Wokingham Libraries

Montague House2.jpg
library sculpture.jpg


The Parochial Libraries

The first intimation of Wokingham having a lending library appeared in the second issue of the Wokingham Parish Magazine dated July 1865.

The need for a library was recognized by local churches and members of temperance movements to combat the increase in the consumption of alcohol by the laboring classes. Many laborers had free time now in contrast to those who worked on farms and spent money in "drinking dens". They were to be encouraged to spend time on morally uplifting activities, such as reading.

In 1850 the Public Libraries Act was passed which enabled town councils to establish public libraries and museums. The act had limitations on which type of councils could adopt and ways in which money could be spent. These limitations were removed by subsequent Acts in 1855 and 1866.

By 1855 a book depot had been created at Emmbrook and by April of 1868 a lending library had been opened there. On the 12th November 1868 a branch of the Parish Library was opened at Mrs, Brant's on the Forest Road, where books were lent on the 2nd Monday in every month. There was also a library in the Town Hall in 1868.

By June 1872, only the Town Hall Library existed and from January 1891 nothing more was mentioned either in the parish magazine or in the local press about lending libraries.

The County Libraries

In 1903 Mr F. Stainland, a former missionary in Japan came to Wokingham and started the "Berkshire Gazette" which eventually became the "Wokingham, Bracknell and Ascot Times". In 1924 he believed that Wokingham needed a library and having failed to persuade Wokingham Borough Council to open one, he turned to Berkshire County Council. They agreed to open a branch of the county library in the Bank Room of Wokingham Town Hall, which is now the Jubilee Room. By the end of the first year the library had made a substantial contribution to the ratepayers funds of 3s 4.5d in fines.
The library was opened 5th September 1924 and the hours of opening were from 6pm to 8pm every Friday.
The first voluntary librarian was Miss M. Hargood, who remained in post until 1949 and on her death was replaced by her assistant Mr.Claud Hawkins.

By 1928 there were 934 registered readers and 566 books were being exchanged.

After the Second World War a search started for larger premises. Eventually the Ministry of Education confirmed that a compulsory purchase order had been made for the acquisition of Montague House, Broad Street, Wokingham. Part of this building which was the scullery, dining room and study, was developed to become a library. The library in the Bank Room moved to Montague House and the first paid librarian was Miss C. Sale. During the first year 92,131 books were issued and there were 4,544 registered readers. The library was open for ten hours a week.

The opening hours were trebled from 7th January 1952 to meet public demand and Mr. Frank W. S. Baguely of the Leicester City Library was appointed librarian and stayed until the end of August 1957.

In 1970 the library was extended and was officially opened in December by the Mayor Cllr. Reginald Child. In addition to more shelf space, the public had more room to move around and a quiet space for reading was provided.

A decision to build a larger library was taken in 1994 as a joint venture between Berkshire County Council, Wokingham District Council and Wokingham Town Council. Additional finance came from the sale of Montague House to Peter Luff who had plans to build a Waitrose store on the site. The location for the new library was the former G.K. Motors site on the corner of Denmark Street and Langborough Road. The library was to be three times bigger and was estimated to cost £ 1.75 Million.

Building work commenced on 11th September 1995 and while underway was inaugurated on 5th March 1996 by th Rt. Hon. Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, who unveiled a commemorative plaque.

The new library was officially opened on 28th October 1996 by Cllr. Tina Marinos, Town Mayor of Wokingham who cut the ribbon, John Trimming, county council deputy vice-chairman and Diana Carpenter, chairman of Wokingham District Council.

A sculpture was unveiled outside the library on 11th June 1999 in a ceremory attended by the artist, Lydia Karpinska and representatives of Wokingham's Town Centre Management Initiative. The sculpture is based upon "The Waterbabies", a story by former vicar of Eversley, Charles Kingsley. The Character Tom, who can be seen peering from the spine of the book in the sculpture was based on a child chimney sweep, James Seward who lived in Rose Street Wokingham. A large contingent of Mr. Seward's descendants also attended the ceremony.


Miss Baker's School and other Wokingham Memories by Jim Bell




“Wokingham Libraries,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed January 23, 2021, https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0340.