Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 20, 2016.
Webpage updated: March 01, 2016

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The rise of the Free Public Library and Museum in Devonport coincided with the demise of the Mechanics' Institute.  The latter, which was situated in Duke Street, closed in 1881 and the books and fittings from its library and the exhibits in its small museum were purchased by Devonport Corporation for 2,500.  The building itself was held on a long lease that was not due to expire until 1943 from the Lord of the Manor at an annual rent of 15 15s.

Over thirty years after the passing of the Public Library Act, which received the Royal Assent on Wednesday August 14th 1850, Devonport Corporation officially re-opened the Mechanics' Institute as its Free Public Library on Monday February 6th 1882.

The former lecture hall became the lending and reference library, while the smaller lecture hall was in use as a Science and Art School.  The rooms on the ground floor, linked by archways, became the reading rooms.  The gallery was used to display models and artefacts together with a collection of minerals originally presented by the late Sir John Saint Aubyn.  Mr T Lakin was appointed as Borough Librarian and he lived on the premises.  He was assisted in setting up the library by his counterpart in Plymouth, Mr W H K Wright.

At the time of the amalgamation with Plymouth and East Stonehouse in 1914 the Reading Room and Magazine Room were open to the public from 9am until 10pm and the Lending Library from 10am until 9pm, except Wednesdays when it closed at 1pm.  Mr William D Rutter was the Borough Librarian and Curator.

There were Branch Libraries at 77 Station Road, Keyham Barton; at 33 Wilton Street, Stoke; at 40 Keyham Street, Weston Mill; at 10 Yeoman's Terrace, Saint Budeaux;  and a Reading Room at 3 Onslow Road, Pennycross.

The building still survives, although in a very poor condition, and has a Grade II listing.