12 January 2016

Hove Library

Judy Middleton (2002 revised 2018) 

 copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Library was photographed on 23 May 2009; May is the only time of the year when it is possible briefly to take a photograph with sunlight on the north façade.

Early Days

In April 1890 a sub-committee including A.G. Henriques, William Hollamby, Samuel Isger and H.R. Knipe was set up to make enquiries as to what steps ought to be taken to establish a Free Public Library at Hove. By December 1890 their report was ready to present to Hove Commissioners. It was their opinion that it would be too expensive to build a library but suitable premises could be rented for £100 a year; they estimated the setting-up costs would not exceed £250.

However, under the Public Libraries Amendment Act of 1890, it was necessary to ascertain the opinion of voters before any such step was undertaken. Hove Commissioners used this legal loophole to duck the issue by proclaiming that ‘the desirability of establishing a Public Library in Hove is beyond the powers and duties of the Commissioners’.

This decision did not satisfy some influential inhabitants who were determined that such a project should not be dropped. In March 1891 eleven ratepayers signed a petition requesting Hove Commissioners to issue voting papers forthwith. Amongst the signatories were Revd Thomas Peacey, vicar of Hove, and Revd Ambrose D. Spong of 19 Ventnor Villas.

Voting papers were issued on 28 March 1891 and collected on 31 March 1891. The result was that 1,197 voted in favour of establishing a library, 502 voted against it, 499 did not bother to reply and there were 167 spoiled papers.

Library Established in Grand Avenue

 copyright © J.Middleton
Number 11 Grand Avenue is the corner red-brick building with the impressive chimney stacks.

 copyright © J.Middleton
A close-up of the entrance to 11 Grand Avenue.
William Willett offered to rent rooms at 11 Grand Avenue to Hove Commissioners. This included the basement, ground floor, first and second floors with the exception of a room situated at the north end of the second floor. There was some haggling over the amount of money involved but Mr Willett dug his heels in and stated the lowest terms he was prepared to offer were £100 a year for the first two years, and afterwards it was to be £150 a year on a seven-year lease; moreover the Commissioners would have to pay for alterations and repairs.

These four houses (numbers 8,9,10,11) were built in red brick in what has been labelled the Surrey vernacular style; it was also in contrast to the yellow stock brick used in other houses in Grand Avenue. A.F. Faulkner was the architect. (On 2 November 1992 these houses became listed buildings).

By November 1891 there was £500 set aside for library purposes but this amount had to last six months. If they were to undertake the fitting out of all the rooms, there would be nothing left with which to buy stock. It was therefore decided to just open a Reading Room for the first six months while at the same time founding a Reference Library to which the Commissioners fervently hoped there would be many donations.


The wealthy people of Hove rose to the challenge.

Mr Knipe donated the latest edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica in 24 volumes

Mr Howlett gave a complete set of Punch (1840-1890) bound in green calf

Mrs Tooth of 36 St Aubyns donated Gazetteer of the World in fourteen volumes and Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales in six volumes

Mr Medcalf, Hove’s Medical Officer of Health, undertook to furnish the library with a complete set of dictionaries in English, French, German, Latin and Greek

Mr W.J. Smith donated several works including Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia in 123 volumes and Lives of Eminent Englishmen in sixteen volumes

J.G. Bishop presented copies of his own works A Peep into the Past and The Royal Pavilion and its Associations

George Cheesman gave Erredge’s History of Brighton together with 90 extra plates

In November 1892 Miss Conolly of 15 York Road said she intended to present around 150 volumes in Braille for the use of blind residents; the subjects covered were history, biography, travel, theology and fiction. She expected that around 30 people would borrow them. The highest number of Braille books issued occurred in 1910 when the number recorded was 227.

In March 1894 Sir Julian Goldsmid donated 103 volumes of Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates

Brighton Library offered to send over duplicates of some back-runs including 79 volumes of Edinburgh Review and 66 volumes of Blackwood’s Magazine and Hove Library was grateful to receive them. Thus the collection steadily increased. Indeed there soon arose the problem of what to do with back issues of magazines and newspapers. The more worthy journals were bound into volumes and retained while the rest were distributed to Shoreham Workhouse and Foredown Isolation Hospital at Portslade.        
In 1899 the Earl of Chichester of Stanmer House donated some books in Italian including such classics as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in five folio volumes and Dante’s Divina Comedia in four folio volumes.

Newsroom Opened

On 14 December 1891 the Newsroom was opened and the hours were from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Hove residents could peruse copies of Edinburgh Review, Quarterly Review, ten daily newspapers, 32 weekly newspapers and 30 monthly magazines. It was decided there was no need to employ a librarian as yet because a caretaker could do all that was necessary. James Darton, aged 52, was appointed to the post. He was a Naval pensioner, having served in the Royal Navy for 28 years. He came from Ryde, Isle of Wight and had been caretaker of a school for the previous six years. His wife and 20-year old daughter assisted him in his duties. The wages were seven shillings and six pence a week but at least an apartment, fuel and light were provided free of charge.

In March 1892 best, plain linoleum with a felt underlay was placed in the Newsroom at a cost of £10. In July 1892 a youth was employed to assist the librarian and he earned six shillings a week.

In April 1899 the Library Committee agreed to the following notices being posted in the Newsroom: ‘It is not permitted to appropriate more than one Magazine or Periodical at a time’ and ‘No Newspaper may be kept longer than fifteen minutes when required by another reader’.

J.W. Lister Arrives

It was now considered the right time to employ a librarian and there were 26 applications for the position. John William Lister (1870-1951) travelled down from Sheffield for his interview, having spent seven years working at the Free Library in Surrey Street and for the last five years he was in charge of the Reference Library. At the tender age of 22 he was appointed Hove’s first Chief Librarian with a salary of £70 a year in January 1892. By the following month Mr Lister had drawn up a list of around 4,000 books that he recommended should be purchased to stock the Lending Library.

Lending Library Opens

On 24 October 1892 the Lending Library was opened. The famous art collector Sir Constantine Ionides presented 28 reproductions of Raphael’s cartoons and Michaelangelo’s Vatican frescoes to ornament the walls. But these were rather curiously partnered by a display of weapons lent by Mr Methley; the grisly exhibits included a Japanese executioner’s sword, a disembowelling knife and a clutch of assegais.

