Lewisham ARthouse logo
 
HISTORY
 
Lewisham Arthouse Limited, 140 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6PD
Here's a link to a video narrated by Nicholas Taylor, a local architectural historian and an expert on the Edwardian period, during which the Lewisham Arthouse building was built. The video contains a description of this period, and the architect of the former Deptford Central Library building, also of some of the building's architectural features.
A New Library
On 27th October 1905, a Public Libraries Service was opened in the former borough of Deptford. Andrew Carnegie promised a sum of £9,000 for a central library and £4,500 each for two branch libraries. The present site was purchased for the central library in October 1909 for £5,600. Originally three shops stood here. Andrew Carnegie was again approached in August 1910 with a request to increase the funding. The final figure for the central library amounted to £12,000. In 1911 Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas won the commission for the design of the building. The tender of £12,418 was accepted in October 1913 and the work started at once. The foundation stone was laid on 5th April 1913 and the library eventually opened on 18th July 1914.
Building Design
The building is Edwardian Baroque based on the Classic Renaissance style. The facades are built in small Berkshire bricks with porticoes, entablature and balustrade in Portland stone. The main architectural order is of Ionic design and the portico with its eight columns forms the principal entrance to the building. An inscription to Andrew Carnegie, the donor, is carved in the stone panel over the doorway with a floral wreath and the lamp of knowledge at its head. From the entrance a wide corridor with a plaster vaulted ceiling leads to the ground floor (formerly the lending library). A massive marble staircase leads to the first floor (formerly the reference library) which includes a colonnaded gallery with a glazed barrel-vaulted ceiling. The Baroque revival for public buildings such as these flourished from 1896 to 1906. The years 1905 and 1906 may be regarded as the peak of the style.
Building Layout
The public rooms of the library were arranged on the ground and first floors. On the ground floor were the newspaper room (for 41 readers) and the periodical room (for 45 readers). Off the entrance hall was the main lending library arranged on an 'open access' system. There was shelf accommodation for about 20,000 volumes. On the same floor were the rooms for the sub-librarian, a store room and work room with a staircase leading to the staff mess rooms on the mezzanine and to the reference library bookstore. The marble staircase from the entrance hall led to the first floor where the reference library (for a maximum of 60 readers) was housed, the magazine room (for 48 readers) and auxiliary room for special exhibitions and lectures (seating 120 people). A book lift ran from the basement to the first floor.
The Architect
Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas (1868-1948) was born at Virginia Water in Surrey. After training at Westminster Art School he ran his own practice from 1896 with an address in Piccadilly. He was made a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1906 and knighted the same year. He died on 22 January 1948. Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas was one of the most successful exponents of the Baroque revival, which became the fashion for public buildings of the early 1900s. His principal works are the Town Halls of Stockport (1905), Woolwich (1906) and Belfast (1906). He also designed the Dunkirk and Belfast War memorials.
The Benefactor
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was born in Scotland and emigrated to America with his family in 1848. He worked in a cotton factory and later was an engine tender and a telegraph messenger and operator. He also worked on the railroads and foresaw future demand for iron and steel. In 1873 he formed his own company, concentrating on steel. This and later companies prospered despite the depression and his empire became United States Steel Corporation in 1901. When retired he devoted himself to philanthropy and funded a vast number of public libraries in the US, Britain and other countries, as well as numerous other educational institutes and trusts.
Then and Now

The inauguration of Deptford Central Library, on the 18th July 1914, took place a fortnight before the outbreak of World War I. Now missing, a carved oak plaque below a bronze bas relief portrait read, 'this library is a gift of Andrew Carnegie'

A good example of Classic Renaissance architecture, the building is Berkshire brick with a Portland stone pointed column front. Many original features remain including the oak front doors, others have been replaced, such as the new oak side door, or restored like the barrel vaulted glazed roof on the first floor. The addition of the access ramp, realised with a grant from Lewisham Council is also finished in Portland stone.
On the left of the entrance is the 'workshop' space, an area used for multi purpose activities - mixed media events, music rehearsals, life drawing and yoga classes as well as the ARthouse's continuing programme of free workshops. To the right was the old library's newsroom, later the children's library, now a thriving gallery space, run entirely by ARthouse members. The remainder of the ground floor was taken up with the open access lending library. As mixed media studios they are now occupied by a wide variety of artists including potters, sculptors and painters.
The marble staircase leads up to the first floor, which housed the magazine room, reference library and librarian's office. It is now used as studio space and, with its glazed roof, is ideal for painters. Two rear staircases, one either side of the building lead to a photographer's studio on the right and communal kitchen on the left, both mezzanine floor level. The basement, originally comprising a large storage area, caretakers flat and a line of small rooms, now accommodates a variety of studios and a print workshop.
Paint and Plaster
The Deptford Central Library was closed down in June 1991. The vacant building suffered heavily from vandalism, attracted squatters and became a venue for illegal raves. The damage in the first year was estimated at £70,000. The local pressure group, the Friends of Deptford Library, convinced the local authority that the building not be sold for redevelopment but remain in community usage and in March 1994 Lewisham Arthouse moved in.
During the first year the Arthouse members assisted with 2,000 community hours through the Probation Service, providing £80,000 worth of renovation. The building is voluntarily maintained by Arthouse members through a work hours scheme. The Arthouse has also assisted in attracting funds to the building: the London Borough of Lewisham renovated the glazed roof, and improvements to external security and the cleaning of the front of the building were met by Deptford City Challenge.
A fundamental part of the ethos of the organisation is to provide affordable studio space to artists in the early stages of their careers. Currently it has 45 spaces used by over 50 artists. It also runs regular courses, classes and workshops.
Access

Lewisham Arthouse opens its studios annually, and also participates in London Open House weekend. www.londonopenhouse.org.

The exhibitions in the Gallery are open free to the public, Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-6pm, throughout the year. We apologise that access for our disabled visitors is limited to the ground floor only. Visitors are reminded that the Arthouse is very much a working building and care must be taken, especially with children.

Lewisham Arthouse Limited, 140 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6PD

 

Lewisham Arthouse Limited, 140 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6PD; Registered Charity No. 28058R. Registered in England and Wales. 2013