Tag Archives: Billiards

Old books were new books once…

Musings of the Librarian

When we think of old libraries our first image is of rooms full of nice old books, so we easily have an image of a Victorian library looking much as it does today. We forget that it was full of the latest best sellers, because what we consider to be today’s classics were once that. Their spines were bright, not faded from time and sunshine, and dirtied by years of coal fires and the early gas lighting. There were multiple copies to keep up with the demand, and members were not always patient about having to wait their turn. Black and white photographs, or faded sepia, give us no image of the vibrancy that there would have been, with the new books all on display, the magazines with their colour prints of fashion etc, and Punch magazines with their cartoons on current events.

One at least of our grandfather clocks was purchased new, and we had the latest scientific equipment in the form of the barometers, the Wind dial and our Meridian line.  Our members requested that telephone be installed for their use as soon as it was available. The proportion of new books to old would have been much in the favour of new books too, the balance being somewhat different now as those new books have grown old alongside the library. So, when we look at the past, let’s not do it filtered by a black and white photograph, but remember that what is old now was once new and the latest thing. We were then, as we are now, both scholarly and popular, catering for a diverse clientele, and looking forwards as much as backwards.

Outside, Nottingham was busy and bustling too, with a market in Market Square, and frequent events taking place there, often photographed from our parapet. Maybe this is why ‘Members are not allowed on the roof without permission’?  There were businesses and clubs on the premises then too. Members of the billiard club would be coming and going, and the person employed as a marker did get drunk on the premises more than once. One hopes he didn’t meet the members of the ‘Ladies Bible Class’ when under the influence….

NTGM012431 Market and BH

Photograph courtesy of Picture the Past, approx. 1890


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Builders in the Billiard Room

Over the years many of the rooms at Bromley House Library have been rented out, tenants have included photographers, basket makers, wine and spirits merchants, solicitors, the Nottingham Law Society Library, the Thoroton Society, a Natural History Museum, and yes, a Billiard Room.

This seems to have been in place from shortly after the Library took over Bromley House.  Only recently have we known for certain that it was on the first floor of what we now refer to as the Garden Wing. It was accessed by a staircase next to the apartment where the Librarian lived ‘free from rent and taxes’. The relationship between the Library and the Billiard Room was not always an easy one, with the Library Committee having to express their ‘high disapprobation’, when shots were fired there and in the garden. The person employed as a marker was also told that he was not allowed to drink alcohol whilst on the premises. One feels that the Ladies Bible Group, meeting here at the same time, would have thoroughly endorsed the Committee’s ruling.

How long were they here? It is difficult to know for certain, but the room that they were using became the ‘New Library Room’ in 1882, when the little room that we use as a kitchen was built to connect the first floors of the two parts of Bromley House. This was in use as a Reading Room until 1959 when the Library decided to let out all of the Garden Wing as a means of gaining extra income, moving the book collections around and taking back into use the attic floor which had been let as a photographic studio.

And so over a period of time the wing was used by Wimpey, Burger King, and then Nando’s, and now the first and second floors are back in the Library’s possession and we will again have a ‘New Reading Room’, in that wing.

So, the builders are starting this week, and plan to be with us until 5th July. The first floor will include a new coffee area, toilets and staff accommodation (ie offices, not an apartment free from rent and taxes) and on the second floor there will be the reading room, with windows looking into the garden. We’re looking forward to the extra space that we will have, both for books and people, in a bright and sunny room.




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