In 1892 Messrs Crompton installed electric lights in the Newsroom (£12-0-10d) and in the Reference Library, the Lending Library and the entrance lobby (£17-18s).

It is interesting to note the wide range of library members. Although there were 219 gentlemen and 199 students, there were also 139 domestic servants, three blacksmiths, two chair-caners, a cooper, a corset-maker and a livery-stable keeper.

Reference Library Opens

On 1 January 1894 the Reference Library was open to the public. By this time Mr Lister also had Mr H Mew as an assistant librarian and he was to have the services of a youth to assist in extra duties at a wage of five shillings a week.

From 1 May 1894 the library was open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every weekday with the exception of Friday when the library shut at 2 p.m. It was also open on Saturdays.

Hove Library Moves

copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Library was located at 22 Third Avenue for five years.
The Grand Avenue premises were gradually becoming totally unsuitable for the purposes of a public library. For example, books were issued using a ledger system and as only 150 transactions could be managed in one hour (both issue and discharge) the room was packed with people trying to reach the small hatch through which books were issued. The overcrowding was particularly acute on Saturday evenings. Although the lease was extended for another three years from 1898, by the end of this time the floors were beginning to buckle under the weight of books and people.

The Library Committee came to the conclusion that it would be desirable to have its own library premises. They heard of a suitable plot of land in Third Avenue, which could be acquired for £21-17-6d a square foot. But then they discovered there was a restrictive covenant limiting land use to private houses, clubs or residential chambers. But apparently it was possible to lease a building.

On 23 June 1903 Hove Library moved to 22 Third Avenue.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

Andrew Carnegie was born on 25 November 1835 at Dumferline, Scotland. His father William was a handloom weaver with radical ideas and his mother Margaret was the daughter of Tom Morrison who was active in the Scottish Chartist movement. Thus young Andrew grew up in an unorthodox household. By 1848 it had become impossible to earn a decent living from weaving and so William Carnegie borrowed £20 from a neighbour and with his family sought a better life in the United States.

Andrew Carnegie certainly took every opportunity to earn his fortune and he became a successful American industrialist and steel magnate; at the height of his powers he was reckoned to be the richest man in the world.

But in Carnegie’s view, great wealth brought great responsibilities with it. Two of his sayings sum up his philosophy; ‘the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry’ and ‘the man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced’.

In 1882 he embarked on his task of financing public libraries, starting off with his birthplace of Dumferline. Altogether, he provided funds for 2,507 libraries in the English-speaking world, including 1,689 in the United States, 125 in Canada and 660 in the United Kingdom. There were also sizeable gifts to universities in Scotland and the United States. It has been estimated that Carnegie’s distribution of his wealth amounted to  £70,000,000.

In 1901 Carnegie retired to Skibo Castle, Sutherland, Scotland but when he died in 1919 it was at Lennox, Massachusetts. 

As regards Sussex, there were four Carnegie libraries at Hove, Eastbourne, Worthing and Littlehampton but today only Hove and Littlehampton are still in active library use.

In recent years it was suggested to the relevant committee of Brighton & Hove City Council overseeing the choice and funding of blue plaques that it would be more than appropriate to have such a plaque at Hove Library to commemorate Carnegie’s gift. But the idea was turned down because Carnegie never visited Hove and therefore in their eyes had no connection with the town. Thus the general public are kept in ignorance of the fact that their magnificent building is a Carnegie Library.

A New Library 

Samuel Isger, Mayor of Hove, received a letter dated 23 June 1903 headed Skibo Castle, Dornock, Sutherland. James Bertram, private secretary to Andrew Carnegie, wrote it and it went as follows;

‘Responding to your appeal on behalf of Hove, Mr Carnegie will be glad to give £10,000 sterling to erect a free Public Library building for Hove, if the Free Public Libraries Act be adopted and the maximum assessment under it levied, producing £1,312 per annum, as stated by you. A site must also be given for the building, the cost not being a burden on the penny rate.’

Apparently, the Library Committee made their appeal to Andrew Carnegie off their own bat without consulting the rest of the council. Councillor Bull was unhappy about this and he also had the quaint notion that it was ‘derogatory to Hove accept a gift of £10,000’.

But Alderman Henriques said it would be disgraceful to criticise such a generous offer. Besides, he had a personal library of around 3,000 volumes containing some of the most beautiful, illustrated books published in the last 25 years or so, which he was prepared to donate if Hove were to have a proper library.

Councillor Morison suggested that the depot in Church Road would be a fine site. In fact this was the site chosen eventually but not until two years later. A complication arose because Hove Council wanted to have the new library and a technical institute next door to each other, especially since the latter would probably receive considerable funding from East Sussex County Council. By September 1903 a ‘highly respected resident of Hove’ had offered a site for the library although the council would have to buy the important adjacent site. The scheme fell through.

By February 1905 Mr Carnegie’s offer had still not been taken up because of the lack of a suitable site. Councillors then began to have second thoughts about the depot site in Church Road. Councillor Bull was not keen on this idea either because, as he reminded his colleagues, the site was purchased in 1882 with a loan and £902 was still outstanding; the council would need to find a new place for the depot as well.

In March 1905 Hove Council received permission from the Local Government Board to appropriate the depot land and build a library thereon.


In 1905 there was a competition to select a winning design for a public library from the 71 entries that had been received. Unfortunately, John Belcher, assessor and President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, stated the competitors had ‘either not complied with the conditions, or the designs are otherwise defective’. Ten competitors were selected for further consideration and invited to compete again.

John Belcher then thoroughly examined the ten sets of drawings and the following is a list of how he placed them.

1) Percy Robinson and W. Alban Jones of 53 Albion Street, Leeds
2) A.J. Hardwick and Sydney E. Castle of Kingston-on-Thames
3) Lionel U. Grace of 30 John Street, Bedford Row, London

On 4 October 1906 Hove Council formally approved the plans of Robinson and Jones. Work commenced on the building in February 1907 and the foundation stone was laid on 10 June 1907. It was hoped that Mr Carnegie would either lay the foundation stone or open the building but he had too many other engagements.

On 9 January 1908 Hove Council agreed to ask Mr Carnegie if ‘he would favourably consider making a further gift’ towards the cost of fitting out the library. Not surprisingly, Mr Carnegie declined. Perhaps he was even rude to the mayor. At any rate the mayor refused to produce the relevant letter at a council meeting and it seems there was no record made of its contents.        

