Ministers have granted heritage protection to a 1980s school library in Essex designed by the architect behind the British Library
Colin St John Wilson’s modernist Bishop Wilson Memorial Library in Chelmsford received Grade II-listed status from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Circular in plan, the Essex building forms part of the Bishops’ Church of England and Roman Catholic Primary School. It represents a memorial to Henry Wilson, the architect’s father and Bishop of Chelmsford for more than two decades (1929-1950).
Bishop Wilson Memorial Library was built between 1983 and 1986 and constructed concurrently with the more illustrious British Library in central London, which ‘Sandy’ Wilson designed with MJ Long (sketch below).
However, the London landmark, which houses 170 million items from every age of written civilisation, did not complete until 1998.
Recommending the Chelmsford building for listed status, Historic England praised the library’s ‘accessible modernist design’.
The heritage body added that the library’s red brick exterior hid a ‘remarkably vibrant and colourful interior’ that ‘survives in its original form including fixtures and fittings’.
‘Internally, the library’s constellation-pierced canopy provides a Soane-ian lighting effect, spilling daylight from the cylindrical lantern above onto the reading desks,’ according to the official list entry for the project.
‘Just as Wilson’s aim at the British Library was to create a pleasurable reading environment in a building that fitted sensitively into its context, at a completely different scale he intended his peaceful memorial library to inspire the primary school pupils while meeting their practical needs in a busy school environment,’ it added.
‘In this sense the memorial library exemplifies Wilson’s alternative modernism […] and is one of a number of library designs in which Wilson and his partner Mary Jane Long came to specialise.’
Historic England regional director Tony Calladine said: ‘The Bishop Wilson Memorial Library has inspired children for over 30 years with its vibrant and exciting learning space. Listing the library celebrates its importance to the story of Chelmsford and ensures that it is enjoyed by generations to come.’
British Library Colin St John Wilson 2