Site of first county library in Wales, Caernarfon

Site of first county library in Wales, Caernarfon

This building, Plas Llanwnda, became the first county library in Wales in 1918. From here, books were sent out to schools across the rural area.

Plas Llanwnda, built in the 18th century, was previously home to some of the town’s wealthier people, including Robert John Fanning, auditor of the Chester and North Wales County Courts. He drowned in a boating accident on the Menai Strait in 1893. A funeral service for him and Lieutenant Walter Davies, who had also drowned, was held at Plas Llanwnda before the cortege moved to Llanbeblig churchyard.

Wales’ first public library had been established in 1862. Others gradually opened in various towns, including Caernarfon in 1887, but the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (CUKT) wanted local authorities to ensure rural residents also had access to library books.

The CUKT – funded by Scottish-born New York steel baron Andrew Carnegie – gave Caernarfon the opportunity to take the lead on rural libraries in Wales. It offered £400 of funding per year for five years, provided the county found other sources of money.

The venture was led by a committee chaired by William George of Criccieth, brother of Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The committee leased Plas Llanwnda as the home of the new library, and on 17 November 1918 the first books were shared between the county’s schools.

The first librarian was TO Jones, well known at the time as the dramatist Gwynfor. He had won the National Eisteddfod drama competition. To prepare for his new role, he visited English library systems and attended a course for librarians in Aberystwyth.

His duties included advising children on what kinds of books would be suitable for them. Books were returned or renewed every two months.

The CUKT kept a close eye on the libraries it funded. In 1923 it gave a further £600 to Caernarfon’s county library. This paid for more staff and a pay increase for the county librarian, on condition that he adopted in full the powers given to county councils in the Libraries Act 1919.

With thanks to Richard Jones, of Caernarfon Civic Society

Postcode: LL55 1SE    View Location Map