The first Free Library for Gosport was discussed in 1886. Dr John Robery Kealy, President of the Gosport and Alverstoke Library and Scientific Institute wrote to Col. Charles Mumby, Chairman of the Local Board requesting that he call a meeting to discuss the adoption of the 1855 Public libraries Act and Amendment of 1866. On September 13 1886 a meeting voted against a free library ‘as iit would entail a great amount of expense. A further meeting of the Ratepayers Association voted overwhelmingly against the idea. A public meeting held on September 22nd 1886 carried the resolution to adopt the Public libraries Act. A special meeting of the Board held on November 11th. 1886 appointed a library committee of three members from each the three wards. Financial support was given at a public meeting on March 8th 1887 when it was decided to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee by providing a fund for the establishment of a Free Library. The site was problematic due to limited funds and the failure to obtain Government help.
In February 1889 the question of providing a public reading room in Gosport was again discussed. The Local Board made the first move by including in the rate an estimation for the half-year of £256 for the establishment of a public library. They contemplated the purchase of No.1 High Street, which had been offered to them for £1,100, for this purpose but declined as it was too expensive and not large enough. They also turned down No.7 at £800. They did recommend that a temporary Free Public Library be erected on a site at the rear of the High Street and the Committee leased a piece of land, for £10 per year, at the rear of the Thorngate Memorial Hall. They had purchased a wooden building, previously at the rear of the Naval Club in Portsmouth (the dining room), for this use at a cost of £25.
The wooden library building was erected in January 1890 at a final cost of £87. A Reading Room was added at a cost of a further £160. They began purchasing books and accepted donations for the temporary library. The temporary building was opened to the public on February 12th 1891 by Col. Charles Mumby with Mr Benjamin Carter, a Royal Naval Pensioner, as Librarian at a salary of £1 per week with two female assistants at 4 shillings per week.
The Reading Room was 36ft by 24ft and the Library 30ft by 20ft. The reading room contained a ‘magnificent glass book case which, when filled, presents itself the appearance of a small library. It is a present from Dr J.R. Kealy. Both rooms are excellently lighted and ventilated, and heated by means of two tortoise stoves. A portion of the books are from the old library, but all the rest have either been purchased by the Board or presented by different persons. The lending library will be open for the issue of books from 11am to 1pm from 3 to 5 and from 6 to 9:30pm every day; the news and reading room from 10am to 10pm and the reference department from 10am to 9:30pm. No persons under 14 years of age will be allowed to borrow and all members must reside in the Local Board district and must obtain the guarantee of a ratepayer.
In 1894 a new District Council came into being and the Library Committee was enlarged. It proposed to erect a permanent building to house a Free Library and Technical Institute. They realised that the temporary building was not satisfactory and instructed a surveyor to prepare plans for a more permanent library building.
In 1897 the local Technical Institute and Public Libraries Committee began to look for a suitable site for a new purpose-built library. They preferred a site adjacent to St. Matthews Square but when the War Department objected they finally agreed that it should be constructed on a site made available by the clearance of part of the old town ramparts close to the junction of High Street and Walpole Road near the town gate. On February 4th 1899 the Hon. Rev. Canon Alan Brodrick, Rector of Alverstoke, dug the first turf in levelling the rampart, which occupied the proposed site. The purchase of the site from the War Department cost £800. An estimate for the new building was £6,000. By adopting the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 the council were able to levy a Technical Education rate to help with costs. By March 1900 they began accepting tenders for the construction.
In 1900 Martin Snape designed and presented a book plate for library use.
The new Gosport Library and ‘Technical’ School was finally built in 1901. On Wednesday 25 September 1901 the Rt. Hon. The Earl Northbrook, Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, officially opened the new ‘Gosport and Alverstoke Technical Institute and Free Public Library’. It was to house the library for the next seventy-two years.
The entrance on Walpole Road gave direct access to the Lending Library, the Reading and News Room, the Reference Reading room, and the Librarian’s office. The rooms in the Art Department occupied the first floor area at the front of the building and were carefully arranged in accordance with the requirements of the Science and Art Department. The Technical Institute was placed in the return block facing Clarence Road. The accommodation provided comprised of a Physical Laboratory, a Chemical Laboratory and a class room on the ground floor with a Cookery-Room and two large classrooms on the first floor. The caretaker’s rooms were placed on the upper stage of the tower. This work was carried out by Messers Rashleigh and Ben of Southampton under the supervision of Mr A.W.S. Cross M.A. F.R.I.B.A. of 56 Regent Street London.
