Tinsley’s Carnegie Library

Part Two

The decision was not arrived at, however, without some slight but determined opposition to the acceptance of any offer from the much-talked-of American millionaire.

The ‘slight but determined opposition’ to the plans for Tinsley Library, as reported by the Sheffield Telegraph on 17 December 1903, came from one man, John Luther Winkley (1872?- 1951?). Local landowner Earl Fitzwilliam had offered a site on Bawtry Road and millionaire Andrew Carnegie had offered £1,500 for building works. But now, at a lively parish meeting on Wednesday 16 December 1903, it looked as if Tinsley might not get its library.

The ‘much-talked-of American millionaire’, Andrew Carnegie (public domain)

According to the 1911 census, J L Winkley was a steelworks clerk, living with his wife and young daughter in Harrowden Road, just around the corner from the proposed site for the library. He was a local activist, serving on the parish council, and as its clerk, and also on the committee of Tinsley and District Working Men’s Club and Institute. His name appeared frequently in the local press. An account in the Sheffield Telegraph of 26 January 1909, long after the battle of the library, shows how strong-minded he seems to have been. He was the clerk to the council and during a meeting he alleged that the chairman, Mr Marriott, had failed in his duty over Sunday trading. Marriott was forced to resign, saying that he hoped his replacement would ‘see that the clerk is kept in his proper position’. The new chairman evidently hoped to lighten the mood, saying ‘smilingly’: ‘lf the clerk has any of his nonsense I shall take him up and drop him on the floor.’ ‘Perhaps he will be a bigger pill than you can swallow,’ retorted Marriott, provoking cries of ‘Order’.

Back in 1903, at the meeting about the library, the then chairman, H C Else, summarised matters:

… the Council had had two offers made to them, one from Earl Fitzwilliam in the shape of a grant of a site for a Free Library, entirely free of cost, and another from Mr Carnegie of £1,500, on the understanding that the library building should be erected for that sum. Before doing that they must adopt the Free Libraries Act. Mr Carnegie further stipulated that Tinsley should spend £100 per year from the rates on the up-keep of the library. … It rested with the ratepayers to decide whether they would accept those two most handsome offers.

Another member of the council, J H Meades, was on hand to remind everyone, a little pompously, of the benefits a library would bring:

…it was time Tinsley had a Free Library. The present handsome offers, he considered, too good to throw away. If they did not avail themselves of this opportunity he thought it would a good many years before they would have such a favourable chance of securing a library. (Applause.) The working class population, he further pointed out, would derive most benefit from such an institution, but the large ratepayers of the district would bear the greatest portion of the burden.

Mr Winkley, however, was not easily reconciled. He had, he made clear, no problem with the library in principle, and was happy with Earl Fitzwilliam’s offer of land. But he did not want money from Andrew Carnegie. He asked how the approach had been made to the American and why local firms had not been invited to contribute. He also wanted an assurance that £1,500 was enough, and to know just how the council proposed to buy books. Most people present thought that the £100 a year to be raised from the rate would be enough for books and perhaps even a caretaker. But Mr Winkley disagreed, saying that ‘there would not be many books bought’.

From 1912, when Tinsley joined Sheffield and the parish council was dissolved. The original caption identifies Mr Meades (front row) and Mr Winkley (back row). Next to him is Mr Burton, Tinsley’s librarian.

Mr Else seemed to feel that the meeting was getting away from him. He:

urged that libraries had been established under similar financial conditions in other parishes which had accepted gifts from Mr. Carnegie. Why should not Tinsley do likewise, he asked?

But this only gave Mr Winkley the chance to be blunt:

for the life of him, he could not see how any self-respecting working man could accept an offer of this description from a man like Mr. Carnegie. …

If [local businesses had not been asked], they ought to have been, before the parish went outside to an American millionaire. He thought these firms would nearly, if not quite, have defrayed the cost of such a building if they had been approached. If the matter were gone about in the right way even now, he thought the necessary for the building could be raised in this way. Other Councils in the country had refused Mr. Carnegie’s offer.

The Telegraph recorded verbatim the discussion that followed, and the tension is evident:

The clerk: How many?

A ratepayer: Lots.

Mr Winkley: ‘If a man made me the offer of a present, which I could not conscientiously accept, I should not have it.’ (Hear, hear.)

The Clerk: Sheffield – Walkley accepted it.

Mr Winkley: That is no reason why we should do.

The Clerk: Not at all, if you don’t want it.

Mr Else said that in his view local firms could not donate ‘in a time of bad trade’.

So far as they knew, Mr Carnegie was a gentleman, and was doing very great good with the money he had compiled.

After more discussion, Mr F Bragg proposed that the offers should be accepted, adding that

a good deal had been said about the way Mr Carnegie had made his money, but he could not see that he differed from the great capitalists of this country.

The vote was a resounding 30 to one in favour of acceptance. Mr Winkley seems to have objected to Andrew Carnegie as a capitalist, and a foreigner at that, riding in style on the backs of working men. The Sheffield Independent later reported that:

It was stated by some that he had made his money by sweating his employees. (9 June 1905)

Perhaps the fact that his fortune came from steel made in another country was also a sore point in a steel town like Tinsley.[i] But in the end Winkley failed to persuade any other councillor. Tinsley would have its Carnegie library, and it seems unlikely that Andrew Carnegie was ever aware of the opposition to him.

That John Luther Winkley objected to Carnegie the capitalist seems born out by two newspaper reports. First the Sheffield Independent of 11 July 1904, reporting on the laying of the foundation stone by Sir William Holland MP, recorded Sir William’s speech:

[The library] would not have been possible had it not been for the splendid generosity of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. (Cheers.) Mr. Carnegie was a very rich man, as they knew, but he was also a man who recognised the responsibility which wealth carried with it, and the wealth that he had he had put, as they were all prepared to testify, to nobler uses than if it were spent on selfish pleasure or on enervating luxury or pompous display and show. … The work carried on in that particular neighbourhood must be one which would naturally appeal to Mr. Carnegie, because it was out of the iron and steel trade he himself had made his vast fortune, and he (Sir William) imagined that with Mr Carnegie’s intimate knowledge of that trade hardly anybody would know better than he how delightful a recreation reading would be to a man who had spent an arduous day amid the dust and din of the foundry and forge. (Hear, hear.)

(One feels that Mr Winkley perhaps had a better understanding of the effect of a day spent working in a foundry than Sir William.)

The second article is the Sheffield Telegraph’s about the official opening of the library in June 1905. As he opened the door with a special silver key, Thomas Wilkinson, the managing director of Wm Cook & Co, said:

Scornful words had been said about Mr Carnegie. He did not believe that Mr Carnegie had got his money by ‘sweating’ working men. He felt certain that as a working lad he had derived great value from reading books  and, knowing that they were the best friends a man could have, he was giving out of his wealth such institutions as the one in which they were interested, for the benefit of others…(Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1905)

This must be a dig or even a rebuke to Mr Winkley, and there is an irony in the next words of the Telegraph:

On the motion of Mr Winkley, seconded by Mr J Marriott, a vote of thanks was given to Mr Wilkinson.

 

In our next post on Tinsley Library, we’ll look at the building erected with Andrew Carnegie’s money.

Architect’s drawing of Tinsley Library

[i] Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland, but had emigrated to the USA as a young boy. He lived most of his life there, although he remained close to his Scottish roots. He made a vast fortune – over $350m – from steel.

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