Jubilee Library – 1889 – Architect Laurence Booth with Edgar Wood

Long Street looks lovely in spring with the Jubilee Library cherry blossom out and the trees coming into leaf. This panorama shows how Middleton’s Jubilee Library was designed to respect the timber-framed Old Boar’s Head. The library is an early and unusual Arts & Crafts design and there is only one other listed Arts & Crafts library in England of such an early date.

The official architect was Laurence Booth, a good local designer then in his 50s who designed in the standard Victorian manner. He built nothing like this before or afterwards. Instead, the Library is in the early styling of Edgar Wood (aged 29 in 1889) and there are many clues that Wood was closely involved and was most likely the true designer or, at least co-designer.

The Library is full of Arts & Crafts features, like the traditional pegged oak construction used for all the timber work (which Mr. Booth complained about!) and the reinforced concrete construction of the first floor, so the interior looks a bit like a mill. Blending traditional handicrafts with modern methods like steel and reinforced concrete were very much Edgar Wood’s approach.

Edgar Wood’s father, T. B. Wood and his neighbours, the Schwabe family, were the principal leaders and funders of the scheme… so the pieces of the jigsaw quickly come together. The real architect, Edgar Wood, was hidden from view to avoid a controversy. He was such a divisive local designer as well as being the son of the main funder. In this way, Edgar Wood appears to have designed the town’s first public library creating a state of the art design some ten years before Arts & Crafts architecture began to take off.

A similar device was used in the design of Long Street Methodist, the Arts & Crafts Church, where Wood’s involvement over several years was kept secret and only revealed at the last minute in December 1898 after all the decisions had been made.

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