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History: 'The local library is still one of the last free resources in this money-grabbing world'

PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 March 2019

Historian Sylvia Kent speaks about the importance of libraries on World Book Day. Picture: L-R Google Maps and Annie Spratt

Historian Sylvia Kent speaks about the importance of libraries on World Book Day. Picture: L-R Google Maps and Annie Spratt

Google Maps and Annie Spratt

As children go to school dressed as their favourite character this morning for World Book Day, historian Sylvia Kent tells us why libraries are so important in our community.

Burgess Library, which used to be in High Street, Brentwood. Picture: Sylvia KentBurgess Library, which used to be in High Street, Brentwood. Picture: Sylvia Kent

With so much sad news about towns losing their libraries in Essex, the book-lovers of the borough are keeping their fingers crossed that local libraries do not fall under the axe.

For many of us, particularly students and researchers, their local library is still one of the last free resources in this money-grabbing world.

Brentwood has a good history when it comes to the bibliophiles of the world.

Middle class Victorians enjoyed their newspapers, journals, novelettes and “penny dreadfuls” – if so inclined, but most working-class folk had precious little time after a long working-day to indulge in reading novels, which were also expensive to buy.

One visitor to Brentwood was Charles Mudie, the London philanthropist, author and publisher who started the first Circulating Book Library in 1842 in Holborn’s Southampton Row.

Mudie died in 1890 but his successful Circulating Libraries continued until 1937, by which time rivals provided similar services, including the Boots Lending Library.

Brentwood resident, the late Marion Bowen remembered Brentwood Library when she was young:

“We used to trot upstairs at Boots the chemist in the High Street, where we paid a penny to borrow a book.

“Then during the 1930s, there was a lending library in the old Guilford Lodge which later moved to the Ingrave Road, near the council offices.

“Kings Road also boasted a penny library but the best one was probably the Burgess Library in the High Street which was established in Victorian times.

“It later moved to Ongar Road and eventually became part of a lovely bookshop there, but all gone now, unfortunately.”

The Brentwood Police moved from Coptfold Road in 1937 to La Plata Grove, London Road and the Brentwood branch library took its place, being popular until the purpose-built new library opened across the road.

Marion remembered: “It was great to see Princess Anne on the steps of our new library. She looked lovely in her green suit and she was nice to everyone, even to the photographers on the day.”

Marion was not alone in her passion for reading. Essex Libraries, who host the current annual Essex Book Festival, can now boast more than 630 reading groups throughout the county not counting readers in private clubs, Women’s Institutes and U3A reading groups.

Times change.

Now the old library site in Coptfold Road is a children’s day nursery and the La Plata Police Station with adjoining court have been demolished but Brentwood’s busy modern library in New Road, still offers everything for the reader, from computer and email services, videos and above all, old and up-to-date books plus magazines and journals for their legion of local keen readers.

For more news on reading, check out my monthly Book Club programme hosted by Michelle Ward on the website for Phoenix98fm community radio station.

Have your little ones dressed up today for World Book Day? Share your photos either on the Enjoy Brentwood More Facebook page or by emailing hayley.anderson@archant.co.uk

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