Building and Description of Hove Library

 copyright © J.Middleton
A sketch of Hove Library as it was in 1908.

It seems the Library Committee originally accepted the tender of well-known builders Messrs Parsons & Sons to build the library for £10,238. But at a full council meeting, this tender was thrown out and instead Mr. F.G. Minter’s tender to built it for £9,999 was accepted. However, it is interesting to note that the 1931 Directory stated it cost £13,500 to build; perhaps the cost of fitting-out has been added.

Hove Library’s façade was designed in Renaissance style and faced with Doultine stone. At the top of the building there was a balustrade and a central, classical cupola. The latter embellishment survived many a winter gale but sadly Messrs Hall & Co removed it on 26 November 1967 because it was in a dangerous state.

copyright © J.Middleton
The sign flanked by amorini above the entrance to Hove Library.

The façade was embellished with carvings of scrolls, ribbons and swags of flowers and charming amorini on either side of the inscribed stone sign ‘Pvblic Library’. The ‘v’ is not a mistake because, like many Carnegie buildings, the Roman alphabet was employed and it does not possess a ‘U’. Incidentally, this stone has only come to light again in recent times, having been obscured for many years by a hideous white, plastic sign.

 copyright © J.Middleton
These wonderful amorini are above the side gate.

The building was of red brick spanning out on the south side to a semi-circle. As far as natural light is concerned, the design could not be bettered. The interior is light and airy and has a spacious feel to it with echoes of a grand Edwardian past. There were large windows downstairs emblazoned with improving texts such as Economy is half the battle of life (Charles Haddon Spurgeon), Read not books alone but men (Francis Quarles) and Knowledge is power (Francis Bacon).

  copyright © J.Middleton
The lovely dome was photographed on 1 April 2015; it has been restored recently and there was scaffolding underneath it for quite a while.

Upstairs there was a central glass dome to admit natural light and around the base were inscribed the names of four famous Hove residents: Richard Jefferies, naturalist; Roden Noel, poet; Edward Yates, novelist and Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz) artist. The first and last names are still famous but the middle two men have fallen right out of public memory while the past 100 years have provided a whole host of more famous associations, both men and women; perhaps that is why there are no names beneath the dome today.

  copyright © J.Middleton
The Hove coat of arms in stained glass is a testament to civic pride. The motto means ‘May Hove Flourish’.
Photo right:- A small detail in a window, easily missed, depicts a lamp of learning.

copyright © J.Middleton
These decorations carved 
from oak once adorned the 
Reference Library.
A large window containing a stained glass of Hove’s coat of arms lights the stairwell. There is also a rather charming, small stained glass depicting a blue Aladdin-style lamp of knowledge. 

There was a great deal of ornate plaster moulding on ceilings and cornices. The columns and arches were constructed of Trieste marble but they have been covered with paint for as long as anyone can remember.

Upstairs in the Reference Library rooms the bookcases were made of Austrian oak. Originally, they were glass-fronted and some side panels were embellished with carvings of bay leaf garlands and swags of fruit and flowers. These lasted until the 1980s when they were swept away during a rearrangement. 

 copyright © J.Middleton
Parquet flooring and an original brass 
plate belonging to the oak doors in
 the Reference Library.

All the floors were covered with thick, oak blocks of parquet flooring and such was their quality, they are still in fine condition 107 years after being laid. The solid oak doors have bevelled glass panes and Art Deco-style brass handles. Brass was also used for the handrails beside the staircase installed in 1911. Nowadays, they are polished but for many years a coat of pink paint obscured the brass.

Opening of Hove Library

 copyright © J.Middleton
This wonderful photograph shows Hove Library in all its original splendour.

The grand opening day was set for 8 July 1908 but as so often happens on these eagerly awaited occasions, it turned out be a dull, rainy day. The crowds were kept back from the building by temporary barriers. The Countess of Jersey formally opened Hove Library and gave a long and earnest address. Lady Margaret Rice, daughter of the Countess of Jersey was also present. Alderman A.B.S. Fraser, Mayor of Hove, was there to do the honours and the mayors of Brighton, Lewes and Worthing added to the civic splendour. The mace-bearer dressed in his special uniform preceded the dignitaries and the town clerk, resplendent in wig and gown brought up the rear.

Such an event must be recorded for posterity and accordingly the names of the Mayor of Hove, members of the Library Committee and F.G. Minter, builder, were engraved on a large brass plate that had pride of place in the vestibule. At some stage many years ago this was removed in favour of more plebeian advertisements. It was rediscovered later stored in the basement of the Music Library when that building was being emptied prior to being sold to accommodate the usual rounds of library cuts. The brass plate disappeared for good and the only part to be rescued was the thick wood plaque bearing the carved Hove coat of arms that once graced the top of the frame. This was duly presented to Hove Museum where it was put on display, wrongly attributed as having come from Hove Town Hall.

By contrast, the foundation stone remains secure in the vestibule. But as it is part of the structure it would be rather difficult to remove.

 copyright © J.Middleton
When Hove Library was opened its interior looked like this complete with a display of ferns.


Alderman Henriques was as good as his word and donated his own library of 2,779 volumes. Strangely enough book shelves and cupboards for the Henriques Room did not figure in the accounts until 1914. McKellar & Westerman constructed the fittings to match the rest of the library at a cost of £284. Alfred Gutteraz Henriques came to Hove in 1881 and lived at 9 Adelaide Crescent. He was a barrister-at-law, a Justice of the Peace, a Hove Commissioner and a member of East Sussex County Council from 1889 to 1898. He died on 5 August 1908.

In 1911 the De Mulinfeldt-Lawson bequest consisted of pictures, books and a bookcase

In 1913 Miss Gordon, neice of the famous General Gordon of Khartoum, gave 80 volumes of All the Year Round and five volumes of Household Words, both publications associated with Charles Dickens

In 1916 the Gallard bequest came to 163 volumes

In 1923 Colonel Dundee presented a portfolio of watercolour drawings of Hove and Aldrington churches executed by his father Captain W. Dundee in 1833-1834

Herbert James Ashburne Campbell of 36 Selbourne Road died on 11 November 1923 leaving around 1,100 volumes to the library. They had been published mainly between 1780 and 1860 and some were of considerable value.

