Happy World Book Day the perfect chance to celebrate two of our favourite things, Kensal Rise Library and History. What better time to share with you the story of how this unique part of London's literary history came to be.
Kensal Rise Library was built in 1900 as a Public Reading Room, as part of an effort to improve a predominantly poor area. Following the building boom in London at the end of the previous century, the housing and population in Kensal Green had become much denser. The land was donated to Willesden Council by All Souls College, Oxford, under a restricted covenant stating that it could only be used as a free public reading room and library. Cricklewood architects Done, Hunter & Co. designed the building and it was built by a firm from Exeter.
Mark Twain, who was staying at nearby Dollis Hill House that summer, and had educated himself in public libraries, was invited to openthe public reading room and donated five of his own books. The building would have been gas lit, with open coal fires, and it made newspapers available for everyone in the local area to read.
In 1903, Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated £3,000 to extend the building, and the following year the public reading room became a library. In 1922, it became the first library in Willesden to allow people to choose their own books from the shelves. In 1934, a Children’s Library and study room were created upstairs.
During the war, the library suffered some minor bomb damage, and firewatchers spent nights in the attic, making use of its views across London. With the arrival of TV in the 1960s, the reading room became less popular and was closed, and major structural changes were made to update the building. The library passed from the Borough of Willesden to the new Borough of Brent.
Threatened with closure more than once over the years, the library was closed by Brent Council in 2010. The local community, led by The Friends of Kensal Rise Library, mounted a campaign to save the library, which was supported by high-profile writers such as Alan Bennett and Phillip Pullman, and received a lot of national press coverage. Resisting council plans and rejecting proposals from developers, they took their case to the high court and won. And they created a pop-up library outside the building in the meantime.
As the result of a dedicated five-year campaign, the library will re open this year. Uplift Property has worked with The Friends of Kensal Rise Library to agree a restoration of the building that is sensitive and sympathetic. The ground floor will be a public library once again, while the upstairs is converted into new housing. On 6th June 2015, members of the community celebrated reclaiming their public space at an open day, along with team Uplift and The Friends of Kensal Rise Library.
If you would like to find out more about The Friends of Kensal Rise Library, take a look at their website here. And if this story has got you intrigued about the beautiful apartments, The Reading Rooms, above the library, great news they are now available to buy off plan. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.