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Public Buildings, Law Courts, Parks, Banks, Cinemas, Swimming Baths, Churches and Pubs

Note- The examples of public buildings shown are low resolution images intended only to give a sense of scale and general architectural style. They are not intended to be used as the basis of a model.

In the present context there are essentially three types of town, at the bottom end of the scale is the village, supporting a range of merchants and artisans serving the everyday needs of the local people. Next up is the 'market town', these support a weekly market (often several markets, such as a cattle market and a general retail market on the same day) and often had 'fairs' (essentially a specialised market day, attracting a larger number of traders and often incorporating a 'fun fair' as well). The weekly market brings in people from surrounding towns and villages and allows more diverse and specialised artisans to earn a living, these might include printers and book binders, gun smiths, watchmakers and the like who require a large catchment area to support their trade. These towns often supported a range of industries, such as tanneries, flour mills and grain maltings, associated with the main trades of the area. Up to the industrial revolution most beer was brewed by the owner of the pub and 'common brewers' who produce beer sold wholesale were rare. By the time the railways arrived 'common brewers' were much more common, many towns had several breweries and an associated maltings. The number of independent breweries declined toward the end of the 19th century, by the end of the First World War the market was dominated by larger companies concentrated in specific towns (notably Burton on Trent) but the scale of the market meant that several independent breweries remained in operation into the 1980s, a few continued in use into the early twenty first century. Some towns retained the 'fairs' where grain and cattle were traded but by the end of the nineteenth century larger towns had various 'exchange' buildings where materials such as grain, wool and other raw materials were traded. These were generally large and well ornamented buildings, the Corn Exchange in Manchester housed the largest single room in the world prior to the building of the space shuttle assembly facility by NASA in the 1980s. Cattle markets often saw large numbers of cattle tethered to posts in the high street (the posts fitted into holes in the road) but by the later 19th century the cattle markets were increasingly moved out of the town centre. The railway facilities at a market town would need to be more substantial and often the stations surrounding the town had extensive goods facilities as well. By the later 19th century towns hosting cattle markets often featured extensive cattle docks at at least one of the local railway stations. In the later nineteenth century industrial production increased the range of ready made goods available, and pre-prepared foods such as dried peas and canned foods, markets changed from forums for artisans and peddlers to more conventional retail outlets, selling goods produced in the new factories and also foods (much of it locally grown prior to the 1970s). The fairs declined in importance for the trading of goods and became increasingly associated with the 'fun fair' (which had long been associated with the commercial side of the event). Manufacturing was a part of most towns and cities up to the 1980s, in most areas you would find a small factory or artisans quarters up a side street. Most towns supported a healthy manufacturing sector and they tended to specialise in a specific area, steel in Sheffield, cloth in Halifax, glass and chemicals in St. Helens. Some goods did not take too kindly to long distance transport, either because they were fragile or because the value of the goods could not support long distance transportation. One example would be linoleum, the main centres for which were at Staines in Middlesex, Lancaster in Lancashire and Kirkaldy near Edinburgh. Any local port facilities would justify a chandlery, agricultural suppliers (buying and selling produce such as grain and selling tools, fertilisers and equipment) were often based in town as they were then easy to access using the public transport system.

Next comes the city or large industrial town in which most people are not directly connected with the agricultural world. This would have a concentration of administrative workers in their offices, usually surrounding a central hub of retail shopping facilities, and would be a natural base for wholesalers of various kinds. The main streets at ground level were reserved for shops (often with offices above) but as with the towns these would be of a rather diverse nature. Jewelers would congregate in the city as people would not buy such things every week but the city provided a sufficiently large transient population to provide their custom. Similarly many of the shops in the city would be selling more expensive goods, not so much because people in cities were wealthy but because people from surrounding towns and villages would go to the city for a special purchase such as a wedding present. The city was also home to the large department stores (considered below), and any chain store would seek to have at least one branch in the city as well as those in the surrounding towns.

Civic and Public Buildings

In the 19th century there were other changes, most notable in towns, for example the 'town hall' was originally the covered area used for the local market but by the mid 19th century the new buildings seldom had such accommodation and were increasingly associated with administration. Many town halls were designed to function not only as administrative headquarters for the corporation but also offered dining halls, ballrooms, many housed the magistrates courts or other facilities. The example shown on the left is in Stockport on the A6 south of Manchester, built in the 1890s its 'wedding cake' styling is typical of the period, the massive ballroom is still used today. A classic multi-function town hall was set up in Sale south of Manchester (shown below right). The building was opened in 1914 and was extended at either side in 1939/40. Then, in December 1940, it was badly damaged by a German incendiary bomb and was not fully rebuilt until 1952. This had a main frontage (shown below) giving access to the council offices complete with a tall clock tower whilst on one side was the town public library and on the other was the fire station, finally in the rear was a theatre and meeting rooms that could be hired for worthy causes. The police station was separate, across the road at the rear of the building. Note that both the buildings shown sported a large clock on the tower, a standard feature of town hall buildings until the 1970s.

