A cheering sight — a building that has been boarded up and unused for years pictured here with its front door open and the lights on. Not just any old building, but the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library. Looks welcoming, doesn’t it, on a dark winter night.
Last week, for one day only, it was open from 3pm-8pm for an exhibition of plans for the Cocoa Works development. Last week I wrote about that, and illustrated it with some of the images from the display boards. But I also took photos of the building itself, as it’s the first time I’ve been inside it, and it may be the only chance local residents get to see inside it, depending on whether it has any community-based use in the future.
There are no books here now, but the shelving remains. Here’s a view of the ground floor area to the left as you enter.
Here it is in an older photograph, from the 1930s:
The library opened in 1927. In August 2007 it was given a Grade II listing. The reasons for the designation:
- The library is an intact and unaltered example of an inter-war library
- It has strong historical associations with the nationally important figure of Joseph Rowntree
- It retains a large number of original fittings and fixtures of high quality
- The library is an unaltered example of Arts and Crafts inspired architecture
The windows are metal-framed and leaded.
The larger window at the end had signs of damage, as if there had been some attempt to force it, from the outside. The windows are boarded up now.
On the stairs, a few framed posters.
The exhibition was downstairs only. Upstairs, without lights on, I had to rely on the camera’s flash. Just a small compact camera, so not a powerful flash, but it illuminated enough to give some idea.
In the photo above we’re at the top of the short flight of stairs, looking in to the first floor room, facing the front of the building. The room has fitted magazine racks and cupboards.
With the flash turned off, that main window is rather handsome, with the light coming through from the street outside:
Only a small room. In the corner an inscription, hard to read at the time and difficult to get a clear image of:
‘A NUMBER OF
BOOKS IN THIS
ROOM ARE FROM
PRESENTED TO THE
COCOA WORKS BY
There’s also another inscription, which I didn’t see, but which is quoted in the listing entry.
Heading back down the stairs, peeling paint …
… and a sudden and rather impressive view of the main factory building behind, looming out of the gloom.
I’ve had to digitally enhance the image, it was more grey as I saw it, just enough light behind the factory for it to be visible as a bulky presence on the horizon. So much of a contrast to the building we were in, but of course linked to this little library, and so many other buildings here around the factory.
Down the stairs then, back to the ground floor.
And by the door, as we left, a cardboard tube drew my attention to an elegant curved umbrella stand.
I did include this next image on last week’s page — an inscription just above the entrance. I’d been in the building a while before I noticed it. An inscription above the door but facing into the room, meaning you see it as you leave, not as you enter. A gentle reminder of what this building is about.
It was good to see the interior of this building, after knowing it only as a closed and boarded-up place.
I wonder if that room upstairs could be kept for community use in some way, as perhaps a bookable meeting room for small local groups, or if it could at least remain open to visitors interested in the Rowntree legacy and the history of these buildings here.
I hope too that the view from the window on its stairs will remain unobscured, as it’s so impressive. A massive functional factory building framed by a small leaded library window. So different, but so much linked. Reminders of the Rowntree legacy and rich Rowntree heritage here in this part of York.
January 2021 update: what’s happening on the larger factory site, of which this library is a part: Cocoa Works: Rowntree factory development.
The Rowntree Society website has historical information and interior photos
Many fascinating old photos including some of the library in the York Press photo gallery: 67 old photos: The Rowntree/Nestlé buildings