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Museum and Library

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.

Picton 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.