Fig ___ Town halls

Photographs of town halls

From the 1840s police stations appeared, initially in the towns but by the 1880s every village had its policeman (the station was usually his house, the cells often being much older and located at the local magistrates courts). Police stations were very distinctive buildings, up until the 1990s they usually had an open door facing the street and of course the famous 'blue lamp'. Police stations are discussed in more detail in Appendix One - Emergency Services.

Every town would have its Magistrates Courts, usually an imposing building and larger towns had the Crown Court, always an imposing building and often displaying the royal coat of arms to indicate its authority. These would be surrounded by the offices for the solicitors and barristers and people (some wearing wigs and gowns) would be seen carrying bundles of papers bound with lengths of red tape. The tape is red because the dye used (Safflower) was expensive and hence added importance to the strong linen tape which was traditionally reserved for legal and governmental use.

Schools were characterised by several distinctive features, notably the paved play area within the school bounds. Up to the 1940s there were almost always two entrances to the school buildings from the playground, one for girls and one for boys (the inscriptions above the doors could still be seen into the 1980s on some older buildings). There were distinct national trends in school buildings, prior to the 1960s they generally featured single storey buildings with high ceilings and tall windows to allow in as much light as possible. The windows had large hinged sections at the top that could be opened for ventilation. The example below is typical, built in a square around the central playground, it could have been built at any time from about 1910 to 1950.

Fig ___ Typical traditional school buildings

Photographs of town halls

Associations and clubs built their own buildings, many towns had a 'Mechanics Institute' and 'Assembly Rooms' were built either privately or by the council to allow orderly gatherings in comfort. The Mechanics Institutes were set up in the early years of the Industrial Revolution to provide lectures and access to libraries for their members. Assembly rooms were often private buildings with large rooms to be rented out for meetings, local councils would often build such a building to serve a civic purpose whilst bringing in an income. The assembly rooms augmented the more traditional church halls and became a common venue for regular meetings of organisations such as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and local clubs devoted to card games such as bridge.

Fig ___ Public halls and Meeting Rooms
Photographs of Public halls and Meeting Rooms

Libraries have existed since writing was invented, although they were originally any collection of writings including records and archives. The Church established a number of 'parish libraries', intended mainly for the use of clergy, in which the books (being highly valuable) were attached to the shelves with chains. The first free public library in the world was set up in Manchester by a Mr Chetham in 1653. He used his considerable fortune to endow the town with a hospital (for treating those too poor to afford a doctor), a school for poor children and a library. The school, generally known as Chets is now a centre for musical training and still maintains a policy of not allowing finances to disbar entrance by subsidising talented youngsters who cannot afford the fees. The library is still in use and still has its original book cases (it holds over 100,000 books, many dating to before 1850). The Chethams Library was the exception rather than the rule, prior to the Industrial Revolution in the later eighteenth century libraries were mainly collections owned by individuals, with schools and universities having their own collection.

In the 18th century subscription and circulating libraries were set up, allowing people to share a central library of books for a monthly fee, and these proved influential in the development of fiction writing. Manchester has a rather fine example, the Portico Library, set up in 1806 as a reading room and library for the wealthy merchants of the city (after they saw a similar facility set up in Liverpool). For their subscription the clients had the use of a ground floor reading room (where newspapers were available) and the library on the upper floor (which is lit by an impressive glass dome. During the Second World War the ground floor was closed off and became a branch of Lloyds Bank and is now a trendy bar. The upper floor remains as a private library however, home of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.

As noted above the Mechanics Institutes were set up in the early years of the Industrial Revolution to provide lectures and access to libraries for their members. These made available to their members a library of technical books on a subscription basis but at lower cost than the commercial subscription libraries. Many of the specialist libraries started with a collection with a specific bias, donated by a wealthy individual, to which additional books and other documents were then added. An example is the Science Reference Library (now part of the British Library and formerly called the National Reference Library of Science and Invention) was originally established at the U.K. Patent Office. A major figure in the development of the British library network was Antonio (later Sir Anthony) Panizzi, a political refugee from Italy who started working for the British Museum in 1831 and held the post of principal librarian from 1856 to 1866. He introduced a proper cataloguing system and arranged for the Public Reading Room to be opened, demonstrating the value of a public access library.

