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  • This 1905 building replaced an earlier municipal library and was funded by a donation of £12,000
  • The library was seen as better place for the public to spend their leisure hours, rather than ‘soak in a pub’ according to the local newspaper
  • There was a separate room for ladies on the 2nd floor when it opened

“An inspiration as well as a rich treasury”

The population of Leicester grew rapidly in the later 19th century as did the number of people able to read and write. The original municipal library was soon overcrowded and so the town was delighted when the Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated £12,000 towards the cost of a new one. It was intended to “be an inspiration as well as a rich treasury”.

What did the library provide?

Designed by Edward Burgess, the new library could accommodate 40,000 books and up to 100 readers in the ground floor Reading Room. A separate Ladies´ Room was provided on the first floor and a Juvenile Lending Library in the basement. Soon after it opened it introduced Library Lectures “to add a little to the literary culture of the town”. One of the speakers was J.Ramsay MacDonald, Labour MP for Leicester, who talked about “Sociology”.

The importance of libraries

The library was seen as a particular benefit to “the manual labourer – the working man, the poor man and his children”. On its opening in 1905 by Carnegie himself, the Leicester Daily Post wrote that it was better “that the average shoe operative, factory worker or shop assistant should spend his leisure hours with Dickens, Thackeray, Scott or George Elliot” rather than “soak in a pub” or “hang around street corners”.

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Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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