The West Derby branch library was the third of seven branch libraries donated to the City of Liverpool by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and was the most costly at £15570’00. The Architect who designed the building was a young Thomas Shelmerdine (1845-1921) who, at the age of 26 was the youngest person ever to be appointed to the post of City Surveyor of Liverpool. The Library was officially opened on Tuesday 27th June 1905 by Sir William Bower Forwood who was the Chairman of Liverpool Libraries Museum and Art Committee (1890-1909). It was Forwood who persuaded Carnegie to donate the sum of £50’000 to build free libraries in Liverpool.
Andrew Carnegie was, at the time, the world’s richest man. Born in Dumfermline in Scotland in 1835, his truly is a rags to riches story. His family moved to Pennsylvania U.S.A in 1848 and as a teenager he began working in factories. His hard work and wise investment in a sleeping car company during the 1850’s led to Carnegie’s early success.
During the Civil War he invested in oil, worked in transportation for the U.S. War Department and became interested in the iron and steel business. After the war he concentrated on steel, and by 1888 he owned control of the Homestead Steel Works and other manufacturing plants, which he eventually consolidated as the Carnegie Steel Company.
With his long time partner, Henry Clay Flack, Carnegie competed fiercely in business and tried to quash organised labour. In spite of his belief that it was the duty of the wealthy to help society (a belief he outlined in an influential 1889 essay, "The Gospel of Wealth"). During 1901, Carnegie Steel merged with the U.S. Steel Corporation which Carnegie sold to J.P. Morgan for $480 million, making Carnegie the richest man in the world. After his retirement he became a philanthropist and donated more than $350 million to further public education, build libraries and lobby for international peace. He also created the Carnegie Corporation of New York, endowing it with $125 million to support benefactions after his death. Although he spent much of his later life on his estate in Scotland, during World War I he returned to the U.S. where he died in 1919 at Shadowbrook, his estate in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. Andrew Carnegie was presented Honorary Freedom of the City of Liverpool on Thursday 3rd August 1911 at Liverpool Town Hall.
Closure of the Library came in December 2005 after a member of staff had an accident. A full structural survey was conducted which found many structural defects which would have cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds to rectify and it was resolved to keep the library shut on health and safety grounds.
Many thanks to Stephen for sharing his research and this historic image of the library.