Leeds Library

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The Leeds Library interior
Blue plaque on the exterior

The Leeds Library is the oldest surviving subscription library of its type in the UK. It was founded in 1768[1] following an advertisement placed in the Leeds Intelligencer earlier that year. The first secretary was Joseph Priestley.[2] In 1779, James Boswell wrote, "In Leeds, where one would not expect it, there is a very good public library, where strangers are treated with great civility."[3]

The library moved several time in its early years before settling in the purpose built premises on Commercial Street, Leeds on 4 July 1808.[2] This building is a grade II* listed Greek Revival building by Thomas Johnson[4] with major 1880-81 extension to the rear by Thomas Ambler.

As of April 2011 the library has over 800 members who pay an annual subscription. The library is estimated to have a stock of over 140 000 titles. It also contains more modern items such as audiobooks and DVDs. The library's extensive collection is frequently used by researchers who are not members.

The library holdings also incorporate the stock of the short lived Leeds Foreign Library. The Foreign Library was founded in 1778[5] and incorporated into the Leeds Library in 1814.

The library is the setting for much of Frances Brody's 2014 novel Death of an Avid Reader.[3]


  1. ^ Paul Kaufman (1967). "The Community Library: A Chapter in English Social History". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 57. JSTOR 1006043. 
  2. ^ a b Derek Fraser (1980). A History of Modern Leeds. Manchester University Press. pp. 221–. ISBN 978-0-7190-0781-1. 
  3. ^ a b Frances Brody (2 October 2014). Death of an Avid Reader: A Kate Shackleton Mystery. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4055-2674-6. 
  4. ^ David Thornton (1 August 2013). The Story of Leeds. History Press. pp. 143–. ISBN 978-0-7509-5294-1. 
  5. ^ The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. 1981. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Catalogue of the Leeds Library. 1889.  (includes history of the library)
  • Forster, Geoffrey (2001). 'A Very Good Public Library': early years of the Leeds Library. Wylam: Allenholme Press. ISBN 1-873383-09-6. 
  • Beckwith, Frank (1968). The Leeds Library 1768-1968 (privately printed ed.). Leeds: Leeds Library. 
  • Beckwith, Frank (1994). The Leeds Library 1768-1968: with a new preface by Dennis Cox (Second ed.). Leeds: Leeds Library. 
  • Trevor H. Hall (1965). "The Mystery of the Leeds Library". New Light on Old Ghosts. Gerald Duckworth. pp. 35–53. 
  • Materials relating to Africa at the Leeds Library by Martin Banham, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 78 (2017)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°47′51″N 1°32′40″W / 53.7975°N 1.5444°W / 53.7975; -1.5444