In 1850 a law was passed allowing the local councils to levy a rate to pay for the provision of public lending libraries for the greater good of the community (the subscription services remained in use however, when I was growing up I lived in a rural area where the library service in the 1950s was provided by Boots the Chemists in the local town). The first authority to set up such a library was Manchester, however private individuals also established public libraries, a rather fine example being the Rylands Library in Manchester, opened in 1900 with a large collection of rare books it remained an independent public library until 1972, when it merged with Manchester University Library. The Rylands Library is an imposing gothic building noted for its early Art Nouveau bronze fittings.

In about 1900 Florence Boot, the wife of the owner of Boots the Chemists, introduced a subscription lending library service, the Boots Booklovers' Library. You could have either an A or a B subscription, with an A you could order a specific book, the B entitled you to borrow a book on the shelf. Boots libraries were a great boon to the more rural areas where no public lending library was provided by the council, they continued operating until 1966. During the second world war they had over a million members and loaned 35 million books a year. The books had a metal ring set into the spine and a leather 'bookmark' attached by a short cord with a 'treasury tag', bearing the company logo with a slip of paper set inside with the book details, this could be tucked into the spine of the book (although I do not know if the books were specially bound to allow this). As I remember it the details of the books borrowed were entered in a ledger.

In the later 1870s the Dewey Decimal System was introduced for numbering books in library collections. This has a three digit number assigning the book to a specific classification, each of these is then subdivided using additional numbers separated from the main three by a decimal point. It is common practice to add a further three letter group using the first three letters of the authors surname, so within the sub section the books can be arranged alphabetically on the shelf. In the early 20th Century the Universal Decimal Classification appeared, this is designed for use with technical and reference libraries and is based on the Dewey system. For some reason current government thinking emphasises a dumbing down of the library service, focusing on a simple 'keyword' search facility in place of the Dewey system, they also feel that libraries should concentrate on popular fiction rather than technical books, although this says more about the people in politics these days than it does about the value of libraries.
Libraries, and librarians, are a truly remarkable resource, I could not have produced this document without their help. Having spent a couple of days trawling through the reference library trying to find out when wire ropes were developed I asked the elderly lady behind the desk. She bustled off with a glint in her eye, I caught glimpses of her between the shelves, and after about five minutes she appeared with a book on the social history of Westphalia, open at the page detailing the development of wire rope for use in the mines. How she got there I have no idea. In about 2005 the Times newspaper tested the library service against the internet, it turned out the library was better in terms of the time taken to find relevant information and a lot better at providing accurate information.

Most local public library services date back to the 1870s when a number of libraries were established following the law of 1850. In Stockport, a market town south of Manchester, the original library was housed in rooms above the cheese hall in the town's covered market in 1875. Other towns converted private houses, but by the end of the 19th century purpose built libraries began to appear in larger towns, and quite a few small towns and even villages. The example below left is Stockport Central Library, purpose built on the site of the former Mechanics Institute in 1913 (with the aid of a grant from Mr Carnegie, the Anglophile American philanthropist). The example below right is a small suburban library, typical of those built in the 1930s (this example dates from 1940). The ramp at the front replaced a set of stone steps in the 1980s to provide better access for the disabled.

Fig ___ Town and suburban libraries
Town and suburban libraries

In the 1960s there was a rash of suburban library building, following the fashion of the time these are usually single storey structures, built to the 'highest modern standards' they only last about 40 years before requiring replacement.

Fig ___ 1960s suburban library
1960s suburban library

In country or suburban areas an alternative low cost option is the mobile library, typically a large van or lorry containing racks of books which visits an area on set days for set periods of time. In the present context a mobile library on a layout allows you to have a group of people and suggest 'something going on' without requiring movement.

This is not a new idea, such libraries were in operation in about 1900 with horse drawn carts delivering boxes of books to an area for distribution by a volunteer 'librarian'. In the 1920s the Kenyon Report (1924) cited the mobile library, or traveling bookbox as they called it, as a viable low cost option for the new suburbs until a proper branch library could be established. The example below is a simple van with side doors and dates (I believe) from about the time of the First World War.

Fig ___ Early mobile library
Sketch of an early mobile library

The first modern mobile library, where the vehicle served as premises where people could peruse the books on offer, was set up by Manchester city council in 1931 to serve the new suburbs. They converted a single decker bus and called it the bilbiobus. Building restrictions in the 1930s made building libraries difficult and the mobile library was a solution to this problem. In 1935 the first county mobile library service was set up in Kent but again this served the growing suburbs, the first rural mobile library service was established in 1938 in Lancashire.

