Last weekend the Heritage Open Days took place. This is a brilliant national event that sees public and private buildings and organisations open up to the public.
Here in Leeds there was plenty to see, but unfortunately for me there was no time in which to see most of it. I work Monday to Friday, and on Saturday we went to a wedding. But we made time on Sunday to go and visit one of the open buildings.
Given Olive's young age and low boredom threshold, we decided against my initial choice of the Town Hall and plumped instead for the Central Library tour. Andrew, Michelle and Scarlett also came along, and I was lucky to book the final six places on the tour. We got to town early, so waited for two o'clock to show itself by spending time in Leeds Art Gallery. We had a nosey at the Damien Hirst exhibition (be prepared only for examples of his iconic works, rather than the actual headline pieces). We then went to the children's area, where we were joined by the others.
Then it was time to meet inside the Calverley Street entrance of the library, which (surprisingly to me) was the original entrance. At first it seemed like no-one was going to show. Then a score of people arrived en masse, and a guide made himself known.
Alas, this was another tour, one for the Art Gallery, poorly planned to commence at the same time and location as our more modestly attended trip. They quickly moved on, leaving a handful of us and our own guide. He was quiet and thoughtful, and initially talked about the building's construction in the last quarter of the 19th century, a little of its design by George Corson (who was also responsible for the Grand Theatre), and something of the materials used. I was interested to note that in today's money, the building cost around £6m to put up. I can't imagine a public building today costing less than twenty times that amount (and then some, as it is likely to be subject to some ridiculously unfair PFI scheme). But I digress.
That was interesting, but we were here to look at the library building itself. We were eager to see and learn about the public areas, but we were most of all itching to see behind the scenes, beyond the doors marked 'private'.
The structure of the tour was a tease. We worked our way up the building, initially staying in the main lending library, the music library and the reference rooms. It was only then did we get to see some hidden-from-the-public rooms and balconies, some disappointingly devoid of any original features, some richly panelled or tiled and crammed full of wonderful books, maps, newspapers and records.
It was interesting and saddening to see the various effects of time, and particularly the brutal and unsentimental alterations of the 60s and 70s that affected most areas of the building. I can't for the life of me think why such destruction is not considered a crime.
All too soon our hour was over, and I was over. Our guide ended the tour in the Tiled Hall, in which it was once feared "people will be continually gazing up at it, instead of quietly reading the magazines and newspapers". This room was insanely hidden from view and subjected to officially-sanctioned vandalism for years, before being recently restored to something approaching its former majesty. Formerly the reading room, now a tea-room, this was a suitably upbeat end to our Heritage Open Day.
(Most pictures taken using Instagram for iPhone)