Headington (Bury Knowle) Library

Before 1930

From Headington Parish Magazine of January 1893:

Village Libraries.
As there seems to be much ignorance about the already existing libraries in the parish, it may be well to draw attention to the fact that there is one in connexion with the Girls’ School, which all well-behaved girls attending the School are allowed to use; and a second one, which is decidedly good, at the British Workman. From this books may be borrowed by persons who are not members for the very small subscription of threepence a quarter. The Librarian, Mr. Edwin Smith, attends every Wednesday evening from 6.30 to 8 to give out and change books for all comers.

By the 1920s there was a subscription library in one of the shops of Westbourne Terrace (between Old High Street and Bury Knowle Park).

Purchase of Bury Knowle, and early years: 1930s

The growth of the car works at Cowley meant that between the 1921 and 1931 censuses the population of the Headington district rose from 5,477 to 10,131. Headington ceased to be three villages and was absorbed into Oxford as a suburb in 1929, and in December that year a search for suitable premises for the establishment of a lending library began. In June 1930 Oxford City Council bought the whole Bury Knowle estate from the last private owner for £11,600.

Bury Knowle Library was opened by George Claridge Druce in early 1932 (notwithstanding the committee member who had commented: “If a person could not walk from Headington or Cowley to the Central Library to get a book, he did not deserve one”). It was the first branch library in Oxford. The adjoining Bury Knowle Park was opened later the same year.

Other uses of the library building

The baby clinic that had been run by volunteers at the British Workman since 1915 was taken over by the city council and moved into the upper part of Bury Knowle House in the early 1930s, and an adjoining doctor’s surgery in 1968 (replacing one in Sandfield Road). Both closed in c.1993 when Bury Knowle Health Centre opened on the London Road.

The premises are divided up thus in the Leases and Tenancies book of Oxford City Council in 1933:

  • Branch Library: Library Committee, £180 p.a. on a yearly term
  • Clinic (Infant Welfare): Public Health Committee, £130 p.a. on a yearly term
  • Stables: Miss J. B. Turner: £39 p.a. on a quarterly term
  • Stable, pig-sties, greenhouses, & kitchen gardens: G. Mold: £26 p.a., for three years from 29 September 1933
  • Flat (Lower): J. J. Pullein: £65 p.a., on a quarterly term
  • Flat (Upper): D. M. Gregory: £65 p.a. on a quarterly term

In 1948 the Bury Knowle Art Group was founded by John Henry Brookes. It originally met in Bury Knowle Library.

Baby clinic mothers in 1936

Above: Bury Knowle Baby Clinic in 1936
The sign shows that the opening hours of the library were then 11–1 and 3–8 on weekdays
(except Thursday, which was 10–4); and 10–1 and 3–8 on Saturdays.

County council take over the library in 1974

As the result of the Local Government Act of 1972, when Oxford ceased to be a County Borough on 1 April 1974 all library services in the City of Oxford became the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council. Since that date Oxfordshire County Council has leased the ground floor of Bury Knowle House from Oxford City Council and has continued to use it as a library.

The first threat of closure in 1998 …

The county council hoped to close eight public libraries (including Bury Knowle) in 1998, but public pressure kept them open:

… and the first search for new premises

The search for new premises in Headington began following the threatened closure in 1998, and partly because of this, in 1999 the county council renamed Bury Knowle Library as Headington Library. There were hopes in 2001 that a new library could be built on the Manor Ground site, but these were dashed in March 2002 when Firoz Kassam sold the site to Bellway Homes and Nuffield Hospitals:

The second threat of closure in 2005/6 …

In 2006 Oxford city council reviewed its property and recommended that Bury Knowle House should be used for commercial purposes when the current lease with Oxfordshire County Council ended in 2009.

Eventually the lease was renewed for 21 years, with agreed rent of £16,300 a year.

