This article starts the series of articles about various libraries of the Second City. A page dedicated to libraries alone will be created soon. Stay tuned!
Located on the corner of Icknield Road and Spring Hill (by the way, the former is an ancient Roman road!), this Grade 2 star listed building, a fine example of Victorian and Gothic architecture, is often mistaken for a church. Its ornate façade made of red bricks and terra cota (which is known for its weather-resistant, strong glazed surface) has witnessed 120 years of history and retained its beauty till the present day. The 65-feet tall clock tower proudly overlooks the roundabout and the surrounding neighbourhood. It is a small library but, nestling in the corner of the new Tesco shop, it is by no means dwarfed by the supermarket. Quite on the contrary, it stands its ground, proud of its age and the wisdom it holds inside, as if proclaiming, ‘I’m still standing!’ despite the past attempts to move or even demolish it.
As soon as I stepped inside (which, quite unfortunately, I had to do via the entrance shared with the supermarket, so the smell of doughnuts had to disappear before I could feel the smell of books), I realised that this is a perfect place for a writer to get inspiration. In a 48 by 43 foot hall, white shelves and vaulted ceilings create an atmosphere that is at the same time cosy without being constraining and spacious without being overwhelming. With the light pouring through the ancient windows, their stained glass and leadworks still intact, it is a perfect space both for reading and writing.
Spring Hill Library was officially opened on 7th January 1893; it joined the network of free public libraries together with Bloomsbury, Deritend, Constitution Hill and Gosta Green libraries. It has also made the news on several occasions. In its first year of opening it issued more books per day than any of the city branch libraries, and in 1895 a man was sentenced to six weeks in prison with hard labour for throwing books around the library and resisting arrest.
On March 16th 1949 a number 8 bus crossing Spring Hill from Monument Road into Icknield Street, collided with a fire engine travelling down Summerhill. The impact of the crash caused the bus to topple over onto the pavement outside Spring Hill Library. One person was killed and over 30 were taken to hospital. An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death and found insufficient care caused the crash and both drivers were criticised. The scratch marks made by the bus can still be seen today on the library wall.
However, the value of a building (or an establishment, especially a library) is not measured by how many times it has made the news but by the impact it has made on the people – and Spring Hill Library is a great example of such impact. Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the library is that, just like Moseley Bog’s, its existence has been threatened by urban development, and it was saved by the local community. In the early 1970s, when the iron and concrete beast was roaring and seeking whom to devour, slashing its paws to the left and to the right, it was planned to demolish the library as it was standing in the way of the extension of the Middle Ring Road. The plans had been around since 1936, but, as usual, nobody knew anything about it until it was too late. Luckily, as the threat became imminent, in 1968 a newly founded Victorian Society persuaded the Department of the Environment to list the building as being ‘of architectural and historic interest’. It had been debated whether the building could be moved – either en bloc (in one piece, with a concrete slab under it) or in parts or brick by brick. Luckily for the community, it was decided to leave the library where it had been, and it is still standing. The short document that I found in the history pack for Spring Hill Library says:
It is appropriate that this building stands on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter; in itself a gem, bright, hard, decorative and much too good to throw away.
I cannot but agree.
References and Links:
The Library’s profile of the website of the Birmingham City Council
Spring Hill Library, Coat of Arms
Spring Hill Library’s Architecture
History of Spring Hill Library