Friday, 15 March 2013

The Library File Goes to the West Midlands

Part Three - Chester House Library

The library seen from the high street.
A trip to Chester House Library in the village of Knowle, just outside Solihull, was the highlight of my trip to the West Midlands.

As you can see from the picture above, when seen from the high street there is little indication that this wonderful building is actually the local public library. The entrance to the library is at the side of the building by the south wing. It would not be feasible to have the entrance on the high street as the pavement is rather narrow.

I entered the library from the other side as there is a free car park on a parallel road to the high street with a connecting alley which goes right by the library entrance. Accessing the library from behind also gives you the opportunity to visit the recreated, Elizabethan knot garden (commissioned by the council and opened in 1989).

Chester House consists of five different buildings of different dates, styles and construction: the south wing was built  in 1400 or earlier, the north wing dates from 1500 - 1550 and, finally, around 1600 a two-storey  block was built linking the two original buildings to form a substantial house.

Not much is known about the original inhabitants of these early buildings, due to a lack of records, but from 1810  to 1910 the house was owned by the Kimbell family, from 1910 to 1925 it was occupied by H. Blundell (a farmer), in 1925 Mr Pickering took possession of the house and it was from his descendants that the council bought the house. Solihull Council started restoration on the house in 1972, although at that time there were no plans to make the building a library. Thanks to the creative-thinking of some of the council's senior officers, it was eventually decided to use Chester House as a library. Until 1975 - when Chester House officially opened as a library - the library facilities had been housed in a shop in the high street.
Plan of the ground floor and garden.
Even though Chester House is not a purpose built library, the space is used well to make a library which is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. The library is well-lit thanks to the velux windows which were added to the east wing roof. And, it is nicely partitioned with one area for adult fiction, non-fiction and reference material, a separate, cosy room for the children's library which leads through into a separate teen section.
The roof of the east wing with velux windows and lovely wooden beams.
The teen section.
There are stairs in the foyer and the teenage section which lead up to the gallery. The first floor is used for library events and also houses the local archives and a local history display.
The fireplace and filing cabinets containing the local archives.

Display cabinets with local, historical information and the back stairs leading to the teen section.

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