Library relocation plans are paused

Much anticipated plans to move Hereford Library have been paused.

Almost a year after Herefordshire Council agreed to invest £8 million into an overhaul of Hereford Museum and Art Gallery in Broad Street, and £500,000 to relocate Hereford Library to the city's Maylord Orchards shopping centre, the library move is undergoing review.

The major museum regeneration, and investment, is unaffected. 

In his report which explained why the Council needed to pause and “review all options”, Councillor Harry Bramer - newly appointed cabinet member community services and assets following the May 2023 elections - said: “This is a key decision because it is likely to result in the council incurring expenditure which is, or the making of savings which are, significant having regard to the council’s budget for the service or function concerned. A threshold of £500,000 is regarded as significant.”

He noted that keeping the library in its current location on Broad Street wasn’t viable, adding “alternative locations have become available for redevelopment”.

Plans to relocate the library and learning resource centre to Maylords - a slightly unloved shopping centre which was purchased by Herefordshire Council in 2020 for just over £4 million - have been widely shared and talked about for the past two years, but since it was first mooted in the Hereford Town Investment Plan in 2021 “a number of factors have changed” said Bramer’s report. This includes local cultural organisations Rural Media Charity, Powerhouse and Encore deciding not to move to the mixed-use site.

Alternative library locations haven’t been made public. If the council cabinet OK the proposal to pause the current move when they next meet on Thursday 22 June, the internal review will be completed by the end of July 2023.

Image shows inside Hereford Library with an open plan layout and fully book cases in the foreground, and in the background a metal staircase that leads to an balcony floor.

In October 2022 the council did publish some details of what the new £3 million library and learning resource centre in the middle of Hereford might have looked like, including a youth library with study space. It would have been slightly larger than the current library on the first floor of the Broad Street building, where there has been a public library since 1874.

Red brick and roofed shopping centre

A bit of history*

The Public Libraries Act of 1850 authorised towns to use the revenue from a half-penny rate to provide public libraries. Hereford didn’t rush to provide library facilities as they had more pressing problems - such as sanitation and living standards - to deal with, which were taking up plenty of public time and money.

But the public interest in literature continued to grow steadily and hundreds of people would turn out at "Penny Readings" held in Hereford to hear humorous and serious lectures given by the intellectuals of the county.

In 1869 James Rankin, then President of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, a local history and natural history society (still going), offered to help and paid £1,750 to buy land on Broad Street and being building a new landmark that would house a combined library and museum, provided that the Woolhope Club would have a private reading room within the building.

It was signed off in 1871 and officially opened for business in October 1874. The total cost was eventually £7,600, with Rankin putting down £6,115 and Hereford City Council raising the rest.

The library was designed by Mr. F. R. Kempson, a local architect and a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Its distinctive and ornate building facade still features intricate carvings of animals, plants and signs of the zodiac.

The top floor originally included the librarian's bedroom, kitchen, scullery, and sitting rooms.

*from Herefordshire Through Time’s Hereford Library Timelime