Tinsley’s Carnegie Library

Part Three

At the end of Bawtry Lane stands the building designed as Tinsley’s first public library. We’ve already told how Tinsley wanted its own library and in 1903 successfully petitioned the American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, for a grant of £1,500. The money almost had to be returned because of an unhappy resident (‘If a man made me the offer of a present, which I could not conscientiously accept, I should not have it’), but after much discussion the parish council approved the proposal and construction started in 1904.

Opening ceremony of Tinsley Carnegie Library (Reproduced by kind permission of Sheffield City Archives)

At the opening of the Carnegie Library on 8 June 1905, the Sheffield Telegraph said:

The brick structure is effective in appearance, and, surrounded by grounds nicely laid out and planted with shrubs, the institution, which was opened last night by Mr Thomas Wilkinson, managing director of William Cooke [sic] and Company, besides being of educational value to Tinsley, is an adornment to the village. A large gathering of inhabitants assembled at the entrance to witness the opening ceremony, and to take early possession of the commodious rooms inside. …’

The ‘adornment’ was designed by the unlikely firm of Holmes and Watson. Tempting though it is to imagine the Baker Street duo disguising themselves as architects for a case, in fact they were Edward, not Sherlock, Holmes and Adam Francis, not John, Watson. They were respected Sheffield architects and surveyors, in partnership between 1893 and 1906.

Holmes and Watson’s drawing of the front of the library

Holmes and Watson’s drawing of the back of the library

The Carnegie Library is not usually mentioned in the catalogue of their work, and it must have been a relatively small commission. That they had already worked locally, on Tinsley Park School and the offices of Wm Cook & Co, perhaps helped them win this contract. Their work included industrial, commercial and public buildings in Sheffield:

  • a ‘twelve-hold melting furnace for Spear and Jackson in Gravestock Street’
  • schools like Pomona Street, Western Road and Carter Knowle Road (all still in use today)
  • the ornate Midland Bank branch on the High Street.

Midland Bank, Sheffield High Street, designed by Holmes and Watson (now part of Lloyds Bank)

For Tinsley’s library, Holmes and Watson kept things relatively simple, with only slight changes between the drawings and the finished building. Brick is the main material, and the building is double-fronted, with a central porch and a charming steeple or ‘fleche’ on the roof. The windows are large, letting in as much light as possible for readers. The porch bears a fine inscription thanking the donors, Andrew Carnegie and Earl Fitzwilliam. Inside the fittings were mahoghany – where it showed, like the fine entrance doors – and stained pine – where it did not. The building is in keeping with the surrounding houses, with good proportions, and the small corner site is used effectively. The job was well managed too, with the budget being exceeded by only 9s 10d. It says something about Holmes, Watson and the builders, Gray and Sons of Tinsley, that, over 100 years later, the building is still standing, and although there appears to be some water damage, the whole looks stable.

The fleche or steeple

Dedication on the porch to Earl Fitzwilliam and Andrew Carnegie

Entrance to Tinsley Library (from the plans by Holmes and Watson)

The interior is as simple as the exterior.

On the ground floor will be a porch, a well-proportioned entrance hall and staircase, a large reading-room, 30 feet by 18 feet, where there will be a stock of newspapers and magazines, a lending library, 15ft. 6in. by 15ft., and hall for applicants for books. first floor will provided with a ladies’ reading-room, reference library, and a spare room for stores, etc. In the basement there will be a hot water apparatus for heating the building, and on the ground and first floors there will be lavatory and other accommodation for the visitors. All the rooms will be thoroughly well-lighted and ventilated. The building is in the Renaissance style, and although simple in treatment, will be very effective appearance. It will faced with local pressed bricks, and Grenoside stone dressing. The surrounding grounds will nicely laid out, and planted with shrubs, that when completed, the whole will make a pleasing addition to Tinsley. The internal fittings, seats, book cases, etc., will of the most modern description. (Sheffield Telegraph, 11 July 1904)

On the ground floor is a porch and an entrance hall, with a large reading-room on one side, and the lending department on the other. On the floor above is a ladies’ room, a reference department and a committee room. (Sheffield Telegraph, 9 June, 1905)


The ground floor plan

The first floor plan

News and reading rooms were the norm then, and men and women forbidden to read in the same room. The lending library would have looked unfamiliar to us: the books – there were 434, costing £100, with half donated by local businesses. The parish council hoped to buy more shortly – were kept behind a counter and ferried by staff to borrowers, who chose from catalogues. There was no children’s library, although there might have been some suitable books for their parents to borrow. In time, the ‘closed access’ lending library and the reading rooms were done away with, and the space converted to ‘open access’ lending, and a separate children’s library. On the whole, though, Holmes and Watson’s original design seems to have worked well.

