46: Ancaster stone Pt3! The Hackney Central Library.

The old Hackney Central Library ©GMH2022

Another great example of turn of the century Ancaster use is in the old Hackney Central Library, shut in the later 1990s and now mainly used by the Hackney Picturehouse cinema but also the Rising Tide music studios. The new Hackney Central Library opened across the road in the Town Hall Square in 1999.

“After adopting the Public Libraries Acts in 1903, the council bought land in Mare Street from the L.C.C. for a central library, designed by Henry Crouch, … built with funds from Andrew Carnegie, and opened in 1908.” [1]

There is a visible foundation stone laid by HRH Princess Christian on 23 March 1907 on the west of the building. [2] The library was officially opened on the28 May 1908 by the Prince and Princess of Wales with much pomp. [3]

How the library design was decided was described in detail by The Builder in 1906 and is worth reproducing in full! 😀


“The  public  library  is  perhaps  the  most popular  subject  for  competition  amongst architects,  and  provides  an  occasion  for  the youth  of  the  profession  to  try  its  skill.  It is  therefore  not  surprising  that  the  request for  designs  for  a  Central  Library  for  the Metropolitan Borough  of  Hackney  should meet  with  the  very  large  response  represented  in  the  152  sets  of  drawings on view  at  the  Corporation  Baths.  Each set  consists  of  ?-in.  scale  plans,  elevations,  and sections,  ?-in.  scale  details  and perspective  view ;  and  the  sight  of  this enormous  amount  of  wasted  work  lining  the upper  walls  and  the  entire  extent  of  the tank  of  a  very  large  swimming-bath  is  a matter  for  serious  reflection.  The  depression  produced  upon  the  spectator  is  somewhat lessened  when  it  is  seen  that  at  least  one-third  of  the  schemes  are  absolutely  without merit  of  any  kind,  and  represent  the  extraordinary  diversion  of  thought  and  ideal existing  in  the  minds  of  the  increasing number  of  followers  of  the  art  of  architecture.”

“Ten  thousand  pounds  is  the  amount  of money  at  disposal  for  a  building  which  is  to occupy  an  irregular  quadrilateral  site measuring  about  84  ft.  to  Mare-street,  128  ft. to  Paragon-road.  46  ft.  to  Valette-road,  and 118  ft.  to  a  party  boundary  on  the  north side.  The  usual  accommodation  is  required, and  the  152  ways  of  regarding  the  problem are  interesting  and  remarkable.  With  the award  and  report  of  the  assessor,  Mr.  J.  W. Simpson,  we  are  in  entire  agreement.

The  three  premiated  designs  have  angle approaches.  Mr.  H.  A.  Crouch,  No.  26,  is the  winner  of  the  competition  with  a  design which  we  say  without  hesitation  is  very much  the  best’. 

The  architecture  is  admirably  expressive  of  the  purpose  of  the  building.  A stone  rusticated  angle  pavilion  with  a  semi-circular  open  porch  is  the  dominant  feature.

The  fronts  are  of  brick  and  stone,  each terminated  by  a  stone  projection.  There  is  a sense  of  dignity  in  the  scheme,  which  is  well expressed  in  an  excellent  view,  and  the  deep brick  frieze,  from  which  windows  are  excluded,  supplies  a  breadth  and  massiveness of  considerable  value.  The  Borough  Council is  to  be  congratulated  upon  the  successful issue  of  the  competition.
The  Builder,  July  14,  1906 [4]

The old Hackney Central Library ©GMH2022

A follow up notice a few months after seems to show that the original design was for Bath Stone, from the Monks Park quarry at Corsham, not Ancaster though! [5]

“This  design,  which  was  placed  first  by Mr.  J.  W.  Simpson,  the  assessor,  in  a  recent open  competition,  provides  accommodation for  a  central  library  which  it  is  intended  to erect  at  the  corner  of  Mare-street  and Paragon-street,  Hackney.

It  is  intended  to  face  the  building  with Monks  Park  stone  and  red  brick,  while  the construction  will  be  fireproof  throughout.  The  architect  is  Mr.  Henry  A.  Crouch.” [4]

Ancaster ‘Weatherbed’ at the old Hackney Central Library ©GMH2022

The building as it was built is clearly Ancaster and of the ‘streaky bacon’ Weatherbed type. See https://buildinglondon.blog/2022/08/06/44-ancaster-and-its-streaky-bacon-stone-pt1/

There has been some confusion in a couple of articles with the neighbouring building that was built as the Hackney Methodist Central Hall. For example even the current occupiers, the Hackney Picturehouse, wrongly state of their building “Originally Hackney Central Library and later a concert venue, this landmark building was converted into a cinema in 2011,” accompanied by a picture of what was Hackney Methodist Hall, which forms the bulk of the cinema today. [6] [7]

The 1925 Hackney Methodist Central Hall ©GMH2022

The Methodist Central Hall was in fact built in almost 2 decades after the Central Library and opened in 1925  [8] Hackney Central Hall, Mare Street. (fn. 321) Site on E. side, between Salvation Army hall and central libr., secured 1909 to replace Richmond Rd. ch. Bldg. of three storeys and seven bays, faced in yellow stone, with cornice and Ionic pilasters, 1924-5:” [9] [10]

Unknown limestone at the old Hackney Central Hall. Not streaky bacon Ancaster Weatherbed ©GMH2022

Ruth Siddell writing in the fascinating ‘Urban Geology in Hackney: An Undersong by Ruth Siddall & Joshua Bilton’, “a psychogeological walk around Hackney” also appears to conflate the two buildings writing, “Across the road from the Town Hall is Hackney Picturehouse. This is also built from a shallow marine, Jurassic limestone, but this is around 15 Ma older than the Portland Stone and from a separate marine basin, that of the Lincolnshire Limestones. This is Ancaster Oolite, notably more honey-coloured, due to the presence of small quantities of yellow ochre (iron oxide hydroxide). This is another of England’s great building stones. Its has a distinctive, brindled pattern which has led to it being colloquially called ‘streaky bacon’”. [11]

Ancaster ‘Weatherbed’ at the old Hackney Central Library ©GMH2022

She must be referring here to the 1906 Hackney Central Library building not the 1925 Central Hall building, which while made of a limestone, that actually maybe could be Ancaster, it is clearly different and not the ‘streaky bacon’ Ancaster.

Ancaster ‘Weatherbed’ at the old Hackney Central Library ©GMH2022

The Hackney Central Library building is somewhat strangely not listed. Maybe as it has been converted from it’s original use? [12]

And it has to be said that the blocking up of the old entrance portico, to stop homeless people sleeping in it, is an eyesore and a disgrace.

The old Hackney Central Library with it’s anti-homeless boards ©GMH2022


The old Hackney Cnetral Library is easy to access from anywhere in London, opposite the Hackney Town Hall and a stones throw from Hackney Central railway station.

[1] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp108-115#h3-0006
[2] https://carnegielegacyinengland.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/hackney-library/
[3] https://hackney.soutron.net/Portal/Default/en-GB/RecordView/Index/6516
[4] https://archive.org/stream/gri_33125007023837/gri_33125007023837_djvu.txt
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_stone
[6] https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/hackney-picturehouse/information
[7] https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/hackney-central-hall-and-library-foundation
[8] https://c20society.org.uk/c20-churches/methodist-central-hall-3
[9] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp130-144
[10] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol10/pp18-22
[11] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucfbrxs/Homepage/walks/HackneyUndersong.pdf
[12] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/map-search?

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