Leeds Library, Commercial Street, Leeds LS1 6AL
The Leeds Library(Thomas Johnson, 1808)

Our tour finishes at one of the hidden jewels in Leeds’s crown.  The Leeds Library is a private subscription library founded in 1768, and boasts the scientist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) as one of its founders.  The current building dates from 1808.  The shops on the ground floor were a far-sighted part of the original plan and rents from these premises have helped the institution to survive.  Dr Heaton and his sister Ellen both held shares. 

Ellen was the first woman to stand for the committee in 1886 and 1887 but was unsuccessful.  
Apparently her custom was to enter the reading room, collect all the newspapers, sit on them and release them one by one as she read them (Payne, 1995). Eventually in 1883 the committee put up a notice saying that no reader was to have in their possession more than one paper at a time!

Dr Heaton sat on the executive committee of the library from 1854-7 and 1860-80, being President in 1862.  As a member of the Repairs sub-committee, Heaton pressed for the library to take on new premises.  As with the Town Hall, he seems to have been motivated by providing a grand display of civic pride, but was opposed by those frightened of the expense:

‘About this time, the question of providing better accommodation for the uses of the Leeds Subscription Library was a good deal discussed.  I urged on the Comee the expediency of providing a new building suitable to the present size and wealth of the town, but with no result; many of the members inclining to the narrow plan of endeavouring to enlarge the present inconvenient and very insecure premises.’ (Journal, v. Feb. 1877).

The matter was finally decided in May 1879 in favour of extension of the existing premises.  This time, we can perhaps be thankful that Heaton did not get his way!

For an image of exterior click here.

Further Reading:

Anon. (1968) The Leeds Library: 1768-1968.  Leeds: Leeds Library.
Forster, Geoffrey et. al. (2001), A Very Good Public library: the early Years of the Leeds Library, Allenholme Press.
Payne, Dorothy (1995), ‘Ellen Heaton’, The Dial, no. 4.