Stratford Public Library, Stratford upon Avon, UK
N 52° 11.611 W 001° 42.455
30U E 588340 N 5783349
Quick Description: Stratford Public Library
Location: West Midlands, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 7/16/2008 2:43:12 PM
Waymark Code: WM46WG
Stratford Public Library, a gift of Andrew Carnegie 1903.
Late C15, restored and extended 1901-2 by EG Holtom, and incorporating former Technical School of 1899 by AS Flower.
Timber-frame with plaster infill on rubble base.
HISTORICAL NOTE: the building was to be demolished for the building of a Carnegie library, but a campaign to save it, led by the novelist Marie Corelli, was successful, the first example of a local conservation campaign.
Marie Corelli and the Stratford-upon-Avon controversy
A free library.
In 1902 the American millionaire and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, agreed to a request to provide a public library for the people of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Various important local people, including the novelist Marie Corelli, were asked whether it should be sited in the Market Hall or in Henley Street, near to Shakespeare's Birthplace. Marie Corelli had moved to Stratford some three years earlier and felt that it would be sacrilege to place a modern building so close to the birthplace, especially since it would entail the demolition of some old cottages that could well have been there in Shakespeare's time.
She is reported as calling Henley Street "the centre aisle of the cathedral of literature" and nothing should destroy it.
The Trustees claimed that they were early Victorian and produced an architect's report.
The war of words
Letters began to appear in the local press, including, in April 1903, one from Rev. J. Harvey Bloom, a Protestant minister and literary figure, who challenged Marie Corelli's right to control the affairs of a town in which she had only recently become a resident.
This was particularly galling to Marie Corelli, since she had been on quite friendly terms with Harvey Bloom and his family.
The relationship had soon turned sour. Marie Corelli's response was to issue a magazine entitled The Avon star which purported to give the true facts about the controversy. In turn, Harvey Bloom retaliated with another magazine, The errors of 'The Avon star', which included a suggestion that Marie Corelli was illegitimate.
It was subsequently established that two of the five cottages had belonged to Shakespeare's granddaughter and Marie Corelli was able to point out that the Trustees had no "power or right to sell or destroy any property that had belonged to William Shakespeare or any member of his family" (quoted by George Bullock).
These cottages were preserved, which no doubt gave her some satisfaction, but she had not achieved everything she had set out to, and the library was still to be constructed in Henley Street. She had also made many enemies.
A law suit
In June 1903, the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald published a letter by Mr. Fred Winter, a local draper, who had in fact, benefited from a previous act of generosity of Marie Corelli in that she had paid for the renovation of his shop front. The letter intimated that she had wished to purchase land for the construction of a free library in Henley Street before ever the Carnegie scheme was proposed and that this would have given the town a Corelli instead of a Carnegie Library. Marie Corelli was incensed and immediately announced her intention to sue.
The case was heard in the Victoria Courts in Birmingham six months later and Marie Corelli was very much the centre of national attention, particularly since she was normally quite reticent to be seen openly in public and never wished to have her photograph taken without permission.
The verdict went for Marie Corelli, but she received a snub by only being awarded one farthing in damages by the jury.
God's good (wo)man
The ill-feeling rumbled on and Marie Corelli turned to the controlled world of her own novels to ease some of her pent-up fury. God's good man, published in September 1904, is set in the town of Riversford, obviously Stratford, and includes a series of characters based on many of her protagonists in the above controversy.
One of the story lines concerns an argument as to whether a building is genuine Elizabethan or not, while another involves saving five old oak trees from being cut down for monetary gain.
The heroine, Maryllia Vancourt, bears a striking resemblance to the way we are told Marie Corelli saw herself, with "a child-like figure and face" who looked much younger than she really was.
One of her adversaries is the Rev. Putwood Levenson, who was no doubt based on the Rev. J. Harvey Bloom.
Address of Library Building:
Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire UK
Current Use of Building: Library
Year Built (optional): 1901
Website about building: Not listed
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