The first 32 pupils attended the Technical school in January 1902. In May 1902 the number of pupils increased to 40. During 1902 a new Education Act gave the control of education to the County Council and the Technical School became a County Grammar School under County control. Gosport retained the use of the library section of the building.
The school was extended in 1907 with the addition of further rooms along Clarence Road. A large hall was built to the rear of the building and an external corridor was built to the back of the Clarence Road elevation. This had the benefit of allowing access along the building at first floor level without going through each classroom.
The Later Years
The County Grammar School remained in the building until 1957. In 1956 Gosport had proposed a three form entry County Grammar School at Bay House, which was used as overflow from the Walpole Road school. The new County Grammar School was officially opened in 1958 by Sir John Wolfenden and its use of the old Technical School building ceased. The library moved out in 1972 and a new library building was opened on October 31st 1973, near to the old building. The front part of the old building came into use as Gosport’s Museum in 1975, created to record all aspects of the history of Gosport from the earliest times to the present. This closed when the new ‘Discovery Centre’ with a ‘Museum on the Mezzanine’ was created out of the library building and the old building was used as a Local Studies Centre. For a while it held Gosport’s newly created Naval Collection of books as ‘Gosport Naval and Local Studies Centre’. The old school hall became a ‘Gallery’ hosting ‘a wide variety of exhibitions and events from shows of work by the finest local artists to exhibitions drawing on the rich collections cared for by Hampshire Cultural Trust.’ The rear portion of the building became SEARCH, a ‘hands-on centre bringing learning to life for schools, groups, families and the local community by providing exciting encounters with real museum collections.‘ Vestiges of the old Gosport Museum remained, with the reserve collection of Gosport artefacts and papers still held in rooms and offices upstairs. The Gosport ‘Geology Gallery’ also remained in the front section of the building. In 2018 it was announced that the Discovery Centre would no longer use the old building, which is to become an ‘Arts Centre’.
In 2019 it was announced that a major plan to transform Gosport’s town centre will include new uses for empty historic buildings, more options for eating out and more community and cultural events. The centre piece is to be the major revamp of the old Technical School/Library building, which will include a new museum and art gallery: creatings a community hub for heritage, arts, education and culture along with a cafe and shop.
The plan follows a sucessful bid for funding from Historic England, made by Gosport Council and Hampsshire Cultural trust, which runs SEARCH in the Old Grammar School (library) building.
A description of the building:
Designs for the building were submitted in a competition. The one chosen by the assessor Mr. H.H. Stratham F.R.I.B.A. was submitted by Mr. A.W.S.Cross F.R.I.B.A. of Spalding and Cross architects of London. The contractors were Rashleigh and Son of Southampton for £6,093. A grant of £2,000 was awarded by Hampshire County Council. This together with the Jubilee Library Fund of £916 3s 6d and a borrowed sum of £5,700 met the total cost.
The Gosport Free Library and Technical Institute, by Mr. A. W. S. Cross, F.R.I.B.A.
Illustrated in Fig. 7, (see plan above) is a compound building of which the library forms only a comparatively small portion. The borrowers’ counter is immediately opposite the entrance, from which it is divided by a light screen ; but the attendants do not find their books immediately behind the counter, but in a distinct bookstore which is planned so as rather more readily to serve the reference library. There is a small librarian’s office at the back of the book service, and from this all departments are readily accessible, the reading-room being largely devoted to newspaper stands. The reference library is evidently intended to be used principally by the students of the Technical Institute, into the entrance hall of which it has means of access through a communicating door. The school is planned to some extent on the principles laid down in the last volume, but upon the ground floor the two laboratories and the adjacent classroom open out of one another. The first floor is entirely given up to the school, and contains a series of large classrooms and a room devoted to cookery and laundry work. The plan is L-shaped and well lighted from both sides. Adjacent to the main staircase of the school is a small winding stair, which reaches down to the boiler house and up to quite a small residence for the caretaker on the second floor, about the least possible accommodation being provided for him. The elevation suggests a well thought-out scheme of colour, while it is designed in the simple, old – fashioned style which at the present time is affected by a good many architects.