There was another special bequest in the 1920s when Miss Marian Donne of 28 Denmark Villas presented some rare and valuable books relating to the poet and divine John Donne (1773-1631). Her father Joseph Philip Donne had devoted a great part of a scholarly life to its formation and the collection amounted to 513 books and eighteen pamphlets.

Hours of Opening

In 1908 the hours of opening were altered slightly. Until then the Reference Library and Lending Library had been open for eleven hours and the Reading Room was open for thirteen hours. The Lending Library had been kept open until 9 p.m. specifically for the benefit of shop assistants but hardly anyone came in at that time and so it was decided to close at 8.30 p.m. The librarian said the hours were burdensome for staff and they worked longer hours than shop assistants.

Roof Garden

  copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This evocative photograph of staff at Hove Library was taken in 1909 in the roof garden. Mr Lister is in the centre and presumably Mr Mew is seated next to him. The two females were cleaners and not library assistants because females were not employed in this capacity until 1915.

There was once a roof garden in the place now occupied by the Wolseley Room. A windscreen was erected in 1910 and a glazed roof was installed in 1912. The following comes from the Annual Report 1913.

‘Since the Roof Garden has been provided with a glazed cover its usefulness has been increased greatly. Eight newspapers are placed there on reading stands… In the summer it has been quite a sylvan retreat, Fig trees, Dracaenas and climbing plants grown under the direction of the Corporation Head Gardener have flourished; and a succession of daffodils, hyacinths, wallflowers, geraniums, fuchsias and other plants have kept the Roof Garden a mass of colour.’

This association with the parks and garden department lasted right up until the fatal day in 1974 when Hove Library lost its independence and came under the jurisdiction of East Sussex County Library. Older readers have fond memories of window boxes full of daffodils and other spring flowers, the formal display in the angle of the stairs, complete with fern, and the various pots and bowls of flowers placed at counters and on top of the card-index stands.

Children’s Library

In 1911 when His Majesty’s Inspector visited Davigdor Road Boys’ School, he commented ‘it is impossible not to regret that the Hove Free Library offers no facilities for the issue of books to children under fourteen years of age.’ But it was not until 1917 that regulation number 5 prohibiting persons under fourteen from borrowing books, was amended so that 12-year old children could now borrow books from the juvenile section.

In February 1920 a proposal that the Juvenile Library should be located in the basement was passed. It cost £60 to convert the basement into the Juvenile Library and not too many shelves were required because the stock only consisted of some 1,000 volumes with 100 new titles being added each year. However, the Public Libraries Act 1919 put special emphasis on catering for young readers and consequently the stock was increased. The Juvenile Library was opened on 14 July 1920 but there was no special ceremony. Access was by the side gate.

This arrangement lasted for many years. Today the Children’s Library has its own room on the ground floor at the front of the building and children are no longer regarded as being of secondary importance and indeed are actively encouraged to visit the library. For the little ones, Baby Boogie has become so popular that sometimes parents have to be turned away because of lack of space. Looking at the vast array of children’s books for all ages and tastes it is easy to see what a revolution in children’s publishing there has been during the last hundred years.  

First Female Assistants

The first female assistants were appointed in 1915, probably not from choice but from necessity because so many young men went off to fight in the Great War. By 1920 the staff consisted of Mr Lister, three men and five women. Mr H. Mew retired on 31 December 1927 and Miss Florence L. Talmay was appointed assistant librarian with a salary of £180 a year. (Miss Talmay died on 15 June 1956). Miss E.J. Farnol was promoted to first assistant at a salary of £125 a year and a new junior assistant was to be engaged at 12/- a week. Romance blossomed at the library because after Mr Lister’s first wife died, he married his chief assistant Eva Jean Farnol who was a cousin of the famous author Jeffrey Farnol (1872-1986)

J.W. Lister and the Great War

John William Lister (1870-1951) liked to say that he arrived at Hove as a delicate boy (he was 22) but thanks to the splendid fresh air he had never been on sick leave for a single week during the 43 years he spent as Chief Librarian at Hove. His early years at Hove were stressful because of the cramped conditions, firstly at Grand Avenue and then at Third Avenue. Even through this trying time he was appreciated and Hove Gazette (16 April 1898) had this to say; ‘A more courteous, tactful and obliging librarian than Mr Lister it would be hard to find. May his shadow never grow less!’ But he came into his own with the wonderful new building.

Text from the Brighton & Hove & South Sussex Graphic Newspaper
 12 December 1914

A debt of gratitude is due to Mr Lister for the meticulous way he went about collecting as much detail as possible about all the Hove men who served in the Great War and women’s war work were also thought worthy of note. He was quite strict about who he would allow on the roll of honour and every person had to have a solid association with Hove. Today, the result of his heroic efforts provides a unique and valuable source consisting of six box files containing service cards, letters and some newspaper cuttings plus five bound volumes of photographs. Some of the latter are studio studies of handsome and long-dead soldiers, sailors and airmen while a few are the tiniest of snapshots.

 copyright © J.Middleton
The brass tablets commemorating Hove men who died in the Great War are in the vestibule.

The names of 619 Hove men who died in the Great War are to be found engraved on brass tablets set into a carved oak frame and placed on the west wall of the library vestibule. Mr Hadlow of Brighton was the engraver. In a way, it could not be better sited because it is always on view to the public while at the same it is kept safe from mindless vandalism. It is also a sad fact that there were just too many names to appear on the actual war memorial in Grand Avenue.

Harry Mileham (1873-1957)

Harry Mileham studied at the Royal Academy in 1892 under some distinguished Royal Academicians including Frederic Leighton, Edwin Poynter, George Clausen and Lawrence Alma Tadema. In 1895 Mileham was awarded a Gold Medal and a travelling scholarship that allowed him to spend fifteen months studying in Italy. Apparently it was Lord Leighton’s casting vote that secured the Gold Medal for Mileham and thereafter in artistic circles he was known as Leighton’s blue-eyed boy.

