Oasis in Nottingham -
the Bromley House Library
There is an oasis, an unpublicised
piece of Nottinghams history, among the shops on Angel Row. Many people will have
passed the cinemas and Bell Inn and failed to notice the elegant Georgian doorway beside
Dr. Barnardos. Since 1822 this has been the entrance to Nottingham Subscription
Library, familiarly known as Bromley House Library an anachronistic reminder of
Nottinghams intellectual past. Founded in 1816 in Carlton Street by a group of
Nottinghamshire professional men, in 1820 the library spent £2,750 on buying Bromley
House, which had been built in 1752 by the banking Smith family. From the beginning,
membership of the Subscription Library was open to a wide public. George Green, the
mathematician of Greens Mill, was a member, and so were William and Mary Howitt, the
prolific radical authors. Famous visitors included Michael Faraday, whose signature can be
seen in the old visitors book.
The library collections were wide ranging a considerable amount of scientific
and foreign literature was purchased (or donated) in the early years. Scientific
instruments and maps were on display, and elegant long-case clocks and mahogany barometers
still add character to the library rooms. During the 19th century the topographical and
literary interests of the members were well served by judicious purchases the
travel section in particular was noteworthy. Unfortunately a large portion of this had to
be sold in 1979 to provide funds for the future upkeep of the library, but much of
interest still remains.
There is a fine collection of Victorian fiction, with many "three-decker"
novels which are difficult to find outside the British Library. There is also a
fascinating section F Class up in one of the attics, which is a mine of
information on 19th-century history including the period of the Napoleonic Wars. The
theology section, in a large attic known as the Studio, contains more Victorian sermons
than are usually read nowadays, but also many important editions of the Church Fathers and
other religious writers. The attics sound a gloomy place, but they are really quite
pleasant rooms (though cold in winter) and have a special history of their own. They once
housed the studio of the first professional photographer in Nottingham, Alfred Barber, who
opened for business in 1841, and some traces of his equipment can still be seen.
Nowadays the librarys purchases are mainly in the fields of good fiction, travel,
biography and history, though many peripheral subjects are touched upon, and members are
encouraged to suggest titles to be bought. A range of newspapers and periodicals is
available for members to read over their coffee in the comfortable leather armchairs, and
recently a selection of talking-book tapes has been added to the loan stock. The books are
used for a wide variety of purposes, from solving Christmas quizzes to aiding PhD
research: some members come to escape from telephones, others to meet their friends, and
some even to read!
The charm of the Georgian building is enhanced by the hidden garden with its tall
trees, one of the few remaining town gardens in the city, and a tranquil place in which to
sit out in the summer. In fact the whole of Bromley House is remarkably peaceful: somehow
the city noise does not seem to penetrate the serenity of the building.
Links with St Peter's
Many members of St Peters have been connected with Bromley House Library. Robert
White Almond, the Rector whose portrait hangs in the back of the church, was President of
the Library 1819-1853: there is another portrait of him by Thomas Barber (who also painted
the Agony in the Garden now on the ceiling of St Peters west porch), hanging on the
handsome staircase in Bromley House.
Brian Dunn is the current President, and Leslie is a member, so the long tradition of
involvement between St Peters and Bromley House continues, with many of the present
congregation being members of the library. In fact the library can sometimes feel like a
meeting of St Peters Social Group when several of us arrive at the same time!
The librarys collections also provide links with St Peters. Thomas Wylde,
headmaster of the Free School (now the Boys High School), is buried in St Peters
and is commemorated in a brass in the south aisle: his commonplace book, a manuscript
giving details of his life and work as vicar of Beeston from 1758 to 1799, belongs to
Nottingham Subscription Library. Another important manuscript owned by the library is the
original text of Deerings history of Nottingham: Dr Charles Deering (d. 1749) was
buried at St Peters, though the exact position of his grave is not known.
Those of us who enjoy re-reading old favourites and finding unknown works by a
favourite author are as well served by Bromley House as those who are interested only in
the latest publications, though I feel that the latter miss much by not exploring the
shelves for unexpected finds. Certainly anyone with an interest in literature or local
history or general quirkiness! could do a lot worse than pay a visit to
Bromley House (but please telephone 0115 947 3134 first to make an appointment with the
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