Hidden amongst the rooftops of Nottingham City Centre lies one of the last subscription libraries in the UK. I must have walked past the entrance to Bromley House Library on Angel Row countless times, unaware of the enchanting maze of books and reading rooms just metres away.

Founded in 1816, the library is home to almost 50,000 books, old and new, that are part of its ever-growing collection available to its members. As I stepped off the modern city street and walked up the staircase to the library, I was transported to another time completely.

The beeping of the trams and traffic lights, soft whirring of buses and cars faded into the background, replaced by walls of books stacked ceiling to floor amongst the ornate Georgian furnishings of the Grade II listed building.

The town-house in which the library now resides was built in 1752. The library moved here after outgrowing its earlier premises on Carlton Street in 1821. Starting in April last year, a major refurbishment project restored much of the attic of the house, offering even more places to study, read or relax alongside a snug children’s section and a glimpse into the photographic past of the premises. Bromley House played a key role in the early years of photography when, in 1841 Alfred Barber opened the first photographic studio in the Midlands.

Throughout its three floors, the library’s heritage has been carefully preserved and glimpses of the past are everywhere. The original grandfather clock stands proudly amongst the shelves still set to old Nottingham time (4 minutes and 33 seconds slower than Greenwich), a spiral staircase leads up into the gallery, and the most eagle-eyed visitors will notice a meridian line running through the ‘Standfast Library’ room which would have been used to determine the local solar noon. The lending system here is still a manual system and each member has their own page where loans are noted. However, the collection catalogue is available digitally, as in most modern libraries.

But preserving history requires work, as was demonstrated by the hard-working volunteers who were restoring some of the older books in the collection, worn down by generations of eager readers. They showed us carefully the correct way to take a book from the shelf without damaging the spine (not from the top!) and gave us an insight into their delicate work.

“It’s almost like a book hospital up here” the tour guide said, smiling, “they come every Thursday and leave the books they’re working on wrapped up in bandages.”

The library also boasts a walled garden, one of only two in the city, which also hosts an annual summer garden party. There’s a member’s coffee room and Wi-Fi throughout the house alongside access to daily newspapers and various magazines as well as the extensive collection of fiction and non-fiction books. There’s not really much else you could ask for from a library.

Starting from 4th March 2020, tours of Bromley House Library will run every Wednesday from 2:30pm - 4pm. Please click here to find out more and to book your place on a tour.

Non-members can attend most of Bromley House’s events and can request to use collections for research by appointment. Membership of the library is £120 per year for full membership (covering your household), £52 for 18-25 year olds (individual membership) and £52 if you do not live within a 50-mile radius. More information about membership can be found on the Bromley House Library website.

This blog was written by Charlotte Evans, guest writer for Visit Nottinghamshire.

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Bromley House Library
Historic Site
Bromley House Library

Bromley House Library, founded 1816, is a flourishing independent lending library situated in the centre of Nottingham, one of the few remaining subscription libraries in the country.

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