Fenton – The old library
Standing on the corner of Glebedale Road and Baker Street, the free English Renaissance style building that housed Fenton Library was designed by local architect F.R. Lawson.
At the end of the 19th century, Fenton was the only town in The Potteries without a library.
Earthenware manufacturer, John Shaw Goddard, who became chairman of the urban district council in April 1900, wanted to build one but the council did not have the money.
He asked wealthy landowner William Meath Baker for help, but William who had just given the town a new fire station could not afford to build a library.
However, he promised to give a site behind the town hall where a library could be erected if John was able to raise the money.
Discovering that a New York philanthropist, the self-made millionaire Andrew Carnegie, was building libraries in towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom, John asked him to build one in Fenton. Andrew gave John £5,000 to build a library.
William kept his word and donated the site behind the town hall.
The urban district council adopted the Free Libraries Act and agreed to levy a penny rate on each householder to enable it to buy books.
The library was opened by William on March 7th, 1906.
It was housed in a two storey Accrington red brick building with Hollington stone facings. The main entrance was in Baker Street. Revolving doors led into to the foyer whose mosaic floor was laid with Minton Hollins tiles depicting the town’s coat of arms. The interior archway over the door contained a mural showing children sitting at the feet of knowledge, painted by Gordon Forsythe who later became the principal of Stoke-on-Trent Art Schools.
On the ground floor were rooms containing an adult lending library, a reference library, a children’s library and a reading room. A staircase with a wrought iron balustrade, made in Tunstall by William Durose, led from the foyer to the upper floor where there was a lecture hall which could seat between 100 and 120 people. The room had an ornamental plaster ceiling and was heated by an iron grate in a faience surround.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013