Passmore Edwards Free Library and former Redruth College, and boundary walls


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
2 & 4 Clinton Road (former Passmore Edwards Free Library and former Redruth College), Redruth, Cornwall, TR15 2QE.


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

Location Description:
2 & 4 Clinton Road (former Passmore Edwards Free Library and former Redruth College), Redruth, Cornwall, TR15 2QE.
Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Library, 1894-5, by James Hicks, and former Redruth College, 1891, also by Hicks and built for Thomas Collins. Contemporary boundary walls and gateposts to Clinton Road and Treruffe Hill.

Reasons for Designation

The Passmore Edwards Free Library and former Redruth College, and boundary walls, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: *as a characterful example of the work of Redruth’s principal C19 architect, James Hicks; *the library’s octagonal corner tower makes a strong and strategic contribution to the townscape, particularly when approaching from the north or west; *the library’s Baronial architectural style contrasts effectively with the Renaissance design of the former college, yet their shared use of Carn Marth granite (from the nearby quarries, which were managed by Hicks from 1883) ensures a harmony; *as part of Hicks’ pioneering and healing vision for regenerating Redruth’s landscape which had been scarred by mining on this edge of town.

Historic interest: *as a significant component in the late-C19 post-mining building boom in Redruth, funded by private philanthropists, many buildings for which were designed by Hicks; *the library is the only public building in Redruth funded by John Passmore Edwards, and forms part of a series of institutes and libraries bearing his name throughout Cornwall and beyond; *sited with neighbouring buildings, creating a municipal hub, the library and college reflect the county’s drive for social improvement and a growing need for high-quality education for all; *the alterations made to the library in the late 1960s, whilst having some impact on its integrity, are peripheral and reflect changing public needs and the growth of the service when it acquired the adjacent former college building.

Group value: *with the Grade II-listed Church of St Andrew, opposite, by James Hicks with John Seddon; and the neighbouring former Robert Hunt Memorial Museum and Redruth School of Science & Art, and Hicks’ house, Penarth, opposite, which, although unlisted, together make important contributions to the Redruth Conservation Area.


In the mid-C19 Cornwall was beginning to suffer from the decline of copper mining, tin mining had peaked, and by the 1870s the county was plunged into recession. Commentators noted that the landscape appeared ripped apart and many towns had taken on the appearance of a county on hard times. However, the historic market town of Redruth and its farming industry continued to thrive, and by the late-C19 the town held a great reputation for its shopping facilities. Many of the local philanthropists were owners of shops and related trades. Consequently there continued to be a number of public buildings constructed in Redruth (and other Cornish towns) funded by these ‘new money’ philanthropists, putting a different perspective on the apparently-harsh economic and social life of the time.

The Public Libraries Act of 1850 gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries, but it was not until the 1880s and 1890s that a new pattern of public philanthropy emerged, providing both the motivation and means for local authorities to adopt the Act. Nationally, some were built in response to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887, and unprecedented numbers appeared following the Libraries Act of 1892. However, the take-up in Cornwall was initially slow. It was not until the late 1880s when a Technical Instruction Act was passed, and government money was allocated to local authorities for the construction of institutes to boost elementary education provided by the board schools, that such buildings began to appear in Cornish towns for the use of the lay-person. Particularly noticeable were those established and funded by John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911). Passmore Edwards, the son of a carpenter, was born in Blackwater, near Redruth. In his time he made considerable wealth as a journalist, political reformer and a Radical Liberal Member of Parliament, but was by no means a wealthy landowner.

