There has been a Library building at the Inn since at least the sixteenth century.
Our current building, the new Holker Library opened in December 1958, 65 years ago.
Destroyed during the Blitz
During the Blitz, the Library was hit several times. The sad scenes were reported in Graya.
“The first war damage to the Library was on the 11th January, 1941, when a bomb…landed just outside No. 3 South Square. All was thrown into complete disorder and the Middle Library ceiling showed signs of collapsing, but the chaos was tidied up and work went on.”
“…coming into South Square and seeing the whole place one mass of flame, with firemen and wardens standing by helpless because no water was available.”
“On the night of Sunday, the 11th May, Hall, Chapel and Library went up in flames in one great pyre.”
“My late chief, Mr. M.D. Severn … Almost at the point of collapse and with tears in his eyes he said: “My God! My Library!” He lived for his library and, in the shock of its destruction, he resigned.”
For the remainder of the War, and up until 1946, the Library was operated from several rooms around the Inn. Tenants of the Inn were especially generous and allowed the Library to take some shape once again.
“Eventually, we were able to get a couple of second-hand tables and a dozen chairs and make…a room which then had more the appearance of a second-hand bookshop than a Library.”
One of the most significant problems we had at this time was space, as the Library’s collection developed once again space became a premium! William Holden wrote that by 1944 the Library had taken “over a basement under Mooney’s Bar in Holborn and the basement of No.1 Gray’s Inn Square” but was still running short of book space.
However, this was not the Librarian’s only concern. The Library was also challenged by natural (and animal) problems!
“For a short time, we were troubled by rats, but our friends from the Borough Council promptly dealt with that problem through the Rodent Destruction Officer…Then came the rains … we inspected the place after a severe downpour and found one end looking somewhat like a miniature lake; so for some ten days we were carefully drying out old volumes.”
We received many great donations during the rebuilding process, most notably, we were gifted a complete set of Statutes at Large from H.M. King George VI, which we still have in the Library today.
Master Winston Churchill visits the Inn, 1946
After the war it was clear that the Library needed a new, temporary space until the new Library was completed. In 1945 Pension approved the building of a prefabricated structure in The Walks.
Master Winston Churchill opened the new temporary Library in June 1946. The new building was at first shared between the Library and a Common Room. However, the Library collection was still growing, and by 1947 the whole building was being used as a Library.
Churchill expressed the hope that “this is not a sample of post-war building.” Luckily the new Holker Library is far more stylish!
A grand opening
The new Holker Library was designed by Edward Maufe R.A, opened to great fanfare on 15 December 1958, by Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan. Sadly there are no photos of the occasion but thankfully Graya reported the event with some vivid descriptions.
“The floor of the Library and the galleries round it were crowded to their utmost capacity…after the speeches the company moved over to the Hall where champagne in almost limitless quantities was served. ….. Looking down from the gallery at the crowded scene below it seemed as if it would be impossible to fit in even one more human body.”
“It was the most spectacular step in the reconstruction of the Inn, since the rebuilding of the Hall.”