Local History Society

Covering Cricklewood, Harlesden, Kensal Rise, Kilburn, Neasden, Stonebridge, Park Royal and Willesden

Kensal Rise, Kilburn, Neasden, Stonebridge, Park Royal

Save the Victorian building of the Willesden Green Library, opened in 1894, scheduled for demolition by Brent Council.

Sign e-petition here

Here is the letter I sent last week to the Brent & Kilburn Times and and a photo of WG Library.

Dear Tara,
I am writing on behalf of the members of Willesden Local History Society, to protest about the proposed demolition of the iconic old Library building on Willesden High Road.
Our Society is being contacted daily by dismayed local residents who have realised the impact of the proposals for the regeneration of the Willesden Green Library Centre site. Library services, and access to Brent Museum and Archive will be disrupted, customers of the Willesden Bookshop and the Irish Advisory Service will have to go elsewhere. As if that were not bad enough, we also stand to lose the lovely old Willesden Library building completely.
This small building, fronting the High Road, is all that remains of the Victorian Willesden Green Library,opened in 1894. It was reprieved from demolition in 1988, but now, it seems, is once more under threat of becoming a pile of rubble. We had hoped that such a little gem of a building could have been incorporated into the redevelopment, keeping a link with Willesden's past for the residents of our ever-changing neighbourhood.

Margaret Pratt. Secretary, Willesden Local History Society.

Willesden Green Old Library Building
Willesden Green Old Library Building
Willesden Green Old Library Building
Willesden Green Old Library Building

This is the text of the article which was published in Brent and Kilburn Times on 16th February 2012:


In the late 19th Century, Willesden Parish comprised of three small centres of urban development, at Kilburn, Harlesden and Willesden Green, separated from each other by farm land.
On February 19th, 1891, the residents of Willesden Parish were asked to vote for the provision of three local Public Libraries, to be paid for from the rates. They were tempted by promises of "Reading Rooms with Newspapers and Periodicals; Good Books to read at home, and Books of Reference which will help you in your daily work," (from the information leaflet accompanying the voting form.) The poll showed a majority of 2 to 1 in favour of Library provision, a Library Commission was set up, and sites were bought in Kilburn, Harlesden and Willesden Green. All three Libraries were built in a short time, Willesden Green being the last of the three to be opened. The design was by Newman and Newman, of Tooley Street, London Bridge, who were also the architects of Willesden Town Hall in Dyne Road, and the Willesden Cottage Hospital. The builders were Messrs. Sabey and Sons, of Islington. The cost of the freehold land, building and fittings was about £3,200.
The opening of the Willesden Green public Library on Wednesday 18th July, 1894, by local M.P., Mr I.E.B. Cox, was a grand occasion, the Ceremony being enhanced by a Concert of Classical Music and songs. According to a local paper of the time, The Middlesex Courier, the opening "created not a little stir at Willesden Green. Situated at the corner of the High Road and Grange Road, and of uncommon design, the building attracts the attention of all passers-by." The newspaper report goes on to describe the building as "V-shaped, one side running along Grange Road, the left-hand side running along a new road that is intended to form an extension of Brondesbury Park. The material is red brick, with half timber and moulded stucco work. The entrance is at the part of the V facing the High Road, and is flanked on one side by a turret, and the roofs are tiled." After the ground was cleared prior to building, the back of the site was found to be 3 feet higher than in the front, so they had steps put up to the entrance, which made it more imposing than the original plan.
The doorway opened onto an entrance hall, at the back was an office for the Librarian, and doorways into the Lending Library on the right, and the Newsroom on the left. (See WG07.jpg drawing 1894.)
A description of the fittings follows, including "Open grates in all the rooms, for heating, wood block flooring in the rooms and offices, and paved entrance hall with polished marble chippings." Altogether the Library opened with a stock of 5,000 books. The Librarian was a 21-year old Mr. Frank Chennell, who remained in post until 1937.
After a few years, the Lending Library and Reading Rooms were extended from one- storey to two-storey buildings. (WG08.jpg photograph from c.1907.) The opening of the extension was performed by James F.Oliver, Esq., Chairman of the Willesden Green Public Library Committee, on April 26th, 1907, and the improved facilities were enjoyed by the local residents for many years. By 1960, according to the Official Guide to Willesden, the Central Library at Willesden Green now contained a lending stock of 60,000 volumes, a Reference Library with 15,000 volumes, a Children's department and Reading Room.
By the 1980s, the Victorian Willesden Green Library was thought to be too cramped, inadequate for the needs of the growing population. A larger, modern building was constructed, and the original Library was largely demolished. The "wings" of the V-shape, on Grange Road and Brondesbury Park, disappeared. After a public outcry, and political battle, the small part of the old building housing the entrance hall, facing the High Road, was retained, and sympathetically restored to stand alone in front of the new Library Centre. Though no longer part of the Library, this iconic remnant of Victorian Willesden is a landmark loved by local residents. Could this be the final chapter in the history of the old Willesden Green Library? The site is to be developed, a new up-to-date Library is planned, and the fate of the old building is in doubt once more.