Although Andover’s free library in Bridge Street next to the river Anton opened in 1899, it was well over 50 years before the borough council provided a dedicated children’s library to issue books that suited the youth of the town.

In this main photo, we see the mayor, Cllr Frank May, presenting the first book to 14-year-old Roger Ford in an act of civic ceremonial, which was repeated with 13-year-old Susan Davidge, both pupils of Andover Grammar School.

The main library in the same buildings had evolved from the old Andover Institute, a Victorian effort to bring education to the working man through books, newspapers and exhibits.

It didn’t really work because it was little patronised by the people it sought to encourage.

READ MORE: David Borrett's column: Corner of Andover High Street from 1905

In 1896, Alfred Butterworth, a Lancashire entrepreneur, then living in Hatherden House, offered £500 to the council in order that the Institute could be made into a free library, reading room and museum.

A grateful council made Butterworth a freeman of the borough for these efforts and a large brass plaque still exists outside the building (now The Bridge), to record that act of generosity.

However, wealthy philanthropists aiming to improve and change things are not always welcomed; a satirical letter of the time to the Advertiser by ‘The Slouchers at the Corner’ grumbled that "we want no books, as they are not the right sort and then we should have to be quiet in the reading room. If the town council want to spend money, let’s have a jolly spree, with circus if you like. Why can’t [they] leave us fellows alone?"

Nevertheless, the new library opened to the fanfare of the Temperance Band heading a march from the Guildhall, while Mrs Butterworth followed in her carriage. Her husband had also given the best 100 books – no doubt the right sort from the council’s viewpoint, if not the slouchers. 

But interest began to wane over the following 10 years and although Butterworth continued to donate to the library, various periodicals to which the library subscribed had to be discontinued.

Initially free from any council support, the money gradually ran out and the borough rates were needed to subsidise it.

SEE ALSO:  Story of Caldecott House and the life of a corn merchant

Andover Borough Council, with a long tradition of parsimony, ran it on the barest of funds for the next 40 years.

Appointed as an assistant librarian in 1951, Ernest Bryant described his first view of Andover library as a depressing sight, full of tatty volumes with brown covers that were unclassified and run by an old lady who was due to retire and two young girls.

The town clerk, assisted by a committee, was tasked with buying all the books and each member of the committee was allowed just £2 each to spend annually.

But change was in the air and the council wanted to improve matters.

Bryant was given freedom to do what was necessary to bring Andover’s library into the modern age and he found that much could actually be done on very little money, including an ever-changing display of plants from the local parks attendant and a constant supply of reference works from a London library that renewed its own stocks every year.

The motley collection of bookcases was changed to a uniform look of light oak and a wall was taken down to provide more space.

The children’s library was a natural extension of the reforming impetus, and in 1956 the old, upstairs museum was closed and the room transformed into a library of over 1,000 books for issue, as well as a reference collection and space for tables and chairs for children to do school homework, aided by new fluorescent lighting.

Andover Advertiser: Interior of the children’s library of 1956, then the epitome of modern design.Interior of the children’s library of 1956, then the epitome of modern design. (Image: Contributed)

The theme of light oak furniture was continued, as well as the addition of a decorative screen to contain plants, which acted as a divider between the library and the study area, seen here in a photograph by Charles Wardell.

Looking at it today, we can appreciate this model of 1950s post-war design, elements of which would not be out of place in a modern studio flat.

Times move on and town development elsewhere reduced the importance of Bridge Street as a shopping area.

Within the plans for the town centre was a new library, so in 1972 the facilities in Bridge Street were closed and transferred to a much larger building in Chantry Way.