A History of Bromley House Library

A picture of Bromley House library.
Ella Pilson

Bromley House Library is a grade 2 listed, 250-year-old subscription library dating back to 1752, as well as home to the first photographic studio in the Midlands! This was set up in Bromley’s attic by tenant Alfred Barber in 1841- make sure to add this to your bucket list during your time at university!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I spotted this tiny but intricately designed doorway, sandwiched between a very modern Nando’s and a Barnardo’s charity shop. But as soon as I stepped inside, I knew I was somewhere special. Its past history emanated from the walls; filled with tall bookcases; enchanting grandfather clocks and an old top-hat duster still kept behind the main desk. It wasn’t hard to imagine nineteenth-century refined society sitting down with one of the very books upon display.

You can’t help but feel inspired as so many well-known intellectuals gathered in these very same spaces, including familiar campus name and mathematician George Green. Another was Anthony Mundella, a member from 1850-1873- known for passing the 1875 Factory Act, improving working conditions for children in the workplace. The building has so many iconic features; from its cascading spiral staircase to its scientific meridian line and photographic studio. I understood that this was much more than a library. 

What I really love about Bromley is the diversity it has to offer and the sense of community. If you just want a peaceful place to think, its walled garden and cosy reading rooms will be sure to satisfy. Similarly, if you want to immerse yourself in a world beyond its walls, you’ll find over 35,000 volumes of general literature, with the library acquiring 50,000 books each year- such as special collections like Alan Sillitoe’s (1928-2010). He was the writer of ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’, one of the most accurate reflections of working-class life in the 1950s. He was also friends with Sylvia Plath, best known for one of my favourite books ‘The Bell Jar’.

The library’s small staff team also has its advantages, with them willing to share their own knowledge and particular expertise

There were some really niche collections; from 18th-century guides on how to build a sundial to a 19th-century recipe for a chicken korma! It also has a range of local history collections, like James Ward’s (1851-1927); allowing you to delve deeper into the history of your city, or your new home for any incoming new students. Also, it has records of Bromley’s general meetings and changing residents. This offers a window into the current concerns and aims of the library and reveals some quite funny characters. From librarians dipping into library funds to abandoned babies, this place has many secrets and stories to keep you enraptured. 

However, that’s not to say Bromley hasn’t changed or progressed with the times. In fact, it had a number of notable women such as its president Edith Ransom (1872-1949). Partnerships such as the ‘Book Bus’ have provided materials to improve literacy in Zambia, Malawi and Ecuador. ‘Nottingham Black Archive’ collects black history, heritage and culture within Nottingham.

The library’s small staff team also has its advantages, with them willing to share their own knowledge and particular expertise. If perhaps you want to gain knowledge outside a book, Bromley offers a number of societies as well as conservation groups, who will teach you about book handling and methods of repair. Also, there are events held by writers, like Elly Griffiths, and the Historical Association. 

With an ever-expanding reading list and friendly environment, I can safely say I have fallen in love with this magical place

Whether like me you’re a bit of a history nerd, or you just want somewhere new to study and get lost in time- then Bromley’s the place for you. Although only open to members of the public for walking tours (see here to book) it’s definitely worth the effort to learn more about its history and everything it has to offer. If you are able to get one, they offer student memberships- see here for details. I did a placement here, and with an ever-expanding reading list and friendly environment, I can safely say I have fallen in love with this magical place. 

Ella Pilson

Featured image courtesy of Ella Pilson. No changes were made to this image. 

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