The Old Library: A proud legacy of community service

Find out more about how this building has been central to Bodmin's communities for over 100 years

The Passmore Edwards Free Library, 1904.

Image from the Mac Waters Collection at Cornish

"This building is to be erected through the munificence of Mr. J. Passmore Edwards, on a site in Fore-street, Bodmin, acquired from Lord Robartes, at the junction of the road leading to the Beacon, where stands the prominent obelisk to the memory of the late General Gilbert, of the same town. It will be a great improvement to this part of the ancient borough, and is centrally situated for the population. The plan exhibits the arrangement of the ground floor, and the upper story is to be devoted to a local museum and an excellent suite of classrooms for the use of classes in technical instruction in connection with the County Council scheme of technical education. The walling will be in Margate Wood stone, with Bath stone dressings. The internal joinery will be in pitch pine, varnished. The roofing will be of the Cornish Grey slates, quarried at Delabole, and the base and steps of Luxulyan granite."

This is how the new Bodmin Free Library was described in the Building News on 1 May 1896. The Bodmin Free Library was opened on 24 May 1897 by the Right Hon Leonard H Courtney MP. It was one of the institutions opened in the Jubilee Year of Queen Victoria, and was erected on the site of Hugo's Temperance Hotel and Grocery. The Hotel was licensed to hire out carriages and was formerly the Western Inn, which had boasted a landlord named "Seven Belly Williams". The site was offered to the town by Lord Robartes for £100.

​As with other libraries of the time, books for loan were catalogued and listed in an index. Once the borrower had chosen from the list he ordered the books at the hatch in the Borrowers' Lobby on the ground floor. The librarian's assistant would then collect the books from the shelving in the Lending Department.

Also on the ground floor was the Newspaper and Magazine Room, the Librarian's Room and the Boys' Room. This catered for the younger boys still at school and classes were also held there.

On the first floor was the Committee Room, Periodicals' Room and the Ladies' Room. There was also a Reference Library and Museum holding "artefacts of interest from within the parish and beyond". The ladies’ room and the periodicals room were divided by a removable partition giving a larger room. These two rooms were let to the Technical Instruction Committee for Science and Art Schools at £10 per annum.

John Passmore Edwards (1823 - 1911)

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​A lifelong champion of the working classes, John Passmore Edwards is remembered as a generous benefactor. Over the space of 14 years, 70 major buildings were established as a direct result of his bequests. These included hospitals, 11 drinking fountains, 32 marble busts, 24 libraries, schools, convalescence homes and art galleries and the Passmore Edwards Settlement in Tavistock Place. He was also a generous donor to the Workers' Educational Association. Many of Passmore Edwards' buildings were designed by the architect Maurice Bingham Adams, who was also the editor of one of his journals, Building News.

​Passmore Edwards also gave money to many hospitals, including Tilbury Hospital next to Tilbury Dock, Essex, where he built a ward which was named after him. Wards in Wembley Cottage Hospital and Willesden General were also named after him. He also donated his earnings to a fountain in Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, London. This fountain is regularly frequented by the local community and is considered a historical landmark in an area that finds itself becoming more and more detached from its history.

​Many of the buildings that he paid for are still in use for their original purpose. A bust of Passmore Edwards by Sir George Frampton was rescued from the basement of Hoxton Library and unveiled in May 2007 at the Passmore Edwards Library in St Ives, Cornwall. ​As well as London libraries such as at East Dulwich and Edmonton, he donated the public library buildings in Devon at Newton Abbot and in Cornwall at Bodmin, Camborne, Falmouth, Launceston, Liskeard, Penzance, Redruth, St Ives and Truro. The Passmore Edwards Public Library in Shepherd's Bush, London, is now the home of the Bush Theatre, which moved there in October 2011. The Epilepsy Society's main administrative build is Passmore Edwards House, a Grade II listed building.

​For further reading, we highly recommend Dean Evans' book, 'Funding the Ladder: The Passmore Edwards Legacy'

Silvanus Trevail (1851 - 1903)

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​Silvanus Trevail was born in Luxulyan, Cornwall, in October 1851 and was educated first at the village school and then at Ledrah House School, St Austell before being sent to work in London in the offices of Henry Garling FRIBA. He returned to Cornwall in 1872 and was commissioned to design the Elementary Board School, Mount Charles, St Austell, the first of 35 new schools he designed in Cornwall as a result of the surge in school building following the passing of the Education Act.

In 1878 his designs were exhibited at the Exhibition of British Architecture at the Paris Exposition and at exhibitions in Sydney, where he received a medal and diploma for his design of Fowey Grammar School, and Melbourne. In 1893 he was commissioned to design the Hayle Institute, for Passmore Edwards, and over the next seven years designed many, but not all, of the Passmore Edwards buildings in Cornwall as well as the East Ham Hospital and the Plashet Public Library, East Ham, London. Other buildings he designed included a number of chapels and churches in Cornwall, several of Cornwall's most well-known hotels, and mansion houses at Blisland and St Ives, and in Dublin. The latter is now the Department of Pharmacy building for Dublin University.

​In Cornwall he was well respected as a Borough Councillor, and later Mayor, in Truro and as a County Councillor, whilst his professional reputation was acknowledged by election as Fellow of the RIBA and firstly Vice President of the Society of Architects in 1896 and then President in 1901-1903. ​

The War Memorial

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We have the profound honour of being the new custodians of the war memorial outside our doors, and we remember the huge sacrifices made by the individuals named on its panels.


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Build a Better Bodmin

intoBodmin is a cultural advocacy organisation. We actively promote Bodmin as an attractive, engaging, inspirational and progressive town. A place where communities are strong and businesses are innovative.

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