Closed access: screen in the lending library, behind which the books were kept

In The Sheffield Society of Architects, 1887-1987, Roger Harper comments that Holmes and Watson had a ‘reputation beyond actual productivity’. It is difficult, he says, to attribute their commissions, including the library, individually. But we know that Watson’s interest was architecture, while Holmes did a lot of surveying and civil engineering work, so Watson’s may be the responsibility for the design.

Adam Francis Watson

Edward Holmes

Edward Holmes (1859-1921) and Adam Francis Watson (1859-1932) were well established, individually and as a partnership, in Sheffield. Watson was born in Northants, but lived in Sheffield for most of his life, working first as assistant to the leading architect, Matthew Ellison Hadfield. Holmes was a Sheffield boy, the son of Samuel Furness Holmes, the town’s first Borough Surveyor. They were both keen supporters of the Sheffield Society of Architects and Surveyors, founded in 1887, with Holmes becoming President in 1905-06 and Watson from 1913 to 1920. They advocated professional training for young colleagues, and were members of professional organisations like the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institute of British Architects. They were also civic-minded and socially active: Holmes served as a Justice of the Peace and on the board of the Botanical Gardens; Watson was a member of the University of Sheffield Court, a sidesman at St John’s Ranmoor and an officer in the West Riding Artillery Volunteers. Both were Freemasons. Holmes was described in the Sheffield Independent in August 1902 as:

A broad-minded, sympathetic man…a true Sheffielder, considerate for the dignity and welfare of the city.

When the foundation stone for the library was laid on Saturday 9 July 1904 (with a capsule containing local newspapers beneath it), by Sir William Holland MP, the Sheffield Telegraph said:

… Tinsley is just one of those places most deserving of Mr. Carnegie’s help. It is the village boy, as much as the city lad, that the great millionaire wants to encourage to read and think…’

A year later, at the grand opening, Mr Wilkinson

rejoiced that Tinsley was to possess so beautiful an institution, where the inhabitants might increase their knowledge and find rational amusement.


Tinsley Library 1970 (© SCC. Courtesy of Picture Sheffield)

The building served Tinsley well for about 90 years – the image above shows the library looking splendid, after cleaning in 1970. There was the occasional scare along the way: for example, the library service was almost closed in 1918.

Councillor Appleyard said there had been a very serious depletion in staff. Seventeen were serving with the colours,  two had been killed, and three discharged. It was quite impossible carry on as in the past. The recommendation was that, two of the least important should be closed for a period, and that decision was only arrived at after very mature consideration. Councillor Tummon proposed and Councillor Holmshaw seconded an amendment that so much the minutes as referred to the closing of the Park and Tinsley Branch Libraries be not confirmed, and this amendment was carried by a large majority.  (Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 12 June 1918)

Tinsley’s own librarian at the time, Mr Burton, was one of those ‘serving with the colours’:

Among the wounded is Sergeant A. Burton, of 98, Greasborough Road, Tinsley. He is in the KOYLI, and writes from Chichester Hospital that he is doing well. Prior to the war he was the librarian at Tinsley Branch Library. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 13 July 1916)

From 1912. Tinsley’s librarian, Mr Burton, is third from right, back row. In the centre of the back row is John Luther Winkley, who almost lost Tinsley its Carnegie money.

In 1984 the Carnegie library was finally closed and the service moved to two shop units in the nearby precinct. Since 2016, because of cuts, the library has been run, as a volunteer service, from Tinsley Forum. After the books moved out, the Carnegie building was converted for the early years ‘Roundabout Centre’, but this too was closed.

Since then, Holmes and Watson’s graceful building has stood empty, much to local regret.

Tinsley Carnegie Library 2018



  • Sheffield City Archives and Sheffield Libraries
  • Roger Harper: The Sheffield Society of Architects, 1887-1987; Centenary: The First Hundred Years of the Sheffield Society of Architects; and Timeline of Sheffield Architects 1800-1965
  • Julian Holder: ‘A race of native architects’, the architects of Sheffield and S Yorkshire, 1880-1940 (thesis, University of Sheffield, 2005)
  • Stephen Welsh: Biographical notes and a list of principal works of a firm of architects and surveyors founded by Samuel Furness Holmes in 1845 until the death of his grandson Edward Marshall Holmes in 1929.

