I love libraries! Mine not being a bookish family, my first experience of regularly reading junior novels at home rather than school came about because of libraries. We are used to them as free facilities provided by the local authorities, but the earliest ones were subscription libraries – I think I first heard of them when reading about Jane Austen, who I believe belonged to at least one and mentions them in her writing.
Most have gone now, but one right in the centre of Nottingham where I live has survived, despite a perennial struggle financially, to this day. It goes all the way back to Jane Austen’s day – and when you’re inside you really do feel as if you have traveled back to that time.
My financial struggles are as perennial as those of Bromley House so I’ve never been a member, but when I was walking past it a week ago I saw a sign advertising a guided tour and decided to finally get to see what it was like on the inside. I wasn’t disappointed. From the outside, the place is very unprepossessing. The doorway is swamped by modern shops and easily missed – I suspect most Nottinghamians aren’t even aware of its existence even though they will have passed it thousands of times. Not only is it much bigger on the inside that you would imagine, but it has a wonderful garden at the rear, a completely unexpected green oasis in the heart of the busy city.
The building itself is on about three floors, topped by an attic which once housed one of the country’s first photographic studios. Books are crammed on straining shelves just about everywhere in the maze of rooms, corridors – even the kitchen area! They don’t like to get rid of them at Bromley House and some date back to the seventeenth century. They do have a pre-Dewy-Decimal classification system for most of their books, which means that searching for a particular volume must be something akin to a magical mystery tour – no bad thing in a place like that.
It’s a great place for writers to get away from it all – I just wish I could afford to join (mystery benefactors and crowd-funding geniuses take note).