Great Smith Street, Westminster, London SW1

From Historic England entry:

“Public library. 1893 by Francis J R Smith. Red brick with extensive stone dressings, tiled roof with crestings. Iron railings in front. Nine-bay range, variously three storeys and two storeys with dormers set behind parapets, all over basement. Projecting three-bay centrepiece makes this a tripartite composition, the central bay of each block of three bays with crested gables adorned with stone finials in profusion. Balustraded parapet and ornate moulded brick stacks. All windows with stone mullions and transoms, in 2-3-2-3-canted 4-3-2-3-2 formation. Projecting central bay over main entrance: stone porch with Ionic pilasters supporting entablature dated 1893 with dedication to the parishes of St Margaret and St John.

Two pairs of panelled doors reached up steps and under segmental, much moulded arch. End bays with single double doors; these and the ground floor windows excepting those immediately adjacent under swan’s-neck pediments with lavish volutes; the first floor windows over these with segmental pediments. The other bays set between pilasters and with relief panels, three per floor, depicting -in medallions -on the ground floor Spenser, Shakespeare and Chaucer,

Dryden, Milton and Tennyson; the upper row armorial roundels. Interior is remarkably complete, and small scale. Screens divide lending library from reading area and entrance. Cast iron balcony round lending library, which retains original panelling and partitions beneath trabeated ceiling and early bookstacks, now rare. Rarer still is the book lift from the basement, reflecting the original ‘closed access’ system of storage and selection.

Included as one of the most impressive civic designs of its day in London, executed in an intricate Jacobean style, The sculpture, executed by Henry Poole, is of special interest.”

From the Historic England entry:

“The Westminster Baths and Wash House was opened in 1893, on the site of earlier baths which were built in 1851. The building housed two swimming pools, slipper baths and a wash house. The swimming pools were demolished in the 1970s, though the facade was retained. The building was later used as the Abbey Centre, a conference and community centre, with a cafe known as Wash House Cafe.”

Chris Partridge posted at Ornamental Passions on 19 August 2009:

“The old Westminster Public Library, now an Indian restaurant, may have been built as part of the same complex as the old Public Baths next door, and by the same architect, but the sculpture could not be a greater contrast.

The young Henry Poole’s bathers are vigorous and completely contemporary, and there is even a hint of the future Art Nouveau in their strong swirling patterns and the sunburst.

“Henry Poole studied with G. F. Watts and was a Studio assistant on Physical Energy.” (London Remembers)


The library sculpture, on the other hand, is official, off-the-shelf and retrograde: heads of literary men of undisputed classic status. The sculptor seems to be unrecorded, so I imagine they were bought from one of the usual firms such as Daymond or Seale.
Shakespeare and Milton are at centre stage, as always on Victorian libraries…”

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