Many of the Passmore Edwards’ institutes and libraries in the county were won in competition by Silvanus Trevail, who was also responsible for the majority of the county’s board schools. However, the commission for the Redruth Free Library was given to James Hicks (1846-1896); there does not seem to have been an architectural competition and Hicks’ past acquaintance with Passmore Edwards may have secured him the job. Born in Redruth in 1846, Hicks exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy, and was a member of Redruth Urban District Council from 1895. Hicks designed many public buildings and private mansions in Cornwall’s western and central mining districts, and was the chief agent for the local properties of Lord Clinton. In 1883 he acquired the lease for the nearby Carn Marth granite quarries from Lord Clinton and James Buller, forming the Cornish Granite and Freestone Company. The company took their fair share of new building contracts in Redruth, adding to Hicks’ wealth, but also highlighting his interest in the wellbeing of the town.

On his death in 1892 Octavius Allen Ferris (b1805) of Truro, a former headmaster in Manchester, left £2,000 to five towns in Cornwall for the provision of free libraries; the first was built in Penzance in 1893. Redruth was one of the five, and Passmore Edwards also donated £2,000 towards a new library (one of his first in the county), on the provision that they adopted the Free Library Acts. The District Council decided to use the Ferris bequest for ongoing maintenance, and Passmore Edwards’ offer for the library’s construction. Eventually only £1,200 of the Ferris bequest was used for running costs as some was used for the construction of the boundary wall. Land adjacent to the School of Science & Art, built by Hicks in 1882-3, and the former Redruth College, also designed by Hicks and built in 1891 on behalf of Thomas Collins (see below), was purchased for the construction of the library from Lord Clinton for ‘a nominal sum’. The foundation stone was laid by John Passmore Edwards on 6 September 1894 at a ceremony attended by many dignitaries and local people, including the Newlyn artist Stanhope Forbes. The chosen contractor for the library was John Symons & Sons of Blackwater, and it was opened by Passmore Edwards on 30 May 1895 with great celebration and a day’s holiday.

To the south-east of the library stands the former Redruth College, also designed by Hicks and built in 1891 on behalf of Thomas Collins. For the previous 20 years Collins had been the headmaster of Trewirgie Board School and also lectured at the Redruth School of Science & Art and Redruth Mining School – both located further to the south on Clinton Road and built by Hicks in 1882-3. By 1890 the board schools were overcrowded and Collins decided to set up a Higher Level Boys School to complement and advance the subjects at the mining school and School of Science & Art. Collins acquired a site adjacent to these schools and the new school, named Redruth College, was opened for its first intake in September 1891. Collins probably also lived there. A successful venture, the college was run until Collins’ sudden death in 1904, but it was continued by his son Horace Collins, an architect who was a pupil with Hicks at the time. It is likely that Hicks and Collins were practising from the college building in the 1890s, when Hicks had left his house (Penarth, across Clinton Road, which he had built for himself) due to financial pressures. Advertisements for Redruth College stopped after December 1911. The building became a telephone exchange in 1931 and at some point was used by the YMCA. In around 1966 it was acquired as additional accommodation to the library for use as a reading room.

The library has always remained in its original use, but in around 1966 it received internal refurbishment and reconfiguration including new openings between the ground-floor rooms and the partitioning of the landing; and the incorporation of the former college building, involving the addition of the single-storey entrance and link block and openings made from the library and college to it. Other refurbishment work has taken place in the C21 to improve access and provide facilities for other local authority services.


Library, 1894-5, by James Hicks, and former Redruth College, 1891, also by Hicks and built for Thomas Collins. Contemporary boundary walls and gateposts to Clinton Road and Treruffe Hill.

MATERIALS: Carn Marth granite dressings with granite rubble infill, and terracotta detailing to former college. Delabole slate roof with terracotta ridge tiles. There are two tall stone stacks to the gable ends of the former college, and one to the south-west of the library roof.

PLAN: the library is located on a corner site, with Clinton Road running roughly north to south and Treruffe Hill descending to the west. The library is rectangular in plan with an octagonal entrance tower on its north corner. The former college building to the south is a more irregular rectangle.