The works of Giotto and Raphael were major influences on Mileham’s style while from the contemporary scene he admired the works of Burne Jones. Indeed, Mileham has been dubbed Hove’s lost Pre-Raphaelite because he remained faithful to this style long after such Victorian paintings had fallen out of fashion. In the 1920s he and his family lived at 42 Osmond Road but by the 1950s they lived in Mallory Road. A special exhibition of his works was held at Hove Museum in 1995-1996 to celebrate the centenary of his Gold Medal award.

For 23 years one of Mileham’s works hung on the staircase wall of Hove Library. It was painted in 1911 and entitled King Alfred builds a fleet – fitting the starboard. In 1953 the artist presented this work to the Admiralty and it ended up in the mess-room of HMS Collingwood. Mileham’s oil painting Nymph of Artemis painted in 1901 hung in the library from 1928 to 1950.

A Museum Too

Hove Library also served as a museum until Hove Council purchased Brooker Hall, once home to the Vallance family, which remains to this day. There were number of curiosities and natural history exhibits enhanced in 1914 by the presentation of a collection of stuffed British birds. Mr C.C. Stehn of Brunswick Square shot most of the birds in the Adur valley. Perhaps the Booth Museum has them now.

By 1927 all the objects had been removed to the new Hove Museum.


Once the museum objects were re-located to Hove Museum, the opportunity was taken to re-decorate the interior, which had not been touched since 1913. Unfortunately, infrequent redecoration and even more sparing maintenance became the hallmark of Hove Library. For example, the interior ground floor walls were once painted in different colours including blue, pink and a sort of beige. Although this was fashionable in the 1950s, it survived well into the 1970s.

When the exterior was cleaned in 1988, it was said the last face-lift had taken place in around 1954.

Wolseley Room

Frances Garnet, Viscountess Wolseley (1871-1936) was the daughter of the famous Victorian soldier Field Marshal Viscount Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1912). In the 1920s she donated £1,100 to found the Wolseley Room at Hove Library. Messrs McKellar & Westerman built it in 1925 on the site of the old roof garden.

copyright © J.Middleton
The large painting is of Frances Garnet Wolseley as a debutante and her father Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley is on the left.

Gwyneth Hudson of Hove painted the mural over the doorway entitled Spirit of Agriculture. At the top of the mural are the words:

‘Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground – in a fair ground –
Yea, Sussex by the Sea!’

This is a quotation from Sussex written by Rudyard Kipling in 1902.

Underneath the mural is the inscription ‘This room is dedicated to our two oldest industries Agriculture and Horticulture without which man cannot live. It is the Humble Desire of the Donor Frances Garnet, Viscountess Wolseley, that within these Walls, the children of Cities and Towns will by study gain an understanding of the arduous work that is done by those who till the Soil and grow our Food.’

 copyright © J.Middleton 
The mural above the doors of the Wolseley Room was painted by Gwyneth Hudson of Hove; it has recently been restored.

Miss Mary Campion OBE of Danny painted other murals to decorate the Wolseley Room in 1926. But they are no longer visible. She depicted different types of old-world gardens painted to resemble mediaeval tapestries. Her inspiration for the frieze came from old woodcuts showing the work of the year, ploughing, haymaking, harvesting, apple picking and sowing seeds.

Lady Wolseley
(from the 1914  Brighton Season Magazine)
Periodically, exhibitions of watercolours were held in the Wolseley Room and it was the practice of Lady Wolseley to buy one or two items to add to the collection.

Lady Wolseley was a passionate gardener and indeed she founded Glynde College for Lady Gardeners. But she had other interests too and wrote a series of articles entitled Historic Houses of Sussex that were published in Sussex County Magazine. She also made it her business to collect as much information and illustrations about these houses as she possibly could and the results were bound into volumes for the library.

Another part of the Wolseley Collection was an archive of autographed letters, which had been gathered by Field Marshal Wolseley and given to his daughter when she was still a little girl. She must have been a serious young girl because from the age of twelve she began to collect book-plates and by the time she donated the collection to the library it contained specimens of the best engravers through the centuries.

It was Lady Wolseley who suggested to the Master of the Rolls that the Wolseley Room would be a suitable place to store old Sussex deeds and documents. In 1926 the Master of the Rolls under the Law of Property Act 1922 designated Hove Library as a suitable depository for manorial documents of West Sussex while those appertaining to East Sussex could go the library of the Sussex Archaeological Collection at Lewes. An appeal signed by Lord Leconfield (Lord Lieutenant of Sussex) the Earl of March (later Duke of Richmond and Gordon) and Viscountess Wolseley was sent to the lords of the various Sussex manors.

By 1927 Hove Library had custody of the court rolls of Pagham, Ford and Climping plus other deeds and documents; in September 1930 some old deeds and maps relating to Ormonde Hall, Bolney arrived. By 1947 the Wolseley Room contained nearly 3,000 deeds. The custodians of East Sussex Record Office resented the fact that Hove Library held so many old documents. But this is an old quarrel because these documents have long since been allocated to the relevant Record Offices. Fortunately, the Wolseley Collection remains firmly in the Wolseley Room.

The Wolseley Collection was further augmented in 1935 when Lady Wolseley donated a collection of Field Marshal Wolseley’s papers and more followed in 1970 from the United Services Institute. Lady Wolseley died in 1936 and her gross estate came to £24,888-17-10d. After some bequests the residue went to her friend Mary Isabel Musgrave for life and afterwards to Hove Corporation for providing and maintaining the Wolseley Room. When the money became available the Wolseley Room was refurbished and A. Edmunds & Co drew up the plans. On 4 December 1970 Sir John Wolfenden and Professor Asa Briggs formally opened the refurbished Wolseley Room. For a few years at least a Wolseley Librarian reigned supreme in the Wolseley Room with the duty to concentrate on cataloguing and arranging the Wolseley Collection and enhancing and keeping all the local history material up to date.

Other donations to the Wolseley Room include

Mrs Davidson Houston’s collection of Sussex brass rubbings

Miss Helena Hall’s watercolours of heraldic devices of old Sussex families 

Edward Shoosmith’s valuable manuscript notes on Sussex history.

J.W. Lister Retires

In 1935 Mr Lister retired, having been Chief Librarian since the 1890s. It was indeed the end of an era. To mark the occasion Mr H. Peters Bone of King’s Gardens gave the library a collection of rare Private Press books.

