The Penarth Library Committee

The 75th accession in 1968 (DXPD 7-10) forms part of the Penarth Library Collection and includes minute books of the Penarth Library Committee (1941-57), a copy of the Bill to Amend the Library Acts and correspondence and memoranda relating to Penarth Free Library and the establishment of Penarth Public Library (1895-1927). These are records of Penarth Urban District Council and you can find out more about the history of the council and its predecessors and successors in the catalogue entry here: (UDPE

You may wonder what you could find out from these records! There is a lot of information to whet the appetite of those interested in employment practices, the development of library services, the role of the professional librarian, the impact of the Second World War, the history of Penarth, the role of women and local Penarth businesses. If you had a family member who sat on the Committee or who worked at the library (as a librarian, assistant, caretaker or cleaner) there is also a lot to add to the detail of your own family history.

There is the day-to-day detail you might expect from a minute book of the Public Library Committee; this includes annual estimates of income and expenditure, decisions on opening times and closures for public holidays, appointments and salaries, repairs and cleaning, books purchased and donations received. The council also received a complaint from a local resident that the weather vane on the Library was not functioning properly (its repair was not considered a priority for funding by the Committee). And if you live in Penarth, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see that the repair of the clock is also discussed!

The first entry in the minute book (DXPD7) from March 1941 sets out the Committee’s gratitude to ‘the gallant efforts of Lance Corporal Peter Roberts and Gunner H. Warner in the Library on the night of Tuesday 4. Resolved to write to the Officer Commanding of the latter to express such appreciation as his efforts undoubtedly saved the Library.’ The war years focus on the efforts to keep the library open as (female) staff enrolled in the service, the struggle for coal to heat the building, ensuring that military personnel based locally (British and American) have access to the library and the use of the library to store ARP materials.

From 1948, the Committee is looking at the creation of a Children’s Library in the basement (with its own separate entrance). A Special General Committee agreed to the provision of a Children’s Library on 4 February 1949 and it opened on 15 March 1950. The Librarian went to London to select books (worth a total of £250), short story hours for younger children on Saturday mornings started not long after opening and the Committee agreed to the purchase of Eagle Magazine in May 1950. A big change from the minutes of 1944 when ‘It was resolved that the Reading Room should be used by children only at the discretion of the Librarian and staff.’

Penarth Library correspondence

Penarth Library correspondence

The correspondence (DXPD10) includes a series of estimates and invoices from local traders in Penarth for work for the Penarth Free Library and the Penarth Public Library. The documents provide an insight into the cost of materials and labour at the time, the range of local tradesmen in operation, and are written on decorative headed paper. A very different ‘feel’ to the electronic invoice the Archives will be preserving in the future.

Penarth Library correspondence

Penarth Library correspondence

The records also include a list of staff for the new library and their salaries from 1895 onwards. Additional notes are written on the back of a printed letter for the ‘Penarth Santa Claus Fund, 1922’. These items, together with the others listed above, provide an interesting insight into life in Penarth ninety years ago.

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