EXTERIOR: the library is designed in a castellated Baronial style, with the original entrance in a three-storey octagonal corner tower, facing north-east. It has two storeys, plus a basement (or lower-ground floor) and attic, defined by stringcourses. The east (principal) elevation is of three bays including the tower; the southern bay has a gable surmounted by a ball finial. The tower contains the original entrance, approached by a flight of steps. A timber-panelled double entrance door is set within a round-headed arch with colonnettes flanked by buttresses. To the left of the door is the foundation stone with an inscription recording that it was laid by J Passmore Edwards Esq on 6 September 1894. Above the door are two stages of paired windows, they have arched heads on the first floor. The tower has a castellated parapet surrounding a pyramidal roof surmounted by a weathervane. The central bay of the east elevation has two two-light windows to the ground floor with depressed-ogee heads separated by a buttress; above a pair of tripartite flat-headed windows. Above the stringcourse and below the first-floor window, is inscribed PASSMORE EDWARDS FREE LIBRARY. The gabled southern bay contains a ground-floor window of two lights with depressed-ogee heads, separated by a buttress which grows into a corbel to support a canted oriel at first-floor level. Corbels of bolster-work rise from the canted corners of the ground floor to the stringcourse. Within the gable is a small two-light window. The north elevation, which slopes down Treruffe Hill, is more irregular. A gable next to the tower has a tripartite window, and there is a four-light window to the ground floor - lighting the stair - as well as other, smaller windows, including to the basement. The rear elevation is three storeys with two gables facing west. To the north is an entrance door with a modern canopy. Windows comprise timber sashes to the lower-ground floor, and small irregular fenestration to the first floor.

The former college to the south - originally separate from the library but now linked by a late-1960s single-storey block with canopied entrance (excluded from the List entry) - is in a contrasting eclectic Renaissance style, with terracotta details to the upper parts of the east elevation. The building is of two storeys with an attic and half-basement. The east elevation is two and a half bays wide, asymmetrical, with the southern bay wider than the right. The southern bay has a canted bay window to the ground floor, and there is a square two-light bay window to the right-hand bay. The central entrance has been converted to a full-length window, and a moulded corbel supports a entablature which would have acted as a porch. On the first floor, above a stringcourse, the three-light window to the south and two-light window to the north have decorative terracotta surrounds, including Corinthian pilasters and swagged decoration to the lintels. Either side of the left-hand window are arched terracotta decorative plaques, and above is a balustraded parapet with obelisk finials, broken by a three-light attic window with fleur-de-lys motifs in terracotta and swagged decoration above. Above this is a stone Dutch-style gable with ball and urn finials. The gable above the right-hand bay contains a bull’s-eye window. All windows are timber-framed sashes with transom lights, with trefoil details to the ground-floor windows. The rear (west) elevation of the main part of the building is rendered and has timber-framed sash windows. It has a single-storey extension to the south with an external stone staircase faced in C20 blockwork leading to C20 double-doors. The south elevation is blind but the string course continues across the gable end.

Attached to the south again is a single-storey block known as the annexe, originally one of the schoolrooms, and now vacant. It is set-back from the main building, and on its east elevation are two small windows with depressed-ogee heads, decorated with fleur-de-lys. The entrance is to the left and has a C20 door. The rear (west) of the annexe has three timber-framed windows within brick surrounds. The south elevation of the annexe is of brick construction, with a large three-light timber sash window.

INTERIOR: the original main entrance to the library is within the tower and leads to a lobby with a geometric-tiled floor, separated from the staircase hall by a screen with coloured lead-framed glazing and glazed panels depicting birds and flowers, which also feature in lancet windows flanking the doorway and above it in a semi-circular window. The lobby screen is timber-framed, with a scrolled pediment; the original doors to the staircase hall have been removed. Beyond this is the main open-well staircase leading to the first floor. The staircase is Jacobean in style, with newel posts with bay-leaf and acanthus carved decoration, turned balusters, and simplified Vitruvian-scroll detailing to the string. To the west of the staircase hall is a small WC, accessed through original moulded-timber panelled doors; the WC has its original fittings, including a wall-mounted gas lamp. To the south of the staircase hall is the main ground-floor area which contains the library. The central dividing wall has mid-C20 openings and to the south is a mid-C20 opening into the link block. The original ceiling cornices survive and inscribed ashlar marks are present in the wall plaster. Windows are metal-framed casements to the east and timber sashes to the west; all doors are C20 fire-doors. The basement is accessed from the staircase hall and comprises a series of small rooms, most with their C19 panelled doors and door furniture. The basement stair has simple turned timber newel posts and a plain square-section baluster. On the first floor of the library is the first-floor tower room and two large rooms, originally only separately accessible via the landing; both of the latter have 1960s suspended ceilings and their walls are lined with glazed bookcases probably dating from the 1950s. In the eastern room, which has a canted oriel window, is a marble bust of J Passmore Edwards. The doors on this floor are all C20 fire doors and the landing has been enclosed by C20 fireproof partitioning. Windows are metal-framed casements throughout.

Within the former college building, the ground-floor rooms have been opened out to create an open-plan space with the rest of the library. The rooms have C20 finishes and mostly suspended ceilings, although some C19 timber panelled doors survive. The basement is accessed from the west side of the ground floor, and contains service rooms; there is also an access from the street for the coal hole, although this is now blocked. The building retains its original dogleg staircase, with a turned baluster, a moulded newel decorated with carved pomegranates, and a carved Vitruvian-scroll to the string. The half-landing has a large timber-framed sash window with some coloured glass. The first floor retains C19 doors with chamfered panels and moulded architraves, and one room has a small fireplace with C19 surround, glazed tiles and cast-iron grate. The east-facing room on this floor contains a small ‘squint’ window looking north, from which the C19 railway viaduct can be seen. Its purpose is unknown, but intriguing. The annexe building is boarded internally throughout and is open to the roof with plain timber trusses and metal ties.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: a low rubblestone wall with granite copings fronts the north and east frontages of the library and former college building, breaking and curving to accommodate the steps up to the entrance tower, and breaking again, with stone piers, between the library and former college building. Granite piers flank the entrance path to the annexe building at the southern end of the complex.


Books and journals
Beacham, P, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Cornwall, (2014), 471
Evans, D, Funding the Ladder: the Passmore Edwards Legacy, (2011)
Perry, R, Schwartz, S, 'James Hicks: Architect of regeneration in Victorian Redruth’' in Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall, (2001), 64-77
Heritage Gateway: Cornwall and Scilly HER: Redruth – C19 school (ref MCO61845), accessed 10/01/2020 from
Heritage Gateway: Cornwall and Scilly HER: Redruth – Post medieval library (ref 178671), accessed 10/01/2020 from
Rightmove, accessed 10/01/2020 from
Alan Baxter & Associates for Kerrier District Council, Redruth Town Centre Conservation Area Character Appraisal & Management Strategy (2010)
Kresen Kernow: Plan, Redruth Library (c1966) (ref: AD2753/P/262/2)
Kresen Kernow: Plan, Redruth Library proposed extension (1966) (ref: AD2753/P/262/1)
L Beskeen, Unpublished research on Redruth College
Newell, K, Cornwall & Scilly Urban Survey: historic characterisation for regeneration: Redruth (2004)
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1879 Town Plan, 1:500)

Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1908, 1:2500)
Ordnance Survey, Cornwall (1971, 1:2500)
Royal Cornwall Gazette, Mr J Passmore Edwards at Redruth: the Free Library, September 13 1894
The Cahill Partnership and Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Cornwall Industrial Settlements Initiative: Redruth and Plain-an-Gwarry (2002)
The Cornishman, Mr Passmore Edwards opens the Redruth Library: big demonstration and glorious weather, Thursday May 30 1895, p6


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 s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.

End of official listing

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