Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings
Low Hill Branch Library
National Listing: Branch Library.
1930. H. B. Robinson MIMCE [Borough Engineer]. ... The library is a
logical and inspired answer to the requirement for a branch library at the
heart of an estate which was widely admired at the time of its
building. The rooms are filled with day light and at night the
building becomes a beacon. The use of a simple classical style
together with more homely glazing and textured materials gives a feeling of
domesticity and serious intent and provides a formal focus to the estate
without being alien to it.
Local Listing: Wolverhampton's first branch
library, opened in 1930. Landmark quality.
Comment: One of the most distinctive
buildings in Wolverhampton, its remarkable shape fully justified by its
use as a library, and its appearance greatly adding to the interest of an
award winning council house estate. Refurbished in 2003.
Originally the building was locally listed only but was spot listed
nationally on 11th March 2004, mainly on the basis of a report by Duncan
Nimmo. A version of Dr. Nimmo's report appear below.
Duncan Nimmo writes:
Bushbury’s was significant as Wolverhampton’s first branch library,
opened in 1930 after a succession of discussions and abortive proposals
over the preceding decade. Its setting, the Low Hill estate, was
itself significant – a major example of post-War municipal housing,
which attracted some national attention; and the new library was
deliberately sited at its core, Showell Circus. The official opening
was a correspondingly proud event, performed by Sir Charles Grant
Robertson, Principal of Birmingham University.
The architects were the Borough Engineer, H. B. Robinson MIMCE, and his
staff, working closely with the Chief Librarian. The same team was
soon to design the combined Public Baths and Branch Library at nearby
Heath Town, opened in two stages in 1932 and 1933. This building was
listed, at Grade II, in September 2000.
The library at the time of its opening.
|Both originally and as restored, Bushbury Library has the same
"modernist" traits as Heath Town Baths and Library, and indeed
others of H. B. Robinson’s buildings, for instance his Park Lane Welfare
Clinic of 1931, and Elston Hall primary school of
1938, now on the City’s Local List of notable buildings.
Among these traits are a stylish plainness, an
emphasis on the horizontal, this being highlighted by the combination of
brick and stone, and the occasional use of flat as well as pitched
| However the most prominent shared trait is geometrical
symmetry, here of an extreme and striking kind. The shape of the
library is an octagon, repeated in three stepped tiers: a bold and
imaginative conception, producing what may well be judged one of the city’s
most remarkable small buildings. The sources for this application of
Robinson’s characteristic symmetrical geometry invite speculation.
It is reminiscent of some contemporary London Underground stations.
Park Lane Welfare Clinic at
the time of its opening
The Library from the east, showing the
There could however be a specific local influence, in that the layout of
the Bushbury estate is itself largely geometrical and
Suggestively, the Chief Librarian’s account of the opening includes the
remark "The building is erected on a central site, and roads radiate
from this point, the whole scheme having been designed to give a like
elevation from whichever angle it is viewed" (italics added).
Perhaps even more intriguing is the following comment, "At night it
is a beacon light, and its illumination across this vast estate is a
picture worth seeing"; for this may help explain the second key
design feature after the octagonal plan, namely the 3 stepped tiers. This
element was of course an architectural commonplace, recently rejuvenated
with the concrete parabolic arches of the Royal Horticultural Hall, and it
is noteworthy that that model was to be adopted at Heath Town baths just
two years later.
A prime purpose of stepped tiers is to admit maximum
natural light, and that was doubtless one goal here; contemporary opinion
stressed the desirability of natural light in libraries, witness for
example K. M. B. Cross’s article "Public Libraries and their
Planning" in "Architecture" of September/October 1931.
The interior, showing the
Natural light reaches in everywhere.
may Robinson’s design not also have aimed at the opposite, less obvious
effect – for the Library to shine out in all directions over the
surrounding estate? In that case, we might conclude that the fundamental
inspiration for the striking design of the building was, as the whole of
the Librarian’s account conveys, to act as a beacon of light, cultural
but also physical, for the new and experimental community around it.
Deliberately or otherwise, this would be a perfect realisation of the
"Out of darkness cometh light".
|Whatever its sources, there is no doubting the originality of the
Library design for its place and period.
This is brought out by
comparison with two neighbouring contemporary buildings, the Methodist
Church of 1929 ...
The Methodist Church
The Community Centre
|... and the adjacent Community Centre of 1937. Despite features characteristic of the period, neither
matches the imaginative quality of the Library.