Friday, 10 October 2008


I loved libraries. My father would take me regularly, we'd choose books to borrow (once out of earliest childhood years, they'd mostly be about planes, trains, cars, trucks, buses, tanks, wars, etc). Two of the three public libraries that we'd use then are no longer there.

Ealing Central Library was housed in a former stately home, Pitzhanger Manor House. It ceased being a library when the Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre was opened in 1984. But back inthe 1960s it was a grand place to come, and where I acquired my reading habit. My father and I would come here on Saturdays to exchange books. At first, the Children's Section for oversized books about the world, science and technology, nature and history. Once I outgrew these, I loved books about WW2 warplanes, their colour schemes and camouflage.

I also loved the This is... series of cartoon travelogues by Miroslav Sasek (later on in life, I'd buy several of these books over the Internet for my children to enjoy as my brother and I once did).

Right: My brother (then 18 months old) and I, then nearly seven, poring over Sasek's This is Paris.

Closer to home, within walking distance, was the West Ealing Library on Melbourne Avenue, demolished in the 1970s to make way for Sainsbury's and other shops. A real shame, I loved the atmosphere of that Edwardian building, well-lit, with large skylights. Men would come hear to read newspapers in silence. I remember the smell of well-thumbed books and floor varnish, the shelves full of Large Print Books (in the days before cheap reading glasses), and of course the shelves where the aeroplane books were. Indeed I can conjour up the precise atmosphere or klimat just by thinking back to that place; precisely. My mind is there in every detail.

The third library in Hanwell, on Cherington Road, is still there. Next door to the children's clinic it was, to where my mother would push my baby brother in his pram for his check-up and NHS orange juice, cod liver oil and gripe water. The atmosphere at the Hanwell library was essentially similar to the West Ealing Library, with pale blue doors and window frames, skylights and the same layout and smell.

Public libraries, I fear, have dumbed down today.

1 comment:

Aphelion said...

Lovely photo, and I love your recollections about public libraries! They really used to be great places, but these days you can forget them over here, too. It's a true shame!