The original library opened in 1848 as the "Mechanics Institute" on the corner of Dorsett Road and Cock Street, next to the Dartmouth Arms. The building, an old house was rented for £28 a year from Mr. Bruerton, a pawnbroker. It contained 750 books.

The building eventually became the town’s first public library in 1875 under the terms of the Public Libraries Act. In the late 1840s Liberal MPs William Ewart and John Brotherton, along with Chartist Edward Edwards actively campaigned for boroughs to have the power to finance public libraries. Their successful campaign led to the Public Libraries Act which became law in 1850. The Act only applied to boroughs with a population of over 10,000. Council’s spending on their public library was restricted to library accommodation, and could only be levied from a tax of no more than a halfpenny in the pound.

In 1853 the Act was extended to Scotland and Ireland, and in 1855 a further amendment extended the terms of the Act to apply to boroughs with a population of over 5,000 and allowed the levy to be increased to no more than one penny in the pound. It also gave councils the power to purchase books and reading material.

Even with this level of funding, local authorities still depended upon donations from the wealthier members of the community to fully fund their library. Under the terms of the Act, Borough Councils had to obtain the consent of two thirds of the local ratepayers, who voted in a referendum. The referendum could only be held after a request by ten local rate payers, and so in Darlaston ten prominent businessmen made the request.

The referendum was held in the Temperance Hall in Cock Street (later known as the Salvation Army Citadel) on the evening of Tuesday 6th July, 1875. The necessary two thirds majority was obtained, and the following month the Local Board decided to purchase the Mechanics Institute library for the town.

The 750 books were purchased for £75, and a further £7 was spent on furniture and fittings. Stephen Stephens was appointed as the town’s first librarian at a salary of £6 for half a year, and the Local Board continued to rent the building at £28 a year. Darlaston’s first public library began operation in August 1875.

In October 1975 when the library opened five evenings a week, possibly from six until eight o'clock, 769 books were borrowed, which averages out to 34 per day. Most of the books borrowed were fiction. Non-fiction books only accounted for around 10% of loans. Many people borrowed magazines. Most of the non-fiction books were about theology which reflects the importance of religion in the lives of people at the time.

The Second Building

Although the new Town Hall, which included space for the public library, opened in 1888, it would be another three years before the library itself could be moved, because of lack of finance. In May 1889 James Slater, Chairman of the Local Board, offered funds to the library as an incentive to get things moving. He offered to pay for any furniture that he thought would be required, and any shelving required for the books, and also a good range of newspapers and magazines. Even though his offer was accepted, the library remained at its original location until 1891.

On Wednesday 29th July, 1891 a tea was held prematurely to celebrate the opening of the lending department, which actually opened on Monday 14th September. Although it took a little time for the library to become popular, it went on to have many thousands of members, and became an important institution in the town.

Return to the
previous page