Lucraft and Luckraft One-name Study

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The struggle for libraries in Islington

This is an extract from a paper about the history of Islington Public Libraries, published at the 2007 centenary.

In 1855, ratepayers of St. Mary’s, Islington met at the Parochial School Room, Church Street and in a stormy session voted down a motion in support of the Public Libraries Act. In 1870, another meeting adopted the motion by 76 votes to 66, but this was below the two thirds majority needed to pass. A year later the political activist Benjamin Lucraft took a petition with 43 signatures, from St Mary’s ratepayers, to the Vestry.

The petition said that free Public Libraries and Museums would help to improve people, leading to a“higher pitch of morality and industry” and “a more wholesome and pure source of recreation.” Lucraft lost. In 1874, Lucraft (below,) and Professor Leoni Levi organised a further campaign to adopt libraries. Levi published a pamphlet called “A plea for a public library at Islington” in which he argued libraries would help adults develop their knowledge. The Islington Gazette agreed, saying that libraries could help reduce popular ignorance, crime and poverty. Over 2,000 people attended the noisy meeting at the Agricultural Hall in November of that year, but only 338 voted for the motion and 1,435 against. “Howling roughs” and the “disordered pipe-smoking clique” reportedly shouted down the supporters!

A further request in 1887 was rejected by a two to one majority. The following year, Dr Levi and Major Robert Holborn were reduced to offering money and at least £300 worth of books to try to encourage people to vote for libraries. The strategy did not work, with a massive vote against in 1891. Unlike Islington, however, Clerkenwell did adopt the Acts, so Holborn gave part of his personal library to Clerkenwell.

In 1896, Mr. John Passmore Edwards (right, in a caricature from ‘Vanity Fair’) offered £10,000 if the Parish adopted the Acts, with £5,000 for a Central Library and £2,500 each for two branches. However, the Islington Public Libraries Rejection Association said that ratepayers did not want to adopt the Act, while the annual maintenance would soon outweigh Mr Passmore Edwards’ “bribe”, which was only to build libraries. They felt that public libraries were unlikely to succeed when evening education classes at Board Schools were poorly attended.

One ratepayer wrote:

“I read that one of our ‘new philanthropists’ had offered to give the people of ‘Merry Islington’ a building for a library on condition that they maintain it as a going concern for all time… Personally I have a strong objection to have even a penny rate taken out of my pocket by force in order to provide Mary Jane with novels, or her friends with newspapers.”

Another person wrote:

“It is a place where you can arrange to meet your young lady instead of waiting about in the street and catching cold… let us have literature of the best kind. In my humble opinion the reading of novels and ‘bitty’ papers is a delusion and a snare and they have much to answer for in the present style of living”!

Uniformed policemen delivered voting papers to ratepayers for the January 1897 poll, where 14,416 voted against adoption and 11,341 for. Local Government was reformed in 1899, with metropolitan boroughs replacing the old vestries. On July 29th 1904, Thomas Lough and the Islington Libraries Promotion Committee presented a petition that was signed by 796 ratepayers supporting the Public Libraries Act. Alderman George Elliott (who felt libraries were a “curse”) said it was unconstitutional, as it was not in the Council’s Election manifesto and Islington ratepayers had always rejected adoption.

Nevertheless the Mayor, Andrew Torrance, a friend of Andrew Carnegie, moved to adopt the Public Library Acts and to limit the rate charge to 2d. The vote was carried by a show of hands and, in a division, was carried 36 to 19 and Islington finally became a Public Library authority - 50 years after the original Parliamentary bill was passed!

The full article can be found at :



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