Library and Art Gallery

The most striking feature of this squat concrete structure is the relief sculpture that crowns the entrance area. It was designed by William Mitchell, a prolific artist who worked with many architects from the 1950s, and is still working today. The new library and art gallery was designed to replace an earlier building of 1933 that was no longer adequate for the needs of the town. It was located on a prominent site between the church and town hall on what was previously Market Place. The Deputy Borough Librarian thought that the challenge to the architect was to design ‘a building unequivocally of its time’ that didn’t ‘clash with the Town Hall or the Parish Church’. The result was a two-storey building faced externally in precast concrete cladding, dark grey mosaic tiles and blue engineering brick. The projecting chamfered bays of each concrete panel give depth to the façade. The internal rebates formed in these bays are seating for readers, behind tinted glazing to minimise solar gain. The library drew upon available technologies of underfloor heating and full air conditioning to minimise services interrupting the clear single space of the main library. A simple plan, on a 20ft (6m) grid, allowed free space for the lending area to be defined by the position of the shelves. That all of the library functions were on the ground-floor was said to be ‘a strong reaction against the drawbacks of the old building’. The delivery area and staff offices were at the back. In the centre of the main library an L shaped counter, since replaced, was aligned with a water garden installed by the Parks Director to mitigate the dry air caused by the air conditioning. The garden remains, as do the original fluorescent light fittings, arranged in a suspended square shape. Upstairs was originally a 150-seat lecture theatre and small art gallery, it is now a multipurpose arts space. This small building is emblematic of the last blast of civic boosterism by local councils whose budgets and powers were changed by the Local Government Act 1972.