Guide to fictional Libraries #5 Kensal Rise Library

Following the lead of The Matilda Project The Alibi Library has decided to produce a short series highlighting the work of some of the best fictional libraries:


The cuts made to library services across Europe mean that many branches are themselves in danger of becoming works of fiction.  In the near future these important buildings may be nothing more than fairy tale places whereof  grandparents speak to their grandchildren, alongside enchanted (unpolluted) forests and crystal clear streams  -No doubt the fairytale palaces will have survived (although they may need to resemble castles).


Kensal Rise Library  was one of Brent’s cosy and much loved local libraries, situated in a fine historic building on the corner of Bathurst Gardens and College Road in London, United Kingdom. The site was donated by All Souls College, Oxford,[1] originally as a reading room at the corner of College Road and Bathurst Gardens,  to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1896, but only opened three months before her death. The architects were Done, Hunter & Co of Cricklewood.


Mark Twain

The opening took place on Thursday, 27 September 1900 (being half day closing locally),  performed by the celebrated American author, Mark Twain, who had stayed at Dollis Hill House for the summer. Scots-American steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, granted of £3,000 in September 1903 to enlarge the building. 


The librarians

The first member of staff was H.H.Hubbard, an ex-serviceman wounded in the Boer War. His title was “Attendant” and he reported to Librarian at Willesden Green.


Service Users

Some 80 people per day used the Reading Room in its first week, and this figure rose to 150 after six months.  Readers originally chose their books from a printed catalogue, then requested them at the counter, whereupon they would be fetched from the shelves by a member of staff, but in 1922 it became the first library in the Borough of Willesden to allow the public to choose their books from the shelves.



A Children’s Library was established in an upstairs room in 1934, and this was decorated with murals depicting scenes from children’s classics. They were painted by two students of Willesden School of Art, Dudley Holland (‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’) and Maurice de Sausmarez (‘Treasure Island’). Though no longer in position, they are still extant in the building. Another upstairs room was designated as a Study Room for children.



When The library was threatened with closure, a large campaign to save it was led by figures including Alan BennettPhilip PullmanZadie SmithNick Cave and Pet Shop Boys.[2]


Due to the current closure of the library, volunteers in the local community have set up a pop-up library outside.[5]



Coming up Matilda, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, The name of the Rose…


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