Henry George Massey became the next Chief Librarian. But his tenure of office was brief indeed compared to Mr Lister’s. In 1939 he left Hove to become Chief Librarian of the Royal Borough of Kensington. Of even shorter duration was the next incumbent Mr J.H. Davies because he left in 1941 and by 1946 he was Captain Davies of the Intelligence Corps. Later on he became Music Librarian at the BBC. He died in 1976.

Jack Dove was the next Chief Librarian at Hove and the last person to hold that post along with being Curator of Hove Museum because the two were separated in 1974; Mr Dove retired the same year, having been at Hove since 1950. He was a man of many parts; he had served in the RAF for over six years from 1940 and became a squadron leader. He loved music and was a noted organist; he also enjoyed playing hockey. 

Hove Music Library

It was because Chief Librarian Jack Dove took such an interest in music that a separate Music Library was established at Hove. On 16 March 1966 Joseph Ward, principal tenor at Covent Garden, officially opened it. In 1967 the Music Library moved to 176 Church Road and it opened that September. As well as scores and books, there was an extensive collection of records.

The Music Library remained at 176 Church Road for sixteen years. But in December 1983 the decision was taken to close it down in that building and move it into the main body of Hove Library. Labour councillor Harry Spillman tried to get the decision reversed at a meeting of East Sussex Libraries Committee on 9 March 1984 but failed to do so. The Music Library then moved into the main building of Hove Library and occupied a room upstairs. Meanwhile, 176 Church Road was sold for £80,000 to insurance brokers Gesdell Ltd.

Many customers will remember Philip Green who ran the Music Library for many years. In 2000 he notched up 30 years of service with Hove Library and there was a special presentation made to him in honour of the occasion. Like Jack Dove, Mr Green is also a talented musician and composer and at one time was director of Southwick Opera.

The Sixties

The early sixties were a heady time for Hove Library. In 1960 number 176 Church Road was acquired and in 1962 the cataloguing and binding departments moved into the building, followed by the Music Library in 1967.

Not content with that, there were also thoughts about building an extension to the main library and the borough surveyor even drew up plans. There were in fact five sets of plans and C.H. Clegg produced the last one in 1967. The proposed area of expansion was a site east of the library, formerly occupied by sheds and outbuildings belonging to builders Messrs Parsons & Sons plus some old houses called Providence Place. But these had long since been demolished and the site remained vacant apart from the large mobile library being parked there.

Unfortunately, by 1967 it was too late for grandiose ideas because most of Hove Town Hall had burned down in January 1966 and all thoughts and funds were concentrated on building a brand new one to a very modern design. The proposed extension site was sold off and Cornelius House was built there instead.

Jack Dove also had ideas about providing a Davigdor Branch Library near St Ann’s Well Gardens. The first plans produced in 1962 envisaged a library and flats adjoining St Thomas’s Church. But later plans put forward the idea of combining a sports pavilion or café in conjunction with a branch library. The latter plan caused a great deal of opposition because it would use some precious garden space and the plans came to nothing in the end.

The collapse of these plans must have been disheartening for Mr Dove, particularly after the success of the Hangleton Library project. In the 1940s there had been two little branch libraries; one open for two afternoons a week at the Hounsom Memorial Hall, the other open for two evenings a week at Knoll School. But the latter was given notice in 1951. By 1955 the lack of a proper library for an area where the population had grown from 6,000 people to 20,000 people was considered a serious problem. But Hove councillors would not be hurried. Finally in 1958 Mr T.R. Humble, Borough Surveyor, drew up one set of plans for Hangleton Library and another the following year. The plans also involved a block of flats for older folk with the library at ground floor level. Finally, Hangleton Library was built and opened for business on 10 January 1962. A more important formal opening occurred on 16 July 1962 when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived and a proud Mr Dove and the Mayor of Hove were there to greet them.

The Seventies and Eighties

It was a sad day on 1 April 1974 when Hove Library lost its independence and it was never the same again. On that day it became just another library under the jurisdiction of East Sussex County Library. Inevitably, it suffered from remote planners based at Lewes who had little interest or knowledge of local conditions.

At first life went on much as usual and issue figures were robust. But there was a downturn in the financial climate during the 1980s and severe cuts ensued. The book fund (with which new stock was purchased) was cut by £40,000, opening times were reduced, and six staff jobs lost; this saved £31,000.

Even this was not enough for the bosses at Lewes. It was decided to sell 176 Church Road and bring the Music Library into the main building. But in order to accommodate this influx of material, space was made by discarding or selling off cheaply a large part of the Reference Library stock, a marvellous treasure trove that stretched over two rooms upstairs. This was a scandal comparable to Hove Museum selling off some of its treasures but unfortunately there were not the same protests. The final insult was that the money derived from selling off 176 Church Road and the possible extension site next door was not re-invested in Hove Library but used to benefit other libraries in East Sussex.

The space thus created was used to house the Periodicals Library for East Sussex as well as the Music Library.

Neither was the reserve stock stored in the basement immune to the winds of change and most of it ended up at Lewes. This was also a great loss because there were lovely old volumes still available for loan such as early editions of works by Richard Jefferies and W.H. Hudson as well as all sorts of interesting books on Sussex and a large selection of biographies.

The only part to escape was the Wolseley Collections.

All in all, it could be said to be a classic case of asset stripping or rationalisation, depending on your point of view.  But whichever way you look at it, the fact remains that Hove Library changed its status from a proud borough library with extensive stock built up over many years to a mere branch library of East Sussex.


For years library assistants used the standard Browne issue system. When books were returned each volume had to be checked against a visual list in case another reader had reserved it. In 1964 photo-charging was set up while the Plessey system was in place by 1981.

Computers were eventually installed and the first system was known as Oils, followed by Galaxy in the 1990s. Management thought the introduction of computers would make library work so efficient that less staff would be needed and staff numbers were cut accordingly. But returned books still had to be put back in the right place on the shelves, just to take one example. In fact, computers generated more work.

The office formerly used by the Chief Librarian is today a room devoted to computers for public use. But this is not enough to meet demand and so there are more in the main library area.

The Nineties

Two important events happened in this decade. On 2 November 1992 Hove Library was declared a Grade II listed building. This was great news for those who appreciate a fine building but others did wonder why it had taken so long.

