The Brotherton Library, one of the finest library spaces in the country, takes its name from the benefactor to whom it owes its existence.
Lord Brotherton (1856-1930), a hugely successful local industrialist and equally far-seeing philanthropist, was also one of the country's leading private collectors of rare books and manuscripts in the 1920s. It was therefore natural that the University should turn to him for help when it was determined to secure its first purpose-built library and he responded with magnificent generosity, funding the entire enterprise. Sadly, he did not live to see the opening in 1936 of the Brotherton Library as a fitting place for the realisation of his international aspirations for the University.
The architects of the Brotherton Library were Lanchester, Lucas and Lodge, who submitted the winning designs for a new campus as part of the University's Architectural Prize Scheme of 1927. Lanchester, Lucas and Lodge already had distinguished careers in both public and private buildings, from the UK to India. Although Lucas left the partnership in 1930, the firm would remain the architects to the University into the 1950s, giving the university a new, classical face of Portland stone that remains striking to this day. The Brotherton Library, rising between 1930 and its opening in 1936, was the keystone of this a new, imposing campus.
Outwardly an unadorned red brick building, the Brotherton Library was always intended to lie behind an imposing University frontage which was to materialise in the form of the Parkinson Building, opened in 1951.
The Brotherton's round, domed Reading Room was deliberately modelled on that of the British Museum, but, with Yorkshire bravura, a slightly increased diameter ensured that it was larger than the southern original. The circular design was the embodiment of the concept of the Library as a focus of the life of the University.
Visitors entering the reading room for the first time continue to be taken aback by its unexpected scale and power. Swedish marble columns support the dome, decorated with light bronze detail, while the lightness of the building is further enhanced by the use of light oak, inlaid with Indian laurel.
Carved cartouches identified with the University, Lord Brotherton, the Arts and the Sciences, appear over doors at key points of the Reading Room, and now overlook new generations of students using not only the books that have supported study over decades, but also the originally unimagined technologies that have transformed access to information.
Above the main entrance to the Brotherton Library's great reading room, carved in oak, sits the University's coat of arms, featuring a book on which is inscribed the University's motto to inspire all who enter the Library: 'et augebitur scientia' – 'and knowledge will be increased'.
Over the years, the expanding physical Library collections have proved even hungrier for space than was envisaged in 1936, when it was said that "so long as one can see we ought to get along comfortably until the year 2000". The building's original three floors were designed to hold 700,000 volumes, but ingenious provision was made for the later insertion of a fourth floor that would accommodate another 300,000; this was duly added in the 1950s and was expected to allow for expansion for many years to come.
© Copyright University of Leeds 2011