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Facade and main entrance

Brass door sign

Carvings above arched windows

Railings detail

Casement windows

Window detail

Stone carving detail

Rear elevation

Location

College Green, Bristol, BS1 5TL

Dates

1902-6

Architect

Charles Holden (1875-1960) for the firm of H. Percy Adams. Later work of Clarke, Burrough & Hannam and Architecton.

Style

Edwardian Freestyle

Listed Status

Grade I

Materials

Brick on steel framing, with facings of Bath stone.

Original Function

Library

Building type

Arts/Education

Visitor Access

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 9:30-7:30pm

Wednesday 10am-5pm

Friday, Saturday 9:30am-5pm

Sunday 1pm-5pm

Links

Bristol Central Library

Know Your Place

 

 

Key Facts

  • By a major architect of the London Underground
  • Has been described as a masterpiece of early modern design
  • Cleverly designed to fit in with historical remains next door
  • Look out for Tudor-style features and 21 literary sculptures on the main frontage

The present Bristol Central Library opened in 1906 in a building designed by Charles Holden (1875–1960). Holden is well known for his later designs of London underground stations, war cemeteries and memorials. His library used the latest techniques but also featured a style he called Neo-Tudor (especially on the main entrance frontage). This style echoed the Norman Abbey Gatehouse next door and includes tower and spire forms, Tudor-style windows and Tudor-rose decorations.

 

The main frontage also includes 21 sculptures of English literary figures (by Bristol-born Charles Pibworth), from Chaucer to St Augustine. Holden’s attractive interior uses styles ranging from Byzantine to Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Classical. There is a striking Classical Reading Room, while the Bristol Room contains fittings brought from King Street’s 1740 library building and includes fine oak panelling. An extension to the right of the main entrance was added in 1966–8. In 2000 a glass-canopied access ramp and entrance lobby was added on the right and the interior was extensively modernized.

Bristol was actually one of England’s first cities to have a public library, having had one since 1613. When Charles Holden worked on the 1906 library building he was an assistant at the firm of H. Percy Adams. He was made a partner in the firm as the result of this design. The approach Holden has used is often described as Edwardian Freestyle. It is easy to see here the many influences on his work. For example, the façade at the back is totally different to the entrance frontage. It is less decorated and more minimal in style, similar to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s design for the Glasgow School of Art, which was designed around the same time. The library’s variety of styles is even more clearly seen inside.

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