BRADFORD’S earliest libraries were grand showpieces of learning.

The city’s first library opened in Tyrrel Street in 1872. When it moved to Darley Street in 1878 the Bradford Observer revealed it consisted of ‘a news room, lending library, reference library, separate reading rooms for men and women, an art gallery and museum and several branch libraries.’

Library history was made in 1904 with the opening of Keighley Library. Keighley was the first town in England to receive a grant from Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who pledged £10,000 towards the cost of the library. Carnegie went on to donate funds to hundreds of libraries across the country: “Whatever agencies for good may rise or fall in the future, it seems certain that the Free Library is destined to stand and become a never-ceasing foundation of good to all the inhabitants,” he said.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Keighley was the first town in England to have a Carnegie library Keighley was the first town in England to have a Carnegie library

The same year Keighley’s library opened, Ilkley Urban District Council applied to Carnegie and was given £3,000. Ilkley Library opened in 1907, constructed of local stone adorned with carved figures representing literature and science.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Ilkley's library under construction in 1906Ilkley's library under construction in 1906

Manningham Library, also part-funded by Carnegie, was the first library in Bradford to have a room for children. It opened in 1910 and was the busiest of Bradford’s branch libraries. Carved medallions on the building are inscribed with the names of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth. In 1913 Great Horton Library opened - Bradford’s first library designed for open access, with a 360-degree view counter.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Denholme Library opened in the old Mechanics Institute in 1882Denholme Library opened in the old Mechanics Institute in 1882

There are close links between some libraries and that other great champion of learning - the mechanics institute. Bingley’s library opened in 1892 on Main Street, in a cathedral-style building which had been a Mechanics Institute since 1864. Bingley’s famous son, John Braine, author of Room at the Top, was a librarian at the town’s library between 1940 and 1951. Bingley is clearly recognisable in his 1957 novel, and libraries also feature in his other books.

When the old Bingley Library became inadequate for the growing town the redevelopment of the town centre was an opportunity to include a new library, in 1973, and in 2009 it moved to a new facility in the precinct, which was rebuilt.

Denholme Library, in an 1882 Mechanics’ Institute, vies with Queensbury for being the highest library in West Yorkshire. Queensbury Library opened in 1891, sharing premises with the old Mechanics Institute, now part of the impressive Victoria Hall.

Set on the high ground between Bradford and Halifax, it reflects the industrial and civic heritage of Yorkshire’s remote townships.

The oldest library building in the district still in operation today is Addingham, built in 1669 as a village school and a jail. Clayton Library is also in an old schoolhouse, built in 1819. Another conversion was Wibsey Library, originally a Methodist Chapel near Fair Road where Wibsey horse fairs were held. This was the first post-war building in the district adapted for library purposes, opening in 1951. Soon after, Allerton Library was created from converted cottages.

By the 1950s and 1960s, ‘modernisation’ was the buzz word sweeping through the city and its surroundings. Wyke had a new library built in 1958. Its previous library, which opened in 1904, was in a church school and later a room in baths premises. In 2013 Wyke’s library service was transferred to community premises on the Appleton Academy site. Over in Eccleshill, in 1964 a new purpose-built library opened in the village with an open aspect on its unusual triangular site. In 1969 a library service was provided in a new community centre in Thornton.

Meanwhile, in the city centre, a new central library was urgently needed. The Darley Street library was overcrowded. Again Bradford was at the forefront of innovation; in 1967 the city’s landmark eight-story Bradford Central Library building was opened by Princess Alexandra.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Bradford's flagship Central Library in 1967Bradford's flagship Central Library in 1967

It was the first major post-war central library built in the UK. In 2013 the city library service moved to new premises in City Park, while Local Studies remained in the Princes Way building along with Bradford Archives, each service preserving the history of Bradford district in vast stacks.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 'Topping out' ceremony at Bradford Central Library in 1966'Topping out' ceremony at Bradford Central Library in 1966

In 1974, under the changes in local government, West Riding branches joining Bradford District included Baildon, Burley and Menston. In 1975 Holme Wood had a purpose-built library. In 1972 Wrose library opened in converted shop premises. In Shipley, a new library was built in 1985 as part of the town’s new shopping complex. This flagship library, in local honey-coloured stone, has meeting rooms much used by the local community.

Over the years Bradford Library Services have responded to local initiatives. St Augustine’s library, opened in 1987, is in a mixed use community centre within the church. Heaton Hub and Thornbury Library also operate from church and community centres. In 1988 Laisterdyke library opened in a community centre and Wilsden has library services in partnership with the village hall. Silsden Library shares premises with Silsden Town Hall. In Idle, library services are in the Wright Watson Enterprise Centre. Bolling Hall Library operates from the historic museum.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Eccleshill Library with its distinctive rectangular shapeEccleshill Library with its distinctive rectangular shape

The story of Bradford libraries is more than a history of buildings; it’s about the ways libraries have adapted and continue to adapt. The focus now is making library buildings flexible for a range of facilities, activities and events, with partner services providing complementary services, making them community hubs. A recent funding award from Arts Council England means more libraries will have moveable shelving and meeting rooms installed, taking them into the future.