Bromley House Library

Established 1816

Our History

Nottingham Subscription Library was founded in 1816 and moved in 1822 to its present home, Bromley House, which is centrally situated in the city on Angel Row. It is a dark red brick building built in 1752 as a ‘town house’ for George Smith, grandson of the founder of Smiths Bank, the oldest known provincial bank in the country.

We have a directory of people and organisations associated with Bromley House Library from its inception to 1966. It includes a list of subscribers, suppliers and tradesmen, committee activities - in effect a history of the library told by the people who had connections with  Bromley House Library from 1816 - 1966. The directory compiled by Neal Priestland, is available for reference in the library.

 You can also read more about some of our early librarians here

The building has been designated Grade II* listed status and contains many interesting period features and some fine paintings. The main part of the library is housed in a series of reading rooms with plaster ceilings, cornices and overmantels. A particularly fine spiral staircase and gallery is a feature of the largest room.

Our daily papers are now available in one of our first floor reading rooms but originally would have been kept in a separate News Room housed in what is now Barnardo's charity shop.

Meridian Line

Today we keep our watches and clocks showing the correct time by referring to the famous 6 pips of the Greenwich Time Signal which has been broadcast by the BBC since 1924. But how was the time set before that?

Sundials were one solution, but a Meridian dial was more accurate. These consisted a fine line on the floor, and a shutter by a window with a small aperture in it. The line was orientated to point due North/ South so that at the solar noon, the small patch of sunlight passing through the shutter would cross the line.

Few meridian lines survive in England- but Bromley House has one, assembled in 1836 and fully working, as it’s newly exposed after many years under carpet. Uniquely we also have the 1830 longcase clock inscribed with the time differences- So Nottingham time was 4minutes 33 seconds behind Greenwich, and 4 minutes 10 seconds behind St Pauls London.

Learn more about the meridian line here

At the rear of the library premises is a walled garden which members can use. In common with the rest of Bromley House, it is often referred to as “a haven” in the city centre.

Photographic Studio

In 1839 Frenchman Louis Daguerre presented to the world his exciting new invention, the daguerreotype, a means of producing a permanent image using a camera obscura. Local businessman Alfred Barber saw great potential in this invention and just two years later he set up a photographic studio in the attics of Bromley House. The roof was altered so that a skylight containing blue glass could be fitted. He also purchased, at great expense, a licence to produce daguerreotypes together with the materials required. The first photograph taken in the Bromley House Studio was in September 1841.

This is believed to have been one of the first commercial photographic studios in the country and certainly the first in the Midlands, providing a unique opportunity for the people of Nottingham and the East Midlands to have their portrait produced relatively cheaply rather than commissioning a painter. Although Barber's tenure at Bromley House was rather short lived the photographic studio continued to be used until 1955.

You can find out more about the studio at the link below. The article was written by Pauline Heathcote and included in a book celebrating 175 years of Bromley House Library published in 1991. 

Members of the public may have a guided tour of the Photographic studio, darkroom and Pauline Heathcote Archive on Wednesday afternoons by appointment. Contact Eric Butler by email: photo@bromleyhouse.org . Eric Butler is available on the first Wednesday of each month from 2.30 - 5.00 to give members a guided tour of the Studio and Pauline Heathcote archive as well as to discuss any photography issues with members on a drop in basis.

The Pauline Heathcote Archive

The late Pauline Heathcote LRPS was President of the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Photographic Society 1972-1973. Pauline and her husband, Bernard published several books some of which they illustrated with their own photographs.

Photographic Historian Pauline researched thoroughly and diligently. With Bernard she visited many archives and libraries to discover information about photographers and studios nationwide as well as corresponding with institutes around the world. In addition to publishing several books, Pauline wrote articles and papers for publication in various journals and magazines. Her published works are highly regarded and frequently referred to by other Photographic Historians carrying out their own work.

A large proportion of her research was based on local photographers, including the photographers who leased the Bromley House Photographic Studio as well as Bromley House Library members , Samuel Bourne, Arthur Marshall and the Duke of Newcastle.

Bernard Heathcote has generously donated Pauline's archive of research notes as well as photographs to Bromley House Library

The Garden Wing

During the summer of 2013 the Library expanded into previously tenanted rooms in the Garden Wing. This has created much needed extra space for the library and allowed the creation of a larger and well appointed members coffee room and an additional light and airy reading room which overlooks the garden. The staff accommodation on the first floor of the wing will free up space for both members and books.

For your information the library is on the first floor of our Grade II* listed building and there are two further floors making the building unsuitable for those who cannot manage stairs. The library has no lift.