Museum and Library

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Liverpool, Library and Museum

The Free Public Library, established in 1850, was temporarily housed from 1852 in the old Union News Room in Duke Street, along with important natural history collections bequeathed by the 13th Earl of Derby. The Shaw's Brow site was acquired, and in 1856 an architectural competition was held. The terms noted that it would 'form one side of an open space at right angles with St George's Hall', so it seems that a formal place was under consideration (and indeed the local architect Henry Sumners had already published designs for one). Thomas Allom's winning scheme was too costly, so the Corporation Surveyor John Weightman produced a revised design, built 1857-60. The merchant and banker William Brown offered to meet the cost, and the street was renamed in his honour. Allom had proposed an ItalianateGlossary Term façade, with much sculpture. Weightman produced a broadly similar composition - a six-columnGlossary Term CorinthianGlossary Term porticoGlossary Term with atticGlossary Term, flanked by five-bayGlossary Term wings and projecting end bays - but in a severely Graeco-RomanGlossary Term style, in the mould of St George's Hall. The great flight of steps in front was not formed until c. 1902; originally there was a broad, elevated terrace here. Bombed in 1941, the Library was rebuilt 1957-60 and the Museum 1963-9 by Ronald Bradbury, behind Weightman's preserved façade. The 19th century skyline was wrecked in the process by a rooftop addition. Rear extension to the Library 1978.

Click to enlargePicton Reading Room Exterior
Exterior, Picton Reading Room

The reading room stands next to the museum. By Cornelius Sherlock, 1875-9. Circular plan, after the British Museum Reading Room (1854-7). The semicircular façade with CorinthianGlossary Term colonnadeGlossary Term nicely accommodates the street's change of direction, and echoes the apsidal N end of St George's Hall opposite. The roof is a shallow dome covered with zinc on a framework of iron, with a glazed oculusGlossary Term. Behind the colonnadeGlossary Term are niches with weathered plaster statues by Benjamin Edward Spence, presented by the sculptor's widow in 1870: Jeanie Deans, The Lady of the Lake, Highland Mary. Inside, the 100 ft- (30 metre-) diameter reading room retains its bookcases and cast-iron galleryGlossary Term (a second, higher galleryGlossary Term was added later). It was lit with electricity from the start (gas was laid on as a back up) by three arc lamps in the glazed dish that still stands on an octagonal wooden structure in the centre. The basementGlossary Term was originally a lecture theatre, kept free of obtrusive columns by supporting the floor of the reading room on arched wrought-iron girders (engineer James N. Shoolbred), now boxed in. Attached to the rear is the Hornby Library, opened 1906, funded by Hugh Frederick Hornby to house his bequest of books and prints. By Thomas Shelmerdine. Impressive stone-faced Edwardian BaroqueGlossary Term interior, a five-bayGlossary Term aisled hall under a plaster barrel vaultGlossary Term. Halfway up the columns a balustraded galleryGlossary Term runs all roundGlossary Term. Outside the door, an Art NouveauGlossary Term copper plaque of 1907 by C.E. Thompson commemorates Hornby's gift.


Art Nouveau

A European decorative style at its peak c. 1890-1910, marked by swirling ornament derived from natural forms. True Art Nouveau design aimed to be distinct from all previous styles. Compare Free Style.


Small top storey within a roof. Also the storey above the main entablature of a classical fa


The term, originally derogatory, for a style at its peak in 17th- and early 18th-century Europe, which developed the classical architecture of the Renaissance towards greater extravagance and drama. Its innovations included greater freedom from the conventions of the orders, much interplay of concave and convex forms, and a preference for the single visual sweep. The revival of the style in early 20th-century Britain, often termed Edwardian Baroque or Neo-Baroque, drew more on English prototypes than on the more expansive variants of the Continent.

Barrel vault

The simplest kind of vault, in the form of a continuous semicircular or pointed arch; also called a tunnel vault.


Lowest, subordinate storey; hence the lowest part of a classical elevation, below the piano nobile or principal storey.


Division of an elevation or interior space as defined by regular vertical features such as arches, columns, windows etc.


Range of columns supporting an entablature, without arches. Compare arcade.


An upright structural member, especially in the classical styles, of round section and with a shaft, a capital, and usually a base.


The most slender and ornate of the three main classical orders. It has a basket-shaped capital ornamented with acanthus foliage.


A long room or passage; an upper storey above the aisles of a church, looking through arches to the nave; a balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building; or an external walkway.


A style of classical secular architecture at its peak in the early to mid-19th century, derived from the palaces of Renaissance Italy, but often varied by asymmetrical elements.


Circular opening.


A porch with the roof and frequently a pediment supported by a row of columns. Porticoes are described by the number of columns, e.g. distyle (two), tetrastyle (four), hexastyle (six), octostyle (eight). A prostyle portico has columns standing free. A portico in antis has columns on the same plane as the front of the building. Blind portico: the front features of a portico applied to a wall; also called a temple front.


The architecture of the Roman Empire, to which most of Britain belonged from 43 to c. 410 A.D. Our knowledge of Romano-British architecture depends mostly on archaeological reconstructions from foundations and fragments, though some notable fortifications and other military works survive above ground level in recognizable form.


(Scots): A rounded bartizan or turret, usually roofless. An angle round is set at a corner.