Leeds University Library

Brotherton Library

Brotherton Library reading room

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 asked him to help finance its first purpose-built library. He responded with magnificent generosity, funding the entire enterprise. Sadly, he did not live to see the Brotherton Library's opening in 1936 and 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. The architects already had distinguished careers in both public and private buildings, from the UK to India. Although Lucas left the partnership in 1930, the firm worked with the University into the 1950s, giving it a striking classical face of Portland stone. The Brotherton Library, constructed between 1930 and 1936, was the centrepiece of this new, imposing campus.


Outside of the Parkinson building seen at nightOutwardly an unadorned redbrick building, the Brotherton Library was always intended to lie behind an imposing University frontage. This materialised in the form of the Parkinson Building, which opened in 1951.


Architect's drawing of the Brotherton LibraryThe 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 embodied the concept of the Library as a focus of University life.


Brotherton Library reading roomVisitors entering the reading room for the first time are 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 wooden feature in the Brotherton LibraryCarved cartouches identified with the University, Lord Brotherton, the Arts and the Sciences, appear over doors at key points of the reading room, overlooking the students below.



Brotherton Library wooden crestAbove the reading room entrance, carved in oak, sits the University's coat of arms. It features a book inscribed with the University's motto: "et augebitur scientia" - "and knowledge will be increased".