Next week sees a significant anniversary of one of our most striking buildings, as Fountainbridge Library turns 75.
A library has in fact stood on the current site since 1897, when it became the first neighbourhood library, originally called the ‘West Branch’.
The building was funded from the estate of philanthropist Thomas Nelson who died in 1892 leaving £50,000 to build Nelson Halls in Edinburgh. As Edinburgh Libraries were looking to expand at this time the two aims were combined and the original library was constructed from this fund.
By the mid 1930s spiralling repair costs and shortage of space led to calls for the building of a new library.
And so, readers were advised to return their books by Saturday 9th Oct 1937, before the building was demolished the following month.
J A W Grant was appointed architect for the new library, with sculptor Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson commissioned to provide a carving for above the main doorway on the corner of Murdoch Terrace and Dundee Street.
Jackson’s original plans included ornate carvings of a fountain and bridge, so he was understandably dismayed when he learned of a planned change of name to ‘Dundee Street’ Library.
However, the advanced stage of the drawings and the approval of the committee led to a decision to proceed with the name of ‘Fountainbridge’ Library.
The good progress of the initial works was slowed by the outbreak of WWII. However following complaints by Councillors an opening date was finally set.
Fountainbridge Library was officially opened by Provost Henry Steel at 3pm on Monday 11th March 1940. The Provost promptly borrowed the first book from the library, choosing ‘Haunting Edinburgh’ by Flora Grierson.
As well as being home to over 30 000 books the library also housed a reading room, a games room with 30 tables, a children’s room and a reference room to sit 30.
In a sobering opening speech Treasurer Darling alluded to war-time restrictions by reminding the assembled company that ‘many of us would have found months of black-out intolerable had it not been for the consolation and comfort of books.’
By 1950 the library was issuing 260,000 books per year to the people of Fountainbridge and the surrounding area.
The building has in the past been home to the Scottish Book Centre, Edinburgh International Book Festival and Publishing Scotland. It still houses the Citizens Advice Bureau, an organisation also celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The games room, reference library and children’s library are now gone. The addition of a meeting room after a refurbishment saw the creation of a dedicated community meeting space named the Bainfield Room, named after the Bainfield Mansion which once stood to the south of the building.
This space is still in use, hosting a writers group, book groups, and educational classes and more including a recent a Harry Potter night that saw the Bainfield and beyond transformed into Hogwarts.
We’re not sure what the next 75 years will bring (will people still be reading Harry Potter in 2090?) but we do know that the immediate future holds a series of celebratory anniversary events in the library, including a photographic exhibition showing images from throughout the library’s history.
You can view some of the items from the exhibition on Capital Collections.
We’ll also have a special book cafe, storytime and celebration day – see our events calendar for details.
And if you have any memories of Fountainbridge Library which you’d like to share please do leave a comment.