The Formation of Public Libraries in the UK

Public Libraries The First British Public Libraries were established under the museum act in Canterbury in 1847, Warrington in 1848, and Salford in 1850. A library service started in Brighton in 1850 by a private act, which was piloted by William Ewart, who had to work hard to put this in place under stiff opposition.

The 1850 public libraries act empowered borough councils in England and Wales, with a population of 10,000 plus to spend a halfpenny rate on libraries and museums, Thus establishing a principle, though imposing severe restrictions in practice. In 1855 the rate was raised to a penny rate and the population limit was lowered to 5,000, in 1866 the population rate was removed. Norwich was the first authority to adopt the 1850 act, but did not provide a service until 1857.

The first Library to be opened under the 1850 act was in Winchester, which opened its first public Library in 1851. The following year Manchester opened its first public Library, Liverpool was next to open a library. And then by a special act Libraries were opened in, Sheffield and Birmingham. From 1857 to 1885, the only public Libraries in London were St. Margaret and St. John’s which were located in Westminster. Another was opened in Wandsworth in 1885.

Before 1870 only 48 libraries had been opened most of which were in England, only a few had been opened in Scotland and Wales. Growth of Libraries became faster from 1870, and by 1900, 400 Libraries had been established. By 1913 The Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had given £2 million for the creation of Public Libraries on the condition that, local authorities provided sites and maintenance.