Addition to Paisley Free Library and Museum

M210 Addition to Paisley Free Library and Museum

Address: 68, High Street, Paisley PA1 2BB
Date: 1902–4
Client: Sir Peter Coats; Sir James Coats
Authorship: Authorship category 4 (Office) (Office)

Paid for by the Paisley thread manufacturer Sir Peter Coats, the Paisley Free Library and Museum was completed in 1870 and opened to the public the following year. 1 The building was designed by John Honeyman in a chaste Greek Revival style: a portico of four Ionic columns leads to a central hall, flanked originally by a lecture theatre on the left and reading room on the right, with the museum straight ahead. More accommodation was soon required, and in 1882 Honeyman completed a large rear extension, again funded by Coats. 2 In 1899, John Honeyman & Keppie were paid 30 for unspecified work in connection with the library. 3 This was probably for a design for a further extension, recorded as having been made in that year. 4 Work did not proceed immediately, however, and it was not until 1902 that the idea was taken forward. The 1899 proposals were then superseded by a new design, definitely by Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh. The estimated cost was 7027 (1527 more than the 1899 scheme), and Sir James Coats of Auchendrane, Sir Peter's son, agreed to meet it. 5 The extension opened on 1 December 1904. 6

According to W. S. Moyes, who worked in Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh's office at this time, Paisley Library (i.e. the 1902–4 extension) was designed by John Keppie. 7 It has been suggested that the drawings submitted to the Paisley Dean of Guild Court in July 1902 show evidence of Mackintosh's involvement. 8 This is by no means certain, but stylistic variations between different parts of the interior suggest more than one designer may have been involved.

The extension is attached to the E. end end of Honeyman's 1870 building and follows it faithfully in its external details, with a second Ionic portico echoing the original central one. It was envisaged that a matching extension would be added at the W. end in due course, re-establishing the building's symmetry. This never happenned, but the intended effect is illustrated in a drawing published in 1912 (possibly the perspective for which Alexander McGibbon was paid by Honeyman Keppie & Mackintosh in April 1904). 9 The asymmetry was actually increased in 1933 when yet another extension was added at the E. end by Keppie & Henderson. 10

Photograph of Paisley Library and MuseumPhotograph of 1902-4 extension, Paisley Library and Museum Lithograph of Paisley Museum & Library, 1912

The 1902–4 extension housed a General Reading Room at the front, with the closed-access book stacks of the Lending Library in a large top-lit room at the back. Between them was the Indicator Room, where readers could consult the library catalogue and request books. The Indicator – consisting of columns of small, numbered shelves, one for each book in the library, where readers' tickets were displayed to show if a book was on loan or available – formed a dividing screen between library staff and readers. The Lending Library was single-storey, but it was envisaged that a gallery could be inserted at a future date to increase its capacity (this was eventually done in 1933, when the room was also extended eastward). 11 Stairs beside the Indicator Room led to the Ladies' Reading Room and Boys' Reading Room on the first floor.

Despite their external harmony, there are conspicuous internal differences between the 1870 and 1902–4 sections. The downstairs reading room in the extension has Renaissance-style panelling, instead of the neo-classical woodwork found in the original building. It is difficult to imagine this as having anything to do with Mackintosh, who at this date was working on the radically unhistorical interiors of The Hill House, Helensburgh. It seems more likely that the panelling is Keppie's.

Photograph of Reading Room panelling, Paisley LibraryPhotograph of Reading Room overmantel, Paisley Library

Upstairs, however, the timber trusses of the Ladies' Reading Room roof have an elegant simplicity that could be due to Mackintosh or his influence.

Photograph of roof truses in Ladies' Reading Room, Paisley LibraryPhotograph of ventilation duct in Ladies' Reading Room, Paisley Library

The 1902 Dean of Guild drawings show Glasgow Style motifs in the ironwork of the staircase balustrade, but this does not survive, the original staircase having been replaced by a new one in the 1933 extension.

Notes:

1: Glasgow Herald, 29 September 1870, p. 6; Scotsman, 12 April 1871, p. 2.

2: Glasgow Herald, 23 September 1882, p. 3.

3: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman & Keppie / Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh / Keppie Henderson cash book, 1889–1917, GLAHA 53079, p. 56.

4: Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 19 July 1902, p. 5.

5: Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 19 July 1902, p. 5.

6: Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 3 December 1904, p. 5.

7: University of Toronto, Robarts Library: letter from W. S. Moyes to Thomas Howarth, 29 April 1947, B96-0028/017 (13).

8: David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, pp. 82–5.

9: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman & Keppie / Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh / Keppie Henderson cash book, 1889–1917, GLAHA 53079, p. 83. The drawing is reproduced as the frontispiece in Corporation of Paisley, Catalogue of Books in the Lending Library, Paisley: Public Library Committee, 1912.

10: Paisley Museum, Art Galleries, and Library, leaflet produced by Renfrewshire Council Department of Planning and Transport, 1996.

11: Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, 3 December 1904, p. 5; Paisley Museum, Art Galleries, and Library, leaflet produced by Renfrewshire Council Department of Planning and Transport, 1996.