Friday, 7 January 2011

Bromley House

It's been a dank and dreary day today, but lit up by a visit to Bromley House. Following my last blog, my friend Colin offered to show me around the house as he was a member. I jumped at the chance, and we agreed to meet for lunch (which included his wife Gail) at The Bell Inn, which vies with Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem as being the oldest Inn in Nottingham. You'd think that after hundreds of years they'd have sorted this out, but apparently not, and the argument rages on. Oldest or not, The Bell provided a very agreeable lunch.

Following lunch, Colin and I made our way the few yards through the hustle and bustle of Angel Row, and went in through the door between Barnardo's Charity Shop and MSR Newsagents. There is nothing on the outside of the building to indicate what awaits you when you get inside (except a stone plaque which says '1752 Bromley House'). My, what magic awaits when you enter through the inner door.

Bromley House is Nottingham's only subscription library, with currently over 1100 members. The library was formed in 1816, and moved to Bromley House in 1822. This Georgian house was built in 1752 for George Smith, grandson of the founder of Smiths Bank, the oldest known provincial bank in the country. The library bought the building for £2,750, which according to the National Archives currency converter, is the equivalent of £115,280 today. This may be a meaningless exercise, but it does show that people were prepared to put in a considerable amount of money to establish a library in its own premises.

Walking in to the foyer, I was immediately struck by two things. One was the silence. This was remarkable as only a few yards away were thousands of people, buses, taxi's and cars, all going about their business. I could have been in the middle of the country. The other thing to strike me was when looking up the central stair well, you saw, four floors up a beautiful sky light, cascading light down through the centre of the building. The area was bright and newly decorated.

The first room to enter incorporated the reception desk. This part is the main library and includes a gallery area, which was accessed by a magnificent spiral staircase. It had obviously seen better days, as a notice advised that only one person at a time could use the staircase, but it was gorgeous. Bromley House has upwards of 40,000 books in the collection, which includes ancient and modern. Apparently, as a subscription library, it just requires two members to ask for a book to be purchased, and the words of Jean - Luc Picard are enacted, "Let it be so".

Leaving the galleried room, you go on an amazing journey through a labyrinth of small rooms, all stacked floor to ceiling with books. In looking at many of the books, it is obvious that the library's conservation volunteers will never be short of work. The library has on-going renovation plans, and it is clear to see what needs to be done. I really hope they are successful in raising the necessary money for this magnificent building. My tour finished in a room that is no less interesting than any other. Here members can sit to read the daily newspapers, and have tea or coffee at a reasonable price - there is an honesty bowl for the money, which I found to be endearing, which in itself may be a reflection on the standards of my previous working life. On the floor of the room is a brass meridian line; when the sun shines through a special hole in the window at midday, it lines up with the line on the floor, and apparently this was used to set the clocks in Nottingham many years ago. The cataloguing of books may not be up to modern library standards, and a card index system is still used rather than a computer one, but hey, if it works, that's fine by me, and adds to the charm of this unique place.

The last thing to see was the walled garden. What a beautiful oasis this is right in  the heart of the city. There can't be others like it, and though I saw it in the depths of winter, I could imagine it being a colourful, tranquil place for library members to sit out in the summer.

Bromley House has been operating as a library for 195 years, feeding the intellectual appetites of the residents of Nottingham. Great men and women have passed through its doors and contributed to its effectiveness. Long may it continue and flourish.

Thank you Colin for introducing me to one of Nottingham's gems.

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