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Article date - 26 October 2016
Erected in 1896, the Gamble Institute as it was then known began life as a library and technical school.
Towards the end of the 19th Century St Helens was relatively well served with elementary schools, but lacked schools capable of providing qualifications of a more advanced technical nature – qualifications that were required by local industries.
A skills gap existed that Sir David Gamble – local chemical magnate and the first Mayor of St Helens – wanted to close. Gamble offered to build a technical school, “for the purpose of assisting our people to make themselves equal or superior to those countries where technical education has been an institution for a great number of years.”
David Gamble donated £30,000 (worth £3.57 million today) and in 1894 the plans were drawn up. Two years later the building was finished. The original library occupied the whole of the ground floor complete with a ladies-only reading room. Children were not allowed in or to borrow books until the age of 12. The basement was devoted to manual training including engineering and plumbing, and had a complete metallurgical laboratory.
The first floor housed various technical classrooms, a laboratory, a lecture room, a geometrical drawing room, and cookery and laundry departments. The second floor also had a laboratory, but was mostly devoted to chemical and art departments.
The official opening took place on Thursday, 5 November 1896. It was amidst much rejoicing by the crowds lining the streets that The Earl of Derby was welcomed to St Helens for the official handing over of the building to the borough by Gamble.
The building remains a hub for learning and creativity today, housing Central Library and the Local History Archives. The technical classrooms have long gone, there is no longer a ladies-only reading room and children are most definitely welcome. An honorary marble bust of its founder David Gamble is visible in the main library area.
Central Library will celebrate the gamble Building’s 120th anniversary on Thursday 3 November with:
Photos show the foundation stone being laid - still visible today on the corner of Hardshaw St and Corporation St - viewed from the Town Hall (1894); and one of the reading rooms, dominated by a large and ornate, antique globe (circa 1900).