Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Second Birmingham Central Library (1879-1973)

Birmingham's first Central Library and Art Gallery opened in 1865, but most of the building burned down in a fire in early January 1879. Rebuilding started almost immediately, using the remaining shell and pillars of the original library.

Opening of the first Birmingham Central Library, 1865

Remnants of the first Birmingham Central Library after the fire of 1879

The new Central Reference and Lending Libraries were designed by the architects William Martin and John Henry Chamberlain and opened in 1882. Salviati and Burke provided mosaic work for parts of the building.

Completely new, the Italianate red brick portion facing Edmund Street housed the Shakespeare Library designed by Chamberlain. The floral frieze above the second-story windows and the geometric patterns inside medallions above the first-story windows were made of mosaics.

 Facade of the Shakespeare Library

Due to both a lack of space (the building was designed for 30,000 books and by the 1970s stored 750,000) and a need for new road construction, the second Birmingham Central Library was demolished in 1973. Construction had started on its successor in 1970, which opened in January 1974 and still stands today.

The interior of the Shakespeare Memorial Library is the only part of the second library which survived. It was dismantled and then reassembled within the new building.

The Shakespeare Memorial Library today

"The Birmingham Free Library." The Building News and Engineering Journal. Vol 42. June 2, 1882. 664.
"Birmingham Central Library (1879-1973)." Birmingham City Council.
Birmingham Forum