The old ‘mad house’ reopens as Bethnal Green library gets makeover

Chris Giff couldn't wait to get back into Bethnal Green public library after eight months [photos: K

Chris Giff couldn't wait to get back into Bethnal Green public library after eight months [photos: Kois Miah] - Credit: TH Council

A famous little library building where once the insane took asylum reopened in London’s East End with a queue waiting to get in. One library regular, Chris Giff, was certainly pleased to be back to take the weight off his feet and thumb through the day’s papers.

Meet the gang... the team looking after Bethnal Green's traditional public library

Meet the gang... the team looking after Bethnal Green's traditional public library - Credit: TH Council

Bethnal Green’s traditional local public library opened its doors yesterday, after being shut for eight months for a makeover.

There was a bit of a ‘mad rush’ to get in—but then the Grade II-listed red brick building was once part of Bethnal House asylum, in what cockneys used to call ‘Barmy Park’—now known as Bethnal Green Gardens.

The library off Cambridge Heath Road, first opened in 1922, has been spruced up by Tower Hamlets Council following public consultations earlier this year.

Mayor John Biggs said: “Bethnal Green Library is an amazing building—but it needed to be updated.

Stained glass window lovingly restored at Bethnal Green's traditional public library

Stained glass window lovingly restored at Bethnal Green's traditional public library - Credit: TH Council


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“It has given people the joy of literature and expanding knowledge for almost a century.”

A proposal to replace it with a modern Ideas store like Whitechapel and the Roman Road in Bow was seen as “madness” by the bookworms of Bethnal Green—they wanted to keep their traditional library, albeit with some badly-needed improvements.

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The dodgy asbestos had to go, for a start, and the old heating system replaced. The reading rooms also needed a lick of paint.

But the library has also been ‘renewed’ for the 21st century with a new Wi-fi system, surfing space with eight computers to get on the internet, scanning and printing facilities, a new bench for laptop users and more ‘comfort’ seating space for people using their own devices.

Yet there are plenty of traditional shelves for favourite books for adults and children, while opening hours stay the same—10am to 6pm, late Thursday till 8pm, Saturday 9am-5pm. Not much really changes, then.

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