Some interesting historical facts about Upper Norwood Library
Designed by an architect named Edward Haselhurst, it opened in 1900, and since then has been a focal point for the local community. Upper Norwood, also known as Crystal Palace, is an unusual district. With its two landmark television masts it occupies a plateau of higher ground rising above the neighbouring suburbs. It is seen as an up-and-coming area with many popular restaurants and pubs. At the same time it has managed to preserve a rather “villagey” feel.
The library was a pioneer of what is called “open access”. This means the public can browse amongst the books rather than having to request them from the staff, who bring them from behind the scenes (“closed access”). We take open access for granted today as the norm in public libraries.
The early minutes of the library’s Joint Committee give a fascinating insight into its formative years. Councillors in those days involved themselves closely in matters such as book selection. Political divisions could arise. During the First World War, for example, a disagreement arose over provision of the Daily Mail after it published what some regarded as a scurrilous attack on Lord Kitchener.
Moving forward to the 1930s, a keen member of the library was the young Margaret Lockwood, who was to become the Queen of the British cinema, famous for films such as “The Man in Grey” and “The Wicked Lady”. Her great niece, Martha Lockwood, has told us that Margaret loved the library and borrowed from us the book on which her film “The Lady Vanishes” was based. There is also a legend, passed down by word of mouth amongst library staff, that the National Socialist, William Joyce, was a user of our Reference Library at this time. He later travelled to Germany and made wartime radio broadcasts intended to undermine the morale of the British public. His catchphrase, delivered with a distinctive pronunciation, was “Jairmany calling, Jairmany calling”. The British called him Lord Haw Haw. He was hanged after the war at Wandsworth Prison for treason.
Various additions and alterations have been made to our building over the years. In 1936, an upstairs children’s library was opened by A.E.W. Mason, author of “The Four Feathers”, a story of Queen Victoria’s army in the Sudan which has several times been made into a film – a stirring tale of a man accused of cowardice who proves himself a hero. In the 1960s the then Chief Librarian, Lawrie Cudby, built the ground floor extension where the Children’s Library is located today. Mr Cudby had served in military intelligence during the Second World War and acted as bodyguard to the King of Norway.
Other notable Chief Librarians have included Dorothy Owers, a flamboyant, well known figure in Norwood. She introduced many activities and events, such as a Children’s Book Week. More recently there have been Patricia Scott and Christopher Dobb. Together with the rest of the staff, these librarians have helped make Upper Norwood Library the essential community asset in an area with few public buildings. The present Chief Librarian, Bradley Millington, secured large amounts of governmental regeneration funding to enable a major redesign and refurbishment of the building in 2004. This included creating a computer suite, enabling users to benefit from the resources of the internet, and the new First Base youth library, plus a Studies Library – a combination of Reference, Local History and Lending non-fiction. A lift was put in, and walls knocked down in the basement area to join up previously unconnected parts of the building.
In recent decades the library has faced periodic crises with its funding, but local residents have always rallied round and campaigned vigorously to persuade the local councils to maintain the service. Local people wanting to promote the library formally launched the Upper Norwood Library Campaign in the early 1990s, and this organisation is still going strong today (www.unlc.org.uk).