The South Lambeth Library (Formerly known as the Free Tate Library) opened in 1888. Sir Henry Tate provided the building and its site at a total costs of nearly £6,000. (Ref. 'Vauxhall and South Lambeth: The freehold lands', Survey of London: volume 26: Lambeth: Southern area (1956), pp. 66-73. ). The architect was Sidney R. J. Smith who also designed the Durning Library. The library is a three story red brick building dressed with Portland stone
The building is somewhat unusual in that it is set at an angle to the road. Its main axis divides the angle between South Lambeth and Wilcox Roads. As a result, those travelling along South Lambeth Road from Stockwell to Vauxhall will be able to appreciate the facade more than would otherwise be the case.
The Minet Library opened in 1890. It was originally designed to be a church Hall for St James and for use by tenants of the estate. However, Mr Minet’s wife died in 1887 before it was finished and he decided to turn it into a library in her memory, It might have been finished before either South Lambeth or Durning Libraries were it not for the contractor going bankrupt though. Mr. Minet then came up with the idea of forming a private company along co-operative lines to finish the octagonal library which was designed by George Hubbard in Gothic style ). (Ref. 'Myatt's Fields, Denmark Hill and Herne Hill: Introduction and Myatt's Fields area', Survey of London: volume 26: Lambeth: Southern area (1956), pp. 141-145.)
In later years, the library was given an important collection of Surrey archives. Since then many additions have been made to this valuable collection and the library is recognised by the Master of the Rolls as a repository for manorial records. From these beginnings the library has now houses the Lambeth Archives. Things might have turned out differently though. In 1940 the library was partly destroyed by incendiary bombs/ Fortunately, the entire Surrey collection was preserved.
The Durning Free Public Library in Kennington Lane opened on 5 November 1889. Miss J Durning Smith provided the site and building at a cost of some £10,000. The building was designed by architect Sidney R. J. Smith in the North Italian Gothic style popular at that time. (Ref: 'Kennington: Copyhold lands', Survey of London: volume 26: Lambeth: Southern area (1956), pp. 36-56.). He also designed South Lambeth (Free Tate) Library which opened a year earilier
The steep pitched slate roofs, the tower, the stone and terracotta ornamentation and the arcaded front entrance accessed from a raised terrace combine to give this building one of the strongest characters in the neighbourhood. It must have been a real challenge for the builders (Messrs. Hall, Beddall and Co). A belated thanks to them for doing such a good job. (Perhaps they had an occasional drink at the public house across the road and admired their handiwork...and who would blame them).
Just to the left of the library is one of those old adverts still doing its job long after what was being advertised had disappeared
The neighbourhood is serviced by three libraries South Lambeth (1888), Durning (1989) and Minet (1890) - a golden age for local libraries it would seem. Of course, Minet library in Knatchbull Road, Myatts Field is a little outside the neighbourhood but it had to be included because it is, after all, home to the Lambeth archives. Anybody interested in local history should plan on spending time there.