Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 20, 2016
Webpage updated: March 15, 2021

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The rise of the Free Public Library and Museum in Devonport coincided with the demise of the Mechanics' Institute.  The latter, which was situated in Duke Street, closed in 1881 and the books and fittings from its library and the exhibits in its small museum were purchased by Devonport Corporation for 2,500.  The building itself was held on a long lease that was not due to expire until 1943 from the Lord of the Manor at an annual rent of 15 15s.

Over thirty years after the passing of the Public Library Act, which received the Royal Assent on Wednesday August 14th 1850, Devonport Corporation officially re-opened the Mechanics' Institute as its Free Public Library on Monday February 6th 1882.

The former lecture hall became the lending and reference library, while the smaller lecture hall was in use as a Science and Art School.  The rooms on the ground floor, linked by archways, became the reading rooms.  The gallery was used to display models and artefacts together with a collection of minerals originally presented by the late Sir John Saint Aubyn.  Mr Thomas Lakin (1842-1885) was appointed as Borough Librarian and he lived on the premises.  He was assisted in setting up the library by his counterpart in Plymouth, Mr W H K Wright.

The second Borough Librarian was Mr Charles Robert Rowe (1846-1920) and the third, appointed in 1892, was Mr Frederick William Hunt (1863-1905).

A book order and issuing room was opened at Ford Board School on the evening of Tuesday August 29th 1893.  At the public opening on the evening of Thursday August 31st 1893 fifty books were loaned out to new subscribers.

The Mayor of Devonport, Mr W Hornbrook, opened a branch library at Saint Budeaux on Friday February 10th 1899.

During 1900 Mr W Hornbrook opened the third branch library at Stuart Road Board School on Monday March 5th 1900 and the fourth branch library at Morice Town Board School on the evening of Thursday March 8th 1900.

The fifth branch library was opened at the Montpelier Board School, Pennycross, on Saturday May 3rd 1902.

Mr Frederick William Hunt (1863-1905), the Borough Librarian who had overseen the start of the Devonport branch library network, died in a London hospital on Tuesday July 18th 1905, after a long illness.  He was just 41 years of age.  He was succeeded as Borough Librarian and Museum Curator by Mr William Davey Rutter (1880-1917), who joined the Library as a lad.

A new branch library and reading-room were opened at number 33 Wilton Street, Stoke, during July 1907.  The reading-room was open every day except Sundays between 9am and 9.30pm, while the lending library was open on Mondays between 2 and 4pm and on Fridays between 7 and 9pm.  The lending stock was to be changed every six months.

At the time of the amalgamation with Plymouth and East Stonehouse in 1914 the Reading Room and Magazine Room were open to the public from 9am until 10pm and the Lending Library from 10am until 9pm, except Wednesdays when it closed at 1pm.  Mr William Davey Rutter (1880-1917) retained his position as Devonport's Librarian-in-Charge until his death in  1917.

There were Branch Libraries at 77 Station Road, Keyham Barton (known as the Ford Branch Library); at 33 Wilton Street, Stoke; at 40 Keyham Street, Weston Mill; at 10 Yeoman's Terrace, Saint Budeaux;  and a Reading Room at 3 Onslow Road, Pennycross.

The Plymouth Motor Taxation Office transferred from the City Treasury in Catherine Street, Plymouth, to the First Floor of the Devonport Library, on September 1st 1947.  Mr T R Johnson was the Local Taxation Officer in charge at the time.

The building still survives, although in a very poor condition, and has a Grade II listing.