The next important event was that on 1 April 1997 Brighton and Hove became a unitary authority, not that the majority of Hove people welcomed it. Indeed, Hove councillors and officials fought a desperate battle for independence and prepared an excellent case, taking it to Westminster. But it seems the Government had already made up its mind. What people living in Hove and Portslade feared has indeed come to pass, and the money garnered from the west of the city goes east to Brighton where it is perceived to remain while Hove and Portslade are under-funded.

As far as Hove Library was concerned, it meant that East Sussex County Library no longer held sway and one set of managers would be responsible for all the libraries in the Brighton & Hove Unitary Authority area.

The building of the swish new Brighton Library has created a great deal of admiration and comment. Perhaps it is pertinent to point out that it was built using PFI and so the council will not actually own it for years to come. Whereas Hove Council had owned its own library from 1908 and the site it stands on since 1882.  

Centenary Celebrations

In July 2008 Hove Library was proud to celebrate its centenary. Staff dressed in Edwardian costume and much amusement was caused by getting used to wearing long sweeping skirts while male staff donned fancy waistcoats and top hats, all hired from Harvey’s of Trafalgar Road, Portslade for the occasion. A re-enactment was staged when actress Peta Taylor, also suitably gowned, stood on the staircase and spoke the very same words uttered by the Countess of Jersey when she declared the library open on 8 July 1908. It was a happy day.

A more modern commemoration of the centenary was in the creation of souvenir fridge magnets with images of the library bearing the dates 1908-2008.

Strong Protest

In September 2003 library staff were shocked to learn through the pages of the Argus that some Brighton & Hove City Councillors thought it would be a good idea if Hove Library were to vacate their spacious building and move to the basement of Hove Town Hall. This was apparently a serious suggestion and not a joke. But why anybody should think it advisable to leave such an airy environment in order to be squashed into a windowless basement is a mystery.

One of the arguments for leaving the Carnegie building was that it was too old and could not meet modern standards as required by Government. For example, a lift to give disabled persons access to the first floor was said to be impossible because the building would not be able to stand the extra weight. This must have been a red herring because there is a perfectly good lift functioning there today.

Fortunately, Hove people were appalled at the prospect and author Christopher Hawtree (a former Green councillor for the city) was in the forefront of a campaign to stop the move happening. He stood for hours outside the library getting cold in order to ask people to sign the petition. He also organised a campaign of eye-catching posters and soon businesses and homes were ablaze with yellow posters ‘SAVE HOVE LIBRARY’. In addition Mr Hawtree gained publicity by firing off a letter to the Times. 

Save Hove Library (Again) 

Hove residents were shocked to read the following headline on the front page of the Argus (9 October 2015) Historic Library could close in latest cost cuts. Apparently, we were not supposed to know about this proposal until after a council meeting but fortunately some kindly soul leaked the news.

Those of us who were involved in the previous battle to prevent Hove Library from closure felt a terrible sense of déjà vu and sighs of ‘Oh no! Not again!’ Everybody knows about cuts from central Government and the consequent difficulties faced by Brighton & Hove City Council with their unfortunate overspend of £7 or £8 million but surely losing Hove Library is a cut too far.

The proposal is to move the Library to Hove Museum and to sell the Hove Library building. Apparently, Hove Library is an expensive building to run. But the elephant in the room is Brighton’s much fêted Jubilee Library because almost half of the budget allocated to Brighton & Hove City Libraries Service must be expended upon paying off Jubilee Library’s debt.

In the Argus (12 October 2015) columnist Tim Ridgway wrote that Hove Library ‘has not retained … its place in the hearts of those who use it.’ This seems a very odd remark to make when over 2,000 people signed the 38 degrees petition to save Hove Library in one week. He also repeats the meaningless phrase ‘unfit for use’, which seems to have become the mantra for those people who want to get rid of Hove Library.

Then in the Argus (13 October 2015) the headline on page 9 read Controversial Library sale could raise £1m. It was revealed that the council thought this sum could be raised at auction. It seems strange that councillors were already speculating about the money to be made before public consultation on the subject had even begun. It makes one fear that the full consultation may be nothing more than a cosmetic exercise and moreover it is to be completed in a remarkably short time considering the fate of a much-loved building is at stake.

A Welcome Reprieve 

On 9 June 2016 the Policy, Resources and Growth Committee of Brighton & Hove City Council held a meeting at The Friends’ Meeting House, which produced a most remarkable result. This was the defeat of a proposal to sell the Carnegie building housing Hove Library and move it elsewhere. The building will now continue to function as a public library at least for the next two years. Four Conservative councillors joined forces with two Green councillors to defeat the sell-off championed by four Labour councillors. The decision is all the more remarkable because library management and Labour councillors were so set on getting rid of the Carnegie building and acted as though it were already a fait accompli. Even the most fervent supporters of the Carnegie building hardly dared hope for such a satisfactory result. However, although this battle is won, it seems the war is not over yet.
Tributes must be paid to those valiant souls who have toiled away behind the scenes to save the historic Carnegie building for public use and enjoyment. In particular, Christopher Hawtree who spearheaded the Save Hove Library Campaign, and Councillor Robert Nemeth who scrutinised measurements and figures in the proposed plan and came up with some fascinating facts.


From September to the end of November 2016 there was an extremely successful Art Trail of individually decorated Snowdogs displayed at various outdoor sites throughout Brighton and Hove. The idea was a fund-raising effort on behalf of Martlets Hospice in Hove; it immediately caught the public’s attention with both children and adults enjoying the quest to visit them all. On 6 December celebrity auctioneer Tim Wonnacott presided over the sale of the snowdogs and the astonishing sum of £337,000 was raised for Martlets.

As part of the Art Trail, smaller-sized snowpuppies decorated by children and young people from local schools and groups, were placed inside libraries and museums. Thus Hove Library took delivery of four colourful snowpuppies and they made an unusual and welcoming sight when coming through the doors.

 copyright © J.Middleton 
Snowpuppy Stargazer was decorated by CAMHS
 (Children & Adolescent Mental Health Service)

 copyright © J.Middleton 
Snowpuppy Art was designed by West Hove Infants’ School

 copyright © J.Middleton 
Snowpuppy Goldy was created by Goldstone Primary School.

copyright © J.Middleton  
Snowpuppy By the Sea with the Peters 
was made by Hillside Special School, Portslade.