… and the second search for new premises

Hopes in 2006 that the library could take over the former Exclusive Brethren church in Lime Walk were dashed when St Ebbe’s Church bought the premises:

Hope of survival in current building: 2008

The lack of disabled/pushchair access to the library has always been the main drawback to the continued use of Bury Knowle House, but the solution was found when planning permission for disabled access was granted at the end of 2008. Plans for “erection of extension to provide wheelchair access to rear of library building, including: creation of a platform lift; accessible w.c.; a new door opening between the existing library building and new entrance and other associated works” were approved by Government of the South East (08/02355/CC3) and by Oxford City Council (08/02358/CC3).

The date for the building work kept slipping, and was eventually due to start in August 2010 with completion at the end of November 2010. Unfortunately the library work then became an early victim of the cuts, making Headington Library a prime target for closure. In January 2012 the county council applied to renew this planning permission.

Third threat of closure: 2010/11

Headington (Bury Knowle) Library was one of twenty county libraries whose county council funding was to have been axed. This plan has eventually “torn up”, and the county council continued to support all the libraries under threat. A consultation on the future of Oxfordshire’s libraries, including Headington, closed on 30 September 2011.

Campaigns, demonstrations, and meetings to save the library in 2010/11


Despite the snow, over a hundred people attended a demonstration outside the library on Saturday 18 December 2010 (below). The man holding the orange placard at the top of the steps is the famous author Brian Aldiss, who lived in Headington:

Library demo 18 Dec 2010

Read in

A read-in took place in Headington Library on Saturday 7 February 2011. Mark Thompson and Brian Aldiss gave a talk to the adults, while Helen Cooper and Mini Grey read to the children.

  • Pictures by Margaret Stranks of the protest and read-in: “Save our Library

Journalist Peter Hitchens joins the campaign

Headington resident Peter Hitchens said that Headington Library housed Oxford's nicest public reading room and that he used this library to research his first book:

Public meeting

Nearly 300 people attended the public meeting about the proposed closure on 11 January 2011 at St Andrew’s School.


The e-petition on the Oxfordshire County Council website which closed on 13 January 2011 received 497 signatures.

Facebook Group

The “Save Headington Library” Facebook group reached 100 members by 6 January 2011, and 150 members on 23 January 2011. It still survives under its revised name:

How much does it cost to run Headington Library?

Oxfordshire County Council signed a 21-year lease for Bury Knowle Library from 2010, with an agreed rent of £16,300 a year. There were break clauses, so the County was not committed for the whole period: but it did pay six years’ rent in advance (not-refundable) up to March 2016.

Of the libraries on the county council’s hit-list, Headington was the most expensive to run at £167,000 p.a. (compare Stonesfield, the lowest, at £17,000). But when the number of annual library visits is taken into account (153,350 at Headington, compared to 4,550 at Stonesfield), the cost per visit at Headington is only £1.08, compared to £3.73 at Stonesfield.

The above figure does not include the rent for Bury Knowle House, management overheads, centrally provided librarian support, or the income from fees.

Figures obtained from Oxford Mail of 24 January 2011

Opening hours

  • 45 hours 15 minutes per week

Visits and issues

  • Visits a year: 153,350
  • Issues to adults: 62,759
  • Issues to children;: 67,828
  • Audio-visual issues: 3,217

Library service costs

  • On-site staffing: £127,284.79
  • Transport: £39.20
  • Electricity: £2,039.39
  • Gas: £;2,259.14
  • Water and Cleaning: included in service charge
  • Security: £860.73
  • Supplies: £3,972.92
  • Books (estimates, not including professional librarian support or management cost): £30,811.00
  • Premises costs: £216.71

Property Service costs

  • Rates: £6,728.00
  • Service charge: £29,478.00

Total costs

  • Annual costs: £203,689.88
  • Less income from fees: -£17.474.83
  • Total costs (minus fees): £186,215.05

The above figures were taken from a table published in the Oxford Mail of 24 January 2011 but not reproduced in its online version. The rest of the article, which gives information about how communities will be able to bid to run services if the decision to close is taken on 15 February 2011, is here.

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