1937 to the designs of Gold and Aldridge.

MATERIALS: red brick construction in English bond with artificial stone dressings. The roof is covered with hand-made, taper-rolled Italian clay tiles and the windows are steel-framed. Internally the library floor is of oak block, the office floors of pine block, and the entrance hall and WCs are tiled. Interior joinery is oak.

PLAN: the building stands on the inside corner of Antrim Road and Antrim Grove. It is single-storey, but double-height; rectangular in plan, with an apsidal end to the north-west, facing Antrim Grove. The roof is pitched behind a parapet. The entrance hall, children’s library, offices, workrooms and conveniences are located in a single-height, flat-roofed aisle which wraps around three sides of the main library space. The main entrance is located in the long south-west elevation facing Antrim Road. The area around the library was originally paved, right up to the kerb, with York stone. This remains within the extent of the library’s plot, but beyond, the actual pavement has been replaced with standard concrete slabs.

EXTERIOR: the principal elevations are to the south-west and north-west. The south-west elevation has six clerestory windows lighting the double-height library. Beneath, the deep single-storey aisle steps forward, with the main entrance at the west end. This comprises a panelled double door with brass handles, surrounded by a stepped artificial stone architrave. The remainder of the aisle has windows to match those in the clerestory above. To the north-west is the double-height apsidal end of the building. This has five tall windows, subdivided into twenty-one panes. Above the central window, set into the brickwork is a relief panel bearing the Hampstead Borough Coat of Arms, with the motto: NON SIBI SED TOTI, which translates as ‘not for self but for all’.

With the exception of one replacement window to the rear of the building, and the replacement of the two front steps with a ramp, the exterior of the building remains unchanged.

INTERIOR: the interior of the building is also little altered, with the majority of its joinery, floor and wall finishes, built-in furniture, and internal subdivision, being original.

Entrance is through a small, faience-tiled vestibule, lit from above by a skylight. The original floor tiles have been replaced. There are several notice boards including one bearing a plaque which marks the opening date of the library. Double doors lead into a hallway where the floor and wall coverings continue. From here two single doorways, located either side of a glazed internal window (which originally had a metal grille) lead into the main double-height library space. These doors provided a separate entrance and exit route past the issue desk (now lost), which was situated immediately on the other side of the doors.

The main library space runs the length of the building, lit by the double height windows of the apse (which have curved, plaster-work pelmets at their head) and the clerestory windows. The opening mechanism for the clerestory windows was originally built into the walls: the brass handles which slid up and down to operate them can still be found behind the backboards of the shelving units. The whole south-east corner of the library opens into the space within the single-storey aisle: this cosier, lower-ceilinged space was the children’s library. The structural columns here are lined with wooden-framed notice boards, and, as in the hallway, the windows have scalloped pelmets. Simple oak bookshelves and, in some places, some framed notice-boards, line the walls; shelves at the apse end have urn finials. The apse is lined with a large semi-circular banquette. Non-fixed library furniture (in the form of tables and chairs) has been renewed. Comparison with published photographs of the building when it was newly completed suggests that the lower part of the book cases and banquette have been altered to accommodate vents for a renewed heating system. The brass numbers of a clock, applied directly to the wall face, remain, but the central hands have been replaced with a modern clock hanging in the centre.

There have been some alterations to the shelving, such as the replacement of a card index cupboard and coat cupboard either side of the main entrance/exit, with shelving; and the opening-up of the deeper shelving for journals (which had the staff lockers directly behind) to create a service hatch. The character of the space remains very much intact however.

The staff and service rooms have undergone some modernisation, with new sanitary-ware and a kitchen inserted into one of the rooms. These modern fittings do not contribute to the special interest of the building. Some original doors remain in these areas and the ‘filing’ room (as labelled on an early plan) retains its fitted wooden shelves and units.

Sources

Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 4, North, (1998 revised 2001), pp. 211
Pepper, S, Bagshaw, K, Black, A, Books, Buildings and Social Engineering : early public libraries in Britain from past to present, (2009), pp. 198-201
'Belsize Branch Library, Antrim Grove, Hampstead' in Architects' Journal, (May 13, 1937), pp. 814-815, 836-837
'Hampstead branch library, Belsize Park: one of the best buildings of its kind in England' in The Library Association Record, , Vol. 39, (August 1937), pp. 444-446

End of official listing