The Frieze by Schenck
A feature of the library entrance was the doorway with columns above which is a frieze designed by the decorative sculptor Frederick Schenck (1849-1908) for the 1901 building at a cost of £200. (It is locally supposed that the frieze was by local artist Martin Snape, but this is not true.)
This description of the frieze was first published in Gosport Records No.9 Page 28 : November 1974
It is not always the most important events of a man’s life which are longest remembered and most carefully commemorated. When Henry of Blois landed upon what is now the Gosport shore, he could not have foreseen that the little hamlet which he blessed, and gratefully called God’s port, would, more than seven centuries after, have cast aside allegory, with its beauteous imagery, and chosen that incident to decorate a building which is to be devoted to books and the arts of peace. The sculptor has represented the scene as taking place at sunrise. The sky is still flecked with ragged clouds, the remnant of last night’s gale. The bishop has just quit the boat which, manned by hardy fishermen, had come to the assistance of himself and his followers. The knights in ringed and muscled armour, one with his kite-shaped shield bearing charges which were afterwards to be developed into the science of heraldry, stand behind the prelate, who bestows his hearty benediction upon the friendly land. The acolyte, still dazed with the horror of the night, carries the book. Henry of Blois is in vestments perhaps they were put on in the moment of peril, so that he might face death clad in the garments which were the symbols of spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness. In his left hand is his pastoral staff: a crosier is there in the background, not the rich cross borne in stately processions in the great minster of Winchester but a cross of S. John Baptist, two slender pieces of rough wood tied together. Apart from the knights and the shipmen, stands a group: a reaper in the fullness of his strength, an old man leaning upon a potent, half staff and half crutch, and a child pointing with excited wonder to the strangers: behind them is a woman, keeping well aloof. Portchester Castle is in the distance with its huge keep and beautiful church, fresh from the builder’s hands. The Norman ship, her sails charged with the attributes of St. Peter and St. Paul. is riding safely in port. Over the heads of the figures is spread the foliage of the tree of Hampshire, the oak.
East and West Panels.
Henry Cort, whose works were situated on Gosport Green and by the river Meon at Funtley, about 1785, was an inventor, and we have to thank him for discovering the process of converting hard pig iron into a soft and malleable condition. He is said also to have been the first man who constructed a system of drawing wrought iron into bars by means of grooved rollers. The result of his improvements and the introduction of his furnaces, caused the output of iron in England and Wales to suddenly jump from 150,000 tons to millions of tons per annum. Mr. J. W. Blake, in writing to an iron journal, says:— “Many men whose achievements have been of far less advantage to the nation, have ridden in their carriages and had the worship of a flattering crowd, but Cort’s name, until recently, has been forgotten, and even in his own town no public record stands.” This, however, has been rectified by the artistic emblem on the new buildings, and by the establishment of a “Cort” Scholarship to advance Technical Education.
Alverstoke is said to get its name from Alwara, the wife of a Saxon Thane, Leowin Lord of this, and other manors in the neighbourhood : also of the sea, as far as a man on horseback could reach with out-stretched lance at low water. When Leowin died. Alwara gave his lands to the Church of St. Swithin that his soul might find rest. And that is all known concerning the Lady Alwara : when she died, or when she was buried, what manner of woman she was, or of what race she came, who can say? It is all part of the past forgotten story of the dead which may never be written. Without children, perhaps without kin, the lone widow left her wealth to God, and her name to the Parish for ever.
A gallery of photos by Terry Rendall
Souvenir book published by Holbrook and Son Ltd. for the opening of The Gosport and Alverstoke Free Public Library and Technical Institute on 25 September 1901.
Article ‘The Early Years of Gosport Library’ by C. J. Washington in Gosport Records No.9 November 1974
Various newspaper articles including ‘Gosport Free Library opened today‘: Portsmouth Evening News – Thursday 12 February 1891
Plans and papers held in Gosport Local Studies Centre.
Notes by Margaret Roberts
‘The Story of Gosport’ by L.F.W.White PH.D. B.Sc. pages 135/136 and 167/168