by Nick Colley, chairman of Northwich and District Heritage Society 

EVERY local resident will be familiar with the imposing, if a little faded Brunner public library on Witton Street, but not everyone might know that this was not the first library to occupy this position.

Public libraries came about as a result of the Public Libraries Act of 1850, but there was much opposition to it as creating and maintaining them was effectively through local taxation.

The notion of such a library in Northwich was first discussed at a public meeting of ratepayers in 1880, and although the idea was proposed and seconded it met with much general opposition.

The matter next came up at a further meeting in 1883, where there was a little more support for the idea, particularly from John Brunner of Brunner Mond & Co.

He went as far as to offer the use of premises he owned on Witton Street for the library, to minimise any expense to the public. Ultimately the proposal was adopted and these premises were to become the first Northwich public library.

This three-storey building was set back from the road and was previously used as the Northwich Workingmen’s Club, which John Brunner had recently taken ownership of.

In front of these Brunner had built three shops fronting on to Witton Street. These three shops were then heavily modified to form the entrance to the new library.

Jabez Thompson’s terracotta works created an impressive entrance for the building and above the central shop was constructed a magnificent 11-foot diameter, 30-foot high wood and glass dome.

The library was formally opened on July 21, 1885 by The Duke of Westminster, the town was decorated with bunting and flags and a 17-foot tall arch constructed from 50 tons of salt blocks was built across Witton Street close to the Timber Lane junction.

The Duke and Duchess were met by a special reception committee at Greenbank Station and were transported into town ahead of a huge procession, more than a mile long, of local dignitaries and local trades people with elaborately-decorated carts and wagons representing every local industry and most local businesses.

A total of 1,700 special commemorative medallions were cast and presented to school children.

The library had six thousand lending books plus a further thousand reference volumes as well as a newspaper room, and from 1889 also housed the Salt Museum.

By the late 1890s, however, subsidence was beginning to damage the building. In 1897 Sir John T. Brunner M.P, as he was then, paid to have the building renovated and redecorated.

However the problem remained, and by 1907 it was decided that there was no option but to demolish the building, and once again Sir John Brunner stepped forward and agreed to finance the building of a replacement library on the same site.

It was to be bigger and built using the composite timber frame method to allow it to be lifted should subsidence occur once more.

It was built with accommodation to the first floor for the head librarian and with two offices on either side at the front, to be let out as a source of income to the library. This second library was opened on September 23, 1909 and is the building we see today on Witton Street.

Nick Colley also manages the Northwich History Past & Present Facebook group