All the plans, books and notes mentioned may be consulted in the Sheffield Local Studies Library.


12 thoughts on “Tinsley’s Carnegie Library

  1. Hi all.
    Had a look around the library inside, as I was given access by a representative from Sheffield Council. Its still in fairly good order although water ingress is apparent in a couple of spots. I am currently trying to find out what can be done with the library, whether it can be leased or bought, and put to use for the community. Watch this space!

    • That’s wonderful, and much more than I have ever managed! I’ll see you on the steps at 10.30 then.

      • Hi Val,
        I am so sorry but we couldn’t make the 10.30 appointment.
        We managed to get there for 2pm. I wasn’t aware that you had replied to this. Sincere apologies.
        If I can get to have another look at it, as the chap said I could, I’ll let you know well in advance.
        I hope you weren’t waiting too long.
        James x

  2. Hi,
    Thomas Gray was my great great grandfather. I am currently trying to find out more about his family and business in Tinsley. I am also related to Thomas Newman who also was a builder in Tinsley. I suspect that the families knew each other and worked together on the various houses around Tinsley/Brinsworth/Wincobank/Darnell area.

    • Hi. It’s wonderful to meet you online. We’re very fond of the Tinsley Library which your family built. If you look at the various posts we’ve done about the library, you’ll see lots of photos and architectural drawings, and also what I suppose amounts to their company logo on this post. Have you tried Sheffield and Rotherham archives and local history library for records? Sheffield Archives have, for example, the plans for Tinsley Library, and may have others if your ancestors did work for the councils or for the big steelworks. There’s also some material about the Grays at least on the British Newspaper Archive, including for example a little article about Thomas’ death in Bridlington in 1932, with a small photo of him.

      • Thankyou Val. I have looked all that up now and found the house where he retired to in 55 Marshall Avenue in Bridlington which is now called the George Hotel. However I believe it was called morayland hotel and the landlady was brutally murdered there a few years ago by a man from rotherham! I found out the photo of him, the house and a view of the back garden. Also where him and his wife Mary are buried. I know that he lived in a house next to St. Lawrence church in Tinsley but it was pulled down to make Newman house. His three sons Bernard, William and Thomas lived in the houses next to it on Highgate.
        I am trying to establish who owns the library building now because I would love to see it put to use as I have seen the photos of the interior and its a beautiful functional building. Also that lovely parquet floor! I have asked the council and they have put me onto the Nottingham Land registry. Lets see what they have to say!

        • Hi. Great to hear from you again. What a lot you’ve found out about your family. I’m surprised by the Council suggesting you check the Land Registry, as I’ve been told by someone who should know that the Council still owns the library building. If you find out different, please do let me know. I think that there’s still a lot of affection for the building locally, and people would like to see it used.

          • Hi Val,
            Believe me, if I had the money I’d buy the building and have it restored. I found out about my great great grandad building it this year, and recently I have found myself driving past it every day. I doff my hat to it every time! 😀
            I’ve not heard back from the land registry or from Orbis who it says is the security firm looking after it. Sheffield council said they don’t own it! maybe it could be Rotherham council? I know Tinsley used to have its own council separate from Rotherham and Sheffield in the victorian era. Maybe the land and building are still owned by descendants of the Fitzwilliams? I’ve also tried the roundabout centre number on the front of the building and its gone nowhere. Maybe we need to take this story to the local newspaper to stir up some response?
            Best wishes,
            James Newman Gray

          • Tinsley was self-governing – a parish council – until 1912 when it became part of Sheffield. The library was already open and Sheffield Libraries took it over. The land was given by Earl Fitzwilliam on condition, according to the Sheffield Telegraph of the day, that ‘the site is to be used for the purpose for which it is given only. In the event of it being used otherwise, it is to revert his lordship, or he is to be empowered to make other terms as regards its tenancy’. But this may have been varied later – I don’t know. The local history people at Heeley City Farm did a project on Tinsley recently, and may know about the library building. I suspect it is still owned by SCC.

  3. Would love to know more about the basis of john Luther Winkleys’s objections to Carnegie money. What a rich story. So many aspects of Sheffield history bound up in the story of this library.

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