I’ve always loved reading, when I was little the most exciting day of the week was the day the mobile library turned up. I remember being so excited I would run up the steps and get told off by the librarian “slow down, slow down” she would shout at me. I think the library would only stay in the same spot for about fifteen or twenty minutes, so I would waste no time in getting lost in amongst the pages and words. I’ve always preferred books to films. With a film you are seeing someone else’s vision of how the world looks, but with a book you build your own. Books are food for the brain. Devoured by our eyes, the words contained in their pages flow in to our imagination and build other worlds. I don’t know if mobile libraries still exist, but in 2014 a book related project caught my attention and took me right back to my child hood Thursday mornings in the book van.
You have probably already heard of the Little Free Library project, and if you haven’t, where have you been hiding?For those not in the know here’s the idea; A little free library is a decorated book box that sits outside a house or school, or anywhere really. People take books, people leave books and people bring books back, the books are free and donated by the users of the library. The idea was born in the U.S. when a chap called Todd Bol built a mini Library, put it in his front garden and stuck a sign