To mark the opening of Southend's new Central Library we take a look back at the previous Central Libraries.
The first library to open in Southend was the Royal Library, it was built in the later part of the 18th century and was located at the bottom of the High Street right at the top of Pier Hill opposite the Royal Hotel, it was refashioned in 1880. The site is now part of the Royals Shopping Centre.
Postcard view of the Royal Library
A new library was built at the top of Victoria Avenue, the Edwardian building was opened by Sir Horace Brooks Marshall Kt on 24th July 1906, the construction of the new £8000 building was paid for by The Andrew Carnegie Trust and designed by H.T. Hare. The building was extended in 1926 to accommodate a new children’s section. The library remained in this building until it closed in 1974.
The replacement library opened right next door to the “old” library, opening on 20th March 1974 by John Ruggles-Brise the Lord Lieutenant of Essex. The new building was a number of new modern building springing up along Victoria Avenue other is the building program included a new court house, civic centre, police station and collage (in Carnarvon Road). The cost of the new library was £670,000 with a further £90,000 on furniture and equipment.
The library hosted a multi-charity Christmas card shop in 2002.
The exterior of the building changed little since the day it opened, however the interior underwent a major refurbishment in 2000, this saw the carpets completely replaced, the 2nd floor saw more carpet laid that would cover a football pitch and more than a miles of books reorganised. The rest of the building was tacked the following year, this included the introduction of an IT facility. The library introduced self service checking in and out of books in 2012.
The library closed its doors for the last time on 17th August 2013 when the mammoth task of relocating all the books, DVD’s and public records to a new unique facility.
Southend’s next generation of library “The Forum” is a unique partnership between Southend Borough Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College.
The Forum has been built on the site of the former Farringdon Car Park off Luker Road, just off the High Street.
The ambitious scheme is a first in the United Kingdom bringing together two educational bodies and a local council to create a public library that also embodies a major educational facility, the libraries of the university and collage are also fully open to the public, giving the people of Southend a greatly increased number of books available for load or research within the building. The local studies section was also increased providing those researching local history a greater volume of material to use.
The new building also provides an improved space for the towns Focal Point Gallery as well as a new café and lecture theatre.
Southend Borough Council invested £12.5m into the project with the University investing £10.4m and the College £4m
In February 2012 Wates Construction of Leatherhead, Surry won the contract to undertake the construction of the building, they committed to commissioning 75 per cent of its supply chain partners to within a 50-mile radius of Southend.
Work on the construction started on Monday 5th March 2012.
On Thursday 18th July 2013, the tickets for the grand opening went on sale, with Professor Brian Cox as the guest speaker the tickets sell out in just 8 minutes. Tickets for various other guest speakers including former politician and TV presenter Michael Portillo, BBC journalist George Alagiah also went on sale.
The Forum opened its doors for the first time at 8:00am on Monday 30th September 2013.
A giant 6.22m by 3.5m TV screen installed in the public square just in front of the library will be used for showing sporting events and Children in Need, the last Night of The Proms as well as local/regional events such as Southend Film Festival, strict limits on when audio is in use have been put in place however for special events this can be extended.