Trip to Bromley House Library
You’ll find Bromley House Library on Angel Row, a hidden jewel within the hustle and bustle of Nottingham city centre. It has endured the technological advances of the modern age. Yet, it hasn’t turned a blind eye to it. Being one of the only subscription libraries left in the country, it is an asset to the literary heritage of the city. Culture Syndicates recently got out of the office to visit, where we attended a talk about the library and its fascinating story.
A brief history
A Grade II* listed red brick building, Bromley House was built in 1752 as a town house for George Smith, grandson of the founder of Smiths Bank. However, the Nottingham Subscription Library, as it was known then, didn’t move in until 1822, having itself being founded earlier on in 1816. Today, the independent library houses around 40,000 books which are spread over three floors of the building.
There are many reading rooms, ranging in size and setting. One room on the third floor played host to local businessman Alfred Barber, who set up his very own photographic studio in 1841. This was during a time of innovation in photography, after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839. Believed to be one of the first commercial photographic studios in the country, it continued to be used until 1955. Another particular room is named after George Green, the famous mathematician from nearby Sneinton. It was during George’s time at Bromley House that he was encouraged to apply for Cambridge University, due to his natural ability in science.
The grandeur of Smith’s interior design is still evident within the ceilings, cornices and paintings which decorate the library’s reading rooms. At the rear of the building is one of only two walled gardens in the city centre. Visitors often refer to both the garden and the library as a ‘haven’. However, as you may have heard, the building is at risk due to the condition of the 265-year old roof. Historic England have announced a £374,800 grant to rectify this problem, ensuring the conservation of the library and its books. Its cosy appeal and exclusive solitude within the depths of the city makes it popular with many people.
A peak into the library
The library offers a number of tours throughout the year, giving the public a glimpse into its unique and tranquil surroundings. This was the perfect opportunity for us to explore the library and the following are some of the favourite things we learnt from our visit.
One of the quirkiest features of the library is the method as to which books are shelved. You’d expect books to be organised alphabetically by author. You’d also assume that older books would be found separate from newer editions and releases. However, books are shelved by order of when the library acquired them. You may discover the works of Karl Marx next to that of Joan Collins for example. We felt that this unique method of collecting and shelving books contributed to the independent feel of Bromley House.
The library also does its own thing when checking out books. If you want to take out a book, you have to do so with the librarian personally, using a card system which is stored within a catalogue. There is not a loan period as such, but requests can be made for a particular book if not on the shelf. This was once the norm within libraries, but sadly was commonly replaced with the introduction of computer systems. In carrying on this method, Bromley House is safeguarding traditional methods.
Another interesting feature is the Meridian Line. Assembled in 1836 but only recently discovered under the carpet, the line can be found in one of the reading rooms on the first floor. The fine line cutting through the floorboards works when sunlight passing through a small aperture on a window shutter would cross the line at solar noon. This was how time was set before modern techniques. This line still works today and you need to be there around noon to witness it.
These are just three quirky features that we discovered during our visit, yet there is still much more to explore. For more information about Bromley House Library and to book onto a tour of the building visit – http://www.bromleyhouse.org/
By Jake Epton, Culture Syndicates’ Administration Assistant. Jake graduated from Nottingham Trent University’s Masters in Museum and Heritage Development in 2017 and is developing his experience and skills in collections management, exhibitions and interpretation.
*All photographs are authors own