Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 19, 2018
Webpage updated: April 20, 2020




The Plymouth Central Library in Tavistock Road.

The City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery (left)
combined with the City Library (right) in Tavistock Road.
From a postcard.


The County Borough Council of Plymouth was granted City status by Royal Warrant dated October 18th 1928 and the Free Library became the City of Plymouth Library.

Mr Frederick Charles Percy Cole (1879-1954) was the Borough, now City, Librarian.

A Senior Assistant Librarian was appointed on June 18th 1935 --   Mr William Best Harris (1913-1987)

Then on the night of April 22nd/23rd 1941 the building and some 72,000 volumes were lost, including 41,000 in the lending library, 16,000 in the reference department and the Devon and Cornwall Collection of 15,000 books.  Luckily there were 5,000 books out on loan, which were largely saved.  Some of the stock was salvaged but it was only thanks to the general public donating 4,500 books that a library service was able to recommence as quickly as it did.  Thus it was that on Friday August 8th 1941 the Lord Mayor, Lord Astor, reopened the lending library on a temporary basis in the Museum part of the building, which was not damaged.

Mr F C P Cole had given sterling service during the Second World War, not only by taking on responsibility for the City Museum while its Curator, Mr A A Cumming (1912-1988), was on active service, but in having to re-establish the library service after the destruction of 1941, when some 75,000 books were destroyed.  He retired at the end of 1946 and Mr 'Bill' Best Harris was appointed in his place.  It was he who re-established the Devon and Cornwall library in June 1949, according to a Council minute of the 7th of that month.  Mr Rex Charlesworth, who became Deputy City Librarian, was appointed as Admin Grade IV on November 1st 1950.  Mr V G 'George' Turner, who later took charge of the Music and Drama Library, was already on the staff at that time.

Branch libraries were opened at Ham House on Saturday October 2nd 1948 and at East Stonehouse in 1949, while the part-time service at the Laira Branch Library was extended to full-time.

On September 9th 1952 Plymouth's Public Libraries and Museum Committee appointed Mr George Allen Chinnery MA (Hons) to be the first Librarian/Archivist, grade A.PT 1.  He was to commence his duties at Ham House on Monday November 3rd 1952.  Thus Plymouth's Archives Service was born.

Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret unveiled a stone on Thursday May 20th 1954, commemorating the start of the reconstruction of the City and which is now in the foyer of the Library building.  Designed by the City Architect, Mr H J W Stirling, it is measures 10 feet by 5 feet and is of polished green Westmorland slate.  It is set in skirting of polished Ashburton marble. 

The Library was reopened on February 22nd 1956 by Sir Peter Scott, the son of Mr Robert Falcon Scott of Antarctic fame, whose family had lived in Outlands House at Milehouse.  On the ground floor was the Lending Library, which had a Children's section, while on the first floor was the Reference Library, to the right at the top of the stairs, and the Scott Lecture Theatre to the left.  Hidden fro m direct view, on the left, was the Devon and Cornwall Collection, later known as the Local Studies Library, and within that the Music and Drama Library. 

On the evening of Monday July 16th 1962 the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth, Admiral Sir Charles Madden, officially presented 15,000 naval books from the Port Library and Plymouth Command Officers' Library to the City to form the Naval Studies section of the Plymouth Library Service.  It was to be known as "The Mount Wise Collection".  The Port Librarian at the time of the transfer was Captain R G Cross.

The Royal Naval Port Library had been a part of the Plymouth Naval War College in a building adjacent to the Royal Albert Hospital at Devonport.  The War College closed at the end of the Great War and although most of the buildings were transferred to the Hospital, a part was retained for the Library.  In 1908 the Plymouth Command started its own library alongside the official one.  It became apparent in 1961 that the libraries were poorly located and greatly under used so the decision was taken to pass it over to the Council.  When the collection was moved in to the Central Library it was installed in the old Music and Drama Library, which then moved downstairs.  Former Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth Vivien Burns (1919-1987) became the Naval History Librarian.

A new Saint Budeaux Branch Library, originally opened by Devonport Borough Council in 1899, was opened on Saturday April 6th 1963.

The Southway Branch Library opened by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Mr Walter Ainsworth, on Monday July 27th 1970.

At a presentation to Mrs Marian Beckford, the Local History (later Local Studies) Librarian, upon her in June 1971, Mr Best Harris said: 'The public owed Mrs Beckford something for the way in which she had raised the status of the local history library.  It is known not only locally and nationally, but internationally, too.'

Mr Best Harris retired on March 31st 1974.  On April 1st 1974, under the terms of the Local Government Act 1972, the City of Plymouth became a part of Devon County Council and the Central Library thus became a "branch" of the Devon County Library Service in Exeter.  Mr John Elliott was appointed as Area Librarian rather than City Librarian.

In fact, the former City of Plymouth Library Service provided many staff for the new management structure.  The City's former Deputy City Librarian, Mr Rex Glynne Charlesworth (1920-2020), became the new Devon County Librarian.  His former Chief Administrative Assistant at Plymouth, Mr Verley James Wallen (1922-2007), became the Assistant Area Librarian for West Devon, which included Plymouth.  Mr Owen A Baker moved from being Plymouth's Local History Librarian to becoming Principal Assistant (Information and Special Services) while Miss Alison Shute, formerly in charge of the Plymouth Children's Library and the School Library Service also became a Principal Assistant but for personnel, training and research.  Mr Baker's departure from Plymouth, along with Mr Michael Crews, who was his assistant in the Local History Library for a time but also moved to Exeter, meant that Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth Vivian Burns DSM (1919-1987) was required to take responsibility for Local History on top of Naval History.  Finally, Mr Frank Clements, Plymouth's Senior Bibliographic Assistant, took on a similar post at County Library headquarters at Barley Mount, Exeter.

Under the Local Government Act 1992, which created "unitary authorities", the Library Service in Plymouth was transferred back to the City on April 1st 1998.

The Plymouth and West Devon Record Office had been in "temporary" accommodation in Clare Place, Coxside, since 1983, where it was conveniently placed next door to an extremely flammable tyre store.  When an inspection by The National Archives condemned the building and threatened to withdraw the City's archives to a safer location, the City Council had to find new premises at a time of Government financial cutbacks.  After much time wasted searching around the City for a suitable replacement location, it was  eventually decided to use the existing City Museum and Central Library building in Tavistock Road.  This was rather ironic given that a spacious new Central Library building had been erected almost next door to it, on the corner of Regent Street, but that had been given by the Council to the Plymouth College of Art instead.  So the only way of going forward was for the existing building to be demolished, leaving the original frontage, and rebuilt in a more convenient design.  This would then house not only the City Museum and Central Library but also the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. 

In preparation for this work, the Central Library closed its doors at 8pm on Thursday March 17th 2016 and reopened in temporary accommodation on the corner of Mayflower Street and Armada Way at 8.30am on Tuesday March 29th 2016.