The vehicles used have been many and varied, in rural areas a small (by modern standards) lorry with a rear similar to the van shown above but with a side that hinged upwards to form a roof supported on side posts remained in use into the 1960s. There have been quite a few single decker bus types but from the 1930s the lorry based type, either a rigid four wheeler with a luton body (with the van part extending over the cab) or an articulated lorry with the large van trailer seems to have been the most common options. The articulated type shown below is a typical later 1930s design, note the spats on the wheels and also the absence of a doorway on the 'off side' side of the vehicle, the doors were on the near side only on van type mobile libraries.

Fig ___ 1930s articulated mobile library
Sketch of  1930s articulated mobile library

The examples shown below date from the post war era, that on the left dates from about 1945 and retains the rather complex roof style common when all the bodies were coach-built. The example on the right dates from about 1980 (it was still in use in 2004) and has the simple luton body of a standard van, typical since the 1960s.

Fig ___ Post war mobile libraries
Sketch of Post war mobile libraries

In the early 1990s there were still over seven hundred mobile libraries serving isolated or rural communities but by the early 21st century there were only about five hundred in the country. Some of these were new services, in Manchester a mobile service was introduced visiting the sheltered home for the elderly in the mid 1990s which proved a success. Faced with shrinking budgets and demands for additional services such as DVD loans and internet access facilities the mobile library is seen as a way of providing a service at less cost and may become a much more common sight. Modern mobile libraries (since the 1980s) seem to favour the single decker bus chassis, although these actually resemble a very large mobile home rather than a bus. This allows the use of technology developed for the buses, notably the adjustable suspension so the floor of the vehicle can be lowered to provide easy access.

Large commercial buildings

Hotels began to appear in the 1830s, serving first the coaching services and later the railways (the railways themselves built many fine hotels). The example below dates from (I believe) the 1890s and is typical of the larger hotels build in close proximity to the railway stations.

Fig ___ Railway hotel
Photographs of railway hotels

In the 19th century banks began to proliferate on the streets, usually these were local enterprises most of which disappeared in the early 20th century through amalgamations and take overs. Bank building were usually built larger than the surrounding structures and featured ornate classical styling designed to imply stability and security.

Fig ___ Typical bank buildings
Photographs of typical bank buildings

In the second half of the nineteenth century the former town houses of the wealthy became offices for solicitors and doctors surgeries, many were converted to shops as the town centres became increasingly commercial in character. In the later 19th century the 'music hall' or 'variety theatre' appeared, offering low cost entertainment for the masses (a function pubs had formerly fulfilled) and in the years before the First World War the cinema (often called the 'Electric theatre') appeared in the larger towns, spreading to small towns by the 1920s. Many were built to the general design shown below left, this example is a restored cinema in Stockport and is taller than usual as it sits on a hillside, giving a very tall frontage. Not all cinemas were so constrained however, the example shown below right has a long entrance, with a curious roof, leading back to the large cinema building behind. It had to be built in this way as the only space for the main building was set back, when built there were houses to either side of the entrance.

Fig ___ Cinema buildings
Photographs of Cinema buildings

Dance Halls - These were large buildings with a large sign outside saying Dancing. Most dance halls only opened in the evenings but by the 1930s the afternoon 'tea dance' was an institution by the early 1930s. The music was provided by a live orchestra or band, recorded musing only came in the later 1960s. Most had a regular orchestra but the more famous touring bands would have poster outside advertising their performances.

Baths - Mens and women's, mixed on Saturdays. In many baths there was a removable floor that could be set up over the swimming pool to allow dancing (in the more up-market establishments this was a proper sprung dance floor which slid out as a single piece across the pool).

The Temperance Leagues, advocating abstinence from alcohol consumption, built a large number of snooker halls to offer their supporters an alternative to the pub for their social life. A characteristic feature of these establishments, at least in the Manchester area, was the curved roof. The example shown below, close by the railway station in Bury, Lancashire, was still in use as a snooker hall in 2006. Although built by the Temperance League the sign indicates that it now sells beer on the premises. The roof shows evidence of large windows, however by the early 1970s most of these had been blocked off and the establishments relied on artificial light.

Fig ___ Typical snooker hall building
Photographof a snooker hall

Roller Skating and Ice Skating Rinks. Both were common in larger towns by the 1930s.

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