Developments in 2017

Library users were alarmed when a large estate agent’s board from Carr & Priddle with ‘To Let’ appeared on the front of Hove Library. This was as a result of a decision made by a cross-party working group of councillors in 2016 to allow spaces in the library to be used for business purposes in order to generate income. The periodicals library / study room upstairs was quickly let to BIMM music school. Then in August 2017 it was announced that Hove Village nursery of New Church Road had won a council-run bidding process for the 1,345 square feet of basement, which has a side entrance as well as an open space outside. Quite where staff are supposed to do vital behind- the-scenes work was obviously of no importance. Although council officials stressed there was no need to spend money sound-proofing the basement, there will obviously be considerable disruption making the area child-friendly particularly with regard to installing toilet facilities.

Carr & Priddle said the café proposal to occupy 172 square feet on the ground floor had also aroused interest. Presumably, the café area has been allocated, although in August no names were forthcoming but the estate agent’s board has been taken down.

Christopher Hawtree, the long-standing champion of Hove Library, was not impressed by the news. He said ‘It is dismaying that the council is trying to reduce the Carnegie Library from within after residents headed off the calamitous proposal to transfer it, shrunken, into the museum.’  

At the end of the article a council spokeswoman repeated that old canard that Hove Library was more expensive to run than others. The fact is that loan repayments on Jubilee Library devour by far the largest chunk of funds allocated to Brighton & Hove City Libraries. (Argus 18 August 2107) 

A new controversy

On 8 December 2017 a planning application of great importance was placed in one of the glass-fronted showcases at the entrance to Hove Library. Nobody took much notice since Christmas celebrations were in the offing and the planning application was removed on the 29 December 2018, having quietly served its purpose of being on public display for 21 days. The consultation period allowed was so brief that only four residents wrote letters of objection to Brighton & Hove City Council.

This number was crucial because it meant that the planning application did not have to face the rigours of scrutiny and debate from a full planning committee. Instead, the task of making the decision was delegated to council officers with no elected councillors being involved. The decision was taken on 20 March 2018 that there could be a nursery school in the basement and outside area, and a staff working area could be created on the south side of the ground floor, necessitating the removal of some original radial shelving. The official report concluded blithely that 'the heritage team have confirmed that the proposed works would not harm the historic character or appearance of the Grade II listed building.

While the council did not act illegally, it was generally felt officials had certainly not acted within the spirit of the law, and there were those who thought the business smacked of a shady deal.

For example, the Cross-Party Library Working Group had no knowledge of the application. In addition; the Conservation Advisory Group did not meet until after Christmas, when the deadline for objections had already passed. Roger Amerena is a member of this group as well as being the Brighton & Hove Heritage Commissioner, and his view was that ‘this was a city issue ... and it should have been decided by the full committee, not by officers.'

Then there was the curious case that no letters had been sent to nearby residents who would certainly notice the difference once small children begin to make a noise at the back of Hove Library.

However, one of the greatest concerns was the destruction of some of the radial shelving that formed such an integral part of the original layout. Nobody seemed to know whether or not this loss might affect the library’s status as a Grade II listed building. Indeed, the Brighton Society lodged an objection precisely on this point stating that ‘Historic England, in its list entry summary, described Hove’s Carnegie Library as "full of spatial interest" and furthermore referred specifically to its "radiating bays" to the south.' A spokesperson for the society said, ‘That a council, one of whose duties is to conserve and protect our listed buildings, can propose such vandalism is a disgrace.’

On 19 April 2018 Conservative and Green councillors tried to stop the alterations going ahead while the Labour councillors abstained. It was also decided to ask Councillor Alan Robins, chairman of tourism, developments and culture, to compile a report on the way the planning application had been displayed in the run-up to Christmas.

On 31 May 2018 a public meeting was held at Hove Library, which was billed as an Information Evening. The meeting provided the opportunity for some trenchant questions from angry residents. A particular grouse was aired about the actual cost of running Hove Library since it is frequently claimed to be so expensive. But then the powers-that-be now like to classify it as a branch library, whereas it was created as Hove Central Library, and comparing it to genuine branch libraries is a false premise by not comparing like with like. It is highly probable that the cost of running Hove Library is but a fraction when compared to the vast expense incurred with the Jubilee Library. A retired accountant asked Kate Rouse, Libraries Resources Manager, how much Hove Library cost to run but she was unable to come up with the figures.

Valerie Paynter of saveHove stated the annual library budget for the whole city was £5.2 million, and out of this sum £2.5 million must go to Jubilee Library to service the disastrous PPI deal. Why was Hove Library being held to ransom because of a bad decision? Valerie Paynter also wanted to know how planning permission had been granted to a nursery school without a business plan having been submitted previously to Policy and Resources, as was the normal practice.

On the week beginning 4th June 2018 Hove Library was closed for a week for 'essential maintenance'. In reality, work was already going ahead on the ground floor to create a staff working space and remove shelving. Hove Library faces a further week of closure in July for more work to be done. It does seem somewhat odd that the council-sanctioned work moved at such incredible speed in this complex case, whereas other planning matters seem to drag on for months, if not years.

As Ollie Wilson (member of Hove Writers) put it in a letter to the Argus (19 April 2018) ‘Does the council employ someone full-time with the sole purpose of coming up with ever more fiendish ways to ruin and close Hove Library?’

In another letter to the Argus (5 June 2018) Christopher Hawtree states that the full cost of the Jubilee Library, because of the PPI deal, would come to £60 million, which is in fact four times the cost of construction.

One positive outcome of this debacle is that Brighton & Hove City Council have at last woken up to the fact that the general public does not trust it. Therefore, it has been decided that in future, the Planning Committee will discuss in public any planning applications concerning council-owned buildings - a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Argus 5/4/18 / 6/4/18 / 19/4/18 / 5/6/18 / 6/6/18 / 23/6/18
Brighton & Hove Independent 6/4/18 / 27/4/18

Chief Librarian and Curator

1892-1935 John William Lister
1935-1939 Henry George Massey
1939-1941 J.H. Davies
1941-1950 Kenneth Cecil Harrison
1950-1974 Jack Dove

Chief Librarian

1974-1978 Eddie Scott
1978-1992 Doreen Izzard
1992-1995 Chris P. Smith


Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minute Books
Middleton, Judy A History of Hove (1979)
Middleton, Judy Hove and Portslade in the Great War (2014)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp