Look Back With Little: From earliest days our libraries offer so much

Alderman Frank Partridge and librarian Tom Muskett at the opening of the Warwick Road Branch Library NNL-171019-131719001
Alderman Frank Partridge and librarian Tom Muskett at the opening of the Warwick Road Branch Library NNL-171019-131719001

The month of October has been notable for including National Libraries Week. Today’s article celebrates this fact but also provides an opportunity to explain the diversity of functions performed by our libraries in Banbury.

The history of a library in Banbury is synonymous with the activities of nineteenth century industrialist Bernhard Samuelson.

A firm believer in education, in 1861 he built a school for the children of his workers in Britannia Road close to his works and 23 years later he commissioned a new building in Marlborough Road that became the town’s second Mechanics Institute (the first was in Church Passage) and included a library.

Users had to be members and by 1889 there were just over a thousand who paid a subscription.

In 1944, Banbury Corporation adopted the Public Libraries Act and took over the Mechanics Institute library and lending stocks doubled. Issues rose when the 108,827 of 1947 became 265,696 in 1953.

The need to better serve people living in the rapidly expanding suburb of Ruscote soon became apparent and a branch library housed a temporary wooden hut (a former polling booth) appeared at 264A Warwick Road.

It opened on Monday evening December 29th 1952 when some 30 people turned up to discover what there was of interest in a collection of 1,500 books.

The new branch library opened three nights a week; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 5.30-7.30pm and additionally on Saturday afternoon 2-4pm.

No wonder my picture reveals the delight shown by Librarian Tom Muskett and Frank Partridge, Chairman of the Libraries Committee who did so much to encourage and interest in local libraries activities, especially reading.

In 1956 the latter‘s enthusiasm manifested itself in the launching of the Alderman Partridge Essay Competition.

He gave cups and book tokens to the children who wrote the best essays on books they had enjoyed.

There were two sections, Junior for 8-10 year olds and Senior for those 11-13 years old.

Much less satisfactory was the level of remuneration to library assistants. In 1967 this was 5/6d (27½p) per hour.

There was a vote in the Borough Council for an increase but this was defeated by one vote.

Two years later, Borough Librarian Alan Pain supported by Ray Hubbard (Banbury School Librarian) set up an exhibition to coincide with the 1969 National Library Week.

It was designed to attract more junior readers. Books on display ranged from the space age to sport and gardening.

Coincidentally Alan Pain issued a press release in which he stressed the need for a Central Library with a book stock of 60,000.

In the early 1960s, Banbury Borough Council decided to spend £12,500 on a new branch library linked to a community centre at Neithrop close to a rapidly developing part of the town due especially to London overspill population

In the Banbury Guardian issue of January 15th 2001, I wrote about how you could access a wealth of historical data available on your doorstep.

These were (and still are) to be found in the Banburyshire Study Centre in the Central Library in Marlborough Road and contained a mixture of original documents and photocopies of those in the Oxfordshire Studies Centre then in the Westgate Library.

The Banburyshire Centre was placed under the expert eye of Martin Allitt who assembled a magnificent collection of wallets.

These and many other items can best be termed ‘a treasure trove of all our yesterdays’.

Millennium Year revealed the truth of this as it was the spur for many investigations into village histories and the resulting booklets and videos have swelled the resources of the centre.

The provision of computers, Wi-Fi and the loan of DVDs has widened the library’s appeal but the core is still encouraging children to read via story times and activities.

In February 2015 the children’s section was transformed with a Hogwarts Castle entrance for a special Harry Potter themed night.

I am grateful to Banbury Library for the kind loan of the photograph.