Thurrock historical places

Andrew Carnegie, Grays free library

During the year of 1892 the people of Grays were debating whether to provide a Public Library Service from the Rates. In the early 19th Century the foundation of the Sunday School Union had encouraged the spread of books amongst the working class. The 19th century had also seen the growth of mechanics institutes and more importantly the passing of the Public Libraries Act in 1870.

The history of Grays Library can be traced back to November 1893 When the Local Government Board appointed a committee to consider establishing a Public Library Service. The first Library was situated in No 1 Bank Buildings, Grays High Street. By 1902 the Library was becoming short of space, as by then it had 1884 volumes. The library committee decided to write a letter to Mr Andrew Carnegie, appealing for a donation towards the cost of building a separate public library Building.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland in 1835. In 1848 his family moved to the United States, and settled in Pennsylvania. He had a series of jobs, but in 1865 set up his own steelworks company. When he was 65 he sold the company to J.P Morgan for $480 Million and devoted the rest of his life to Philanthropic activities. His own belief was that the Rich had a moral obligation to give away their wealth to Charity and to be administered for the benefit of the community.

One of Carnegie's life long interests was the establishment of Free Libraries available to anyone as a means of self-education. The project was started in 1881 and he eventually spent over $56 Million and established 2,509 libraries throughout the world.

A reply to the Committee's letter was received from Mr Carnegie's secretary on 23rd June 1902 stating that Mr Carnegie was willing to donate £3,000 proved a site could be found.

Mr Charles Seabrooke and his business partner Mr Astley of Seabrookes Brewery donated a piece of land in Orsett Road where the present Thameside Complex is now located. A local Architect Mr Christopher Shiner was tasked with designing the new Library. The Countess of Warwick opened the Library on 11th November 1903. The cost of the building was £2,591.15.0. The turret clock had been presented by the school children of Grays; this clock was salvaged during demolition and is in the care of the local museum service.

During the early part of the First World War, the Library was opened on Sunday evenings for soldiers from Purfleet, but this was discontinued shortly after, due to lack of use. One of the most interesting stories from this period occurred on 3rd June 1915 when the Committee passed a motion to discontinue subscribing to the Times, Daily Mail and the Evening News, due to their criticism of Lord Kitchener. This ban lasted until February 1917.

By January 1926 the library had passed a milestone in issuing 10,000 books in a month. In the same year it became necessary to contact the Carnegie Trust again concerning book purchasing as the Library lacked" several works of great utility". On the 28th July 1928 a letter arrived from Mr H. E. Brooks of Stifford Lodge offering to contribute £1,000 towards the cost of enlarging the Free Library Premises, as a memorial to his late father. In 1937 -8 the first branch library was opened at Purfleet.

On the night of October 23rd 1944 the first V-1 rocket fell on Grays in the pit behind the library. The Library itself suffered extensive damage as 2,000 books were destroyed, and the whole building was closed for three weeks, the junior department for 5 months and the reading room for a lot longer. In the immediate post war years it was becoming increasingly apparent that the library was too small and a new building was needed, but it was not until 1967 that a new building was planned. Lord Goodman, chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, officially opened the new Thameside Complex on 22nd January 1972. The building also contains the local history museum and Thameside Theatre. The latest development has been the opening of Bruv's café in the Foyer in March 2003.


  • "Panorama" Number 12 autumn 1968 Pages 5-18
  • Thurrock Council Minute Books, 1936
  • Library Annual Reports