Non Mihi, Non Tibi, Sed Nobis*

* “Not for me, not for thee, but for us”, motto of the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea.

From Draft Chapter 1 in Survey of London:

“The largest addition to Battersea Library was the semi-separate reference library extension, built in 1924–5 on ground east of the children’s library with a frontage towards Altenburg Gardens. The site had been used since 1898 as a vestry depot.

A new reference library had long been wanted. Funding only became possible after the 1919 Libraries Act abolished the limitation of the library rate to a penny. Special permission to build was needed from the Board of Education, because post-war regulations discouraged the diversion of labour from housing. A deputation from the Council urged the merits of the collection of reference books and the inadequacy of the existing room, adding that ‘in the bad housing conditions in many parts of Battersea, boys and girls who were studying for scholarships or in other ways trying to improve themselves, found it very difficult in the evenings to carry on their studies’.

T. W. A. Hayward, the Borough Surveyor, is credited on the foundation stone, and may be responsible for an unexciting design for a smaller two- storey extension on the same site, entered from the existing library, not Altenburg Gardens. The true designer of the outstanding reference library as built, however, was Henry Hyams, an obscure but intriguing figure, who had spent time in central Europe in the Edwardian decade before settling in Devon. He had advanced views – Esperanto, theosophy – perhaps atypical of a Hackney publican’s son, and had spent time in Wandsworth jail during the First World War for his trenchant pacifism. Given Battersea Council’s radical leanings, it is perhaps not surprising that Hyams was appointed Hayward’s architectural assistant in January 1924, aged 44. As drawings for the library are dated March 1924, this assured if eccentric design must have been his first work for the Borough Council.

The reference library was built by direct labour.

Its style is distinctively late Arts and Crafts. The front is an assemblage of red brick, low mullioned windows, triangular roofs and stone-dressed gables,

with a swooping boundary wall filled with iron railings (replaced since the war).

The library behind was designed to carry an extra floor above that never materialized. The room features robust oak gallery fronts and doors and is top-lit with a shallow, glazed barrel vault supported on cast-iron columns. These columns have quasi-Celtic capitals like those Hyams used in the lower hall of Battersea Town Hall the following year. Other lavish details include sweeping door-handles

which follow a design Hyams had used for Deller’s café in Paignton,

decorated downpipes with dates,

?BBC, for Battersea Borough Council

copper lamps,

and the Council’s motto ‘NON MIHI, NON TIBI, SED NOBIS’ carved over the entrance. The reference room is the least-altered part of Battersea Central Library, whose strength in architecture and design books still reflects Inkster’s acquisition policy of the 1890s, influenced by the number of building workers in Battersea.”

“Battersea experienced very rapid population growth over the next two decades; by 1881 it numbered 107,000 inhabitants, and as a result, both overshadowed the much smaller Wandsworth, and had ambitions to regain its autonomy. In 1887 the Wandsworth Board adopted the Libraries act and began making plans for library provision; it established temporary library facilities at two locations (on Battersea Park Road, and on the Latchmere Estate) and engaged Laurence Inkster, who had experience as the borough librarian of South Shields.(Wikipedia)

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