This month we are delighted to feature Bedales Memorial Library in Petersfield, Hampshire. Thanks to Jane Kirby for the article and photos.
Bedales School was founded by John Haden Badley in 1893 and became the country’s first co-educational boarding school when girls were accepted in 1898. It soon outgrew the rented premises near Haywards Heath, and in 1900 moved to a new site, with new buildings, in Steep, near Petersfield.
Numbers continued to increase and more accommodation was needed. A former pupil, Geoffrey Lupton, had apprenticed himself to the Arts & Crafts architect, Edward Gimson, after leaving school. He came from a wealthy background, and he commissioned Gimson to design a quadrangle of buildings including an assembly hall, library, laboratories and gym. Lupton then donated the money to build the hall, and undertook most of the work himself. The New Hall (later renamed the Lupton Hall) opened in 1911, but no further progress was made before the outbreak of the Great War.
In the summer of 1918, the school began to consider what form a War Memorial should take, and to quote the letter Badley sent to parents and Old Bedalians at the time:
“… it has been in our minds to have some permanent form of record, at the School, of all its members who have taken part in the struggle … a standing memorial of their devotion.”
The Memorial Appeal was therefore launched to raise money for the next step in Gimson’s plan, the building of the Library. Gimson was invited back to refine the designs and by the summer of 1919 over £8000 had been raised.
The Library was to be Gimson’s last major design. He died in August 1919 and the foundations were laid in February 1920, with his colleague Sidney Barnsley overseeing Lupton’s work. Although costs escalated from an initial estimate of £7000 to a final total of £13800, progress was steady and the official opening was in July 1921. The architectural merit of the building was recognised when it was listed, with the Lupton Hall, in 1954. It is now designated a Grade I listed building.
The late Richard Holder, writing in 1995, described the building thus:
“The interior is an adaptation of an aisled farm barn. The aisles, of two storeys, contain the book stacks in a manner similar to that at an Oxbridge college, and the open space in the centre is a general reading area. Originally there was a central fireplace, which vented under the floor to the chimney stack at the end of the building. However this was soon removed because it was inefficient, and must have smoked badly. Its position can still be detected in the irregular patch of floor boards in the centre, and the half-circle of ebony studs in the floor which marked the area which was regarded as too close to the fires. … There is no attempt to give the building the barn-like exterior suggested by its interior. Instead it has a brick skin, with large angled bay windows and mullioned windows with shaped brick mullions.”
Some of the smaller pieces of oak were taken from trees felled on the estate, but the larger pieces were supplied by a timber merchant. Flooring came from Gimson’s stock – oak downstairs, and chestnut (laid by a young Edward Barnsley) upstairs. Writing many years later, Edward Barnsley remembered Lupton’s ingenuity in rigging up a crane to raise the timber frame. The ironwork was made by Stevie Musto, who had worked with Gimson in Sapperton. The glass and bricks are handmade. All the furniture was designed by Ernest Gimson, Sidney and Edward Barnsley.
In each bay there is a panel commemorating some of the 67 Bedalians (staff or former pupils) who died during the Great War, or while still serving in the forces after the end of the war. No distinction was drawn between those who fought for British or Commonwealth forces and those who fought for Germany; they are simply listed alphabetically.
The Library is open to all students and staff from first thing in the morning until 10pm in the evening. It has always operated an honesty system for loans; originally using paper slips and now on the computerised catalogue. Students are encouraged to manage their own workload, and may come and work here whenever they have a private study period or other free time. Wireless internet access is available for those with laptops, but the Grade 1 listed status means that we have not installed lots of permanent desktop computers in the building. We still aim for a silent workspace – there are many other options around the school campus for people who wish to discuss their work. Our stock numbers some 30,000 books and our shelves are full, so we have to make difficult choices all the time about which titles to discard in order to make space for new purchases. One policy we do pursue is to stock books written by former pupils, and we are proud to have fostered a number of very successful authors, including John Wyndham, Kate Summerscale, Jocelyn Brooke, Thom Gunn, Frieda Hughes, Frances Partridge, Zinnie Harris and Alexander Masters.
Jane Kirby, Librarian/Archivist, Bedales