Libraries Old and Libraries New

This week I was back in the city of my birth, and where I grew up, Norwich. These days almost everything looks smaller than I remember from my childhood.

One of my earliest memories that lead to a lifetime’s love, and my career, was my first visit one Friday tea-time when I was about 5 to the local Norwich Public Library. It must have been summer as it was light and the whole family walked from where we lived, off St Stephen’s Road, to the library (opened in 1857) on the corner of Duke Street and St Andrew’s Street. It seemed a long way at the time but later I can remember running there with my sister and a neighbour ready for the Children’s Library opening time at 10am on each morning of one school summer holiday, ready to exchange our books.

The old Norwich public library

The Norwich public library that I knew and loved. Photo credit here.

The Queen Mother

In 1963 Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother opened a new public library in Norwich much nearer home for me! Photo credit here.

I was in the crush – on the front row – and I think somewhere in my ‘archive’ [shoe box] I have the newspaper snipping. Not a week went by for the rest of my time in Norwich when I didn’t visit that library at least once. I studied for exams there. Used the local history library for my Regional Essay and final year dissertation. I even worked there briefly between study and ‘proper’ job.


Norwich Public Library 1st August 1994

Amazingly, even though I had long since left Norwich to marry and bring up my family in far away Yorkshire, I was one of the last people to leave that library on the eve of the devastating fire that all but destroyed the building and its contents. I had even borrowed a book which I was happy to return by post to the temporary premises in Ber Street!

Norwich Forum

It took many years but eventually a new library was built and opened on the site. It is HUGE! So this is one library that is not smaller than I’d remembered in my childhood. The vast Norwich Forum which contains the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library opened in October 2003 and its building benefitted from The Millennium Lottery Project.


Southwark Wenlock

Southwark Wenlock at The Norwich Forum

This week’s exhibition was Norfolk: Our 2012 Story.

An exhibition to celebrate our local contribution to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Since the Olympic and Paralympic flames were handed from Beijing to London, Norfolk has embraced the 2012 opportunity. We have seen over four years of exciting projects, innovative programmes and celebrations large and small to ensure that these once-in-a-lifetime events will never be forgotten in our county.”

The Forum is open everyday (except Christmas day and Boxing Day) from 7am until 11.30pm. Along with the library there are cafes and a Pizza Express, the BBC Norwich studios, exhibition space and the Tourist Information Centre and shop.

It’s been declared that the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has been named as the UK’s most popular library for the sixth year running!

There was another library in Norwich when I was growing up although I never went inside. The Norfolk and Norwich Subscription Library was instituted as a private library in 1784. It eventually closed in 1976. It’s stock was transferred to the Norwich School and forms the basis of its Local History Library.

The Library Restaurant

The Library, Norwich

I have now been in the N&N Subscription Library as these days it is a restaurant. We ate a very good meal there on Wednesday evening.

Library book marks

“Reading is to the mind what great food is to the body”


8 comments on “Libraries Old and Libraries New

  1. Daphne Sayed says:

    It is my favourite place.Its awesome.I borrow books there and my bro who lives in Cley returns them.We always have a day in Norwich and eat at the Breton Arms in Elm Hill and visit The Dormouse second hand book shop.

  2. The VERY thought of a library burning down actually brings tears to my eyes, Barbara, how devastating was that when you loved the place so much. But what a fabulous building now in its place and probably much more fit for 21st century purpose…but thinking of all the stock that must have been lost when it had probably survived the war too.

    • Oh, yes, definitely someone was looking ahead to libraries in the 21st century when planning the Forum, Lynne. Such a shame though that so many documents and books were lost. Fortunately no lives, though, as it happened at night.

  3. Nilly says:

    I didn’t know about this loss and wonder how many precious archives, as well as books, were destroyed. I’ve always been impressed by the good online resources for Norwich & Norfolk when researching family history – photographs, maps, directories etc.

    • Quite a lot, if not all were lost but many people and sources came up trumps and all is thriving again. I look forward to reading your report some time. I’m working on my own, too!

  4. […] I wrote about the libraries of Norwich, which I knew and loved. Within these libraries there was (and still is) an important post-war link […]

  5. […] week I was recalling memories of the Norwich public libraries. On that same visit I also recalled other of my early hang-outs: the Norwich museums. Until my […]

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