Yesterday Cambridge Central Library was 157 years old. Cambridge “Free Library” opened in 12, Jesus Lane, Cambridge, (Friends’ Meeting House) on 28th June 1855. Librarian John Pink looking after a reference only stock of some 1500 volumes.
Open Monday – Saturday “from 12 at Noon till 4 in the Afternoon, and from 6 till 10 at Night””No persons under Fourteen Years of age can be admitted” Women were not at first admitted to the Library although this was not mentioned on the public notices advertising the opening. It was felt – by men who clearly knew no better – that putting women into a confined space with potentially rough men, to whom they had not been introduced, might be detrimental to their moral welfare.
However within the month, following correspondence with other public libraries that did admit women and had no problems, they were allowed in and given their own area to sit and study. The provision of “Ladies Only” tables continued well into the 20th century.
It was originally intended that a distinguished member of the University open the Library, but at the last moment he was unable to attend so there was no formal opening ceremony. The local paper reported that there was a place where “mechanics” could wash before entering the room although it felt this facility would not be used as much in Cambridge as, say, in Manchester. “By-and-by, when it has grown a little larger – for it is only a child, though a stout, thriving little fellow – we trust books will be lent out to persons to take home with them.” [Cambridge Chronicle 7th July 1855].
The Lending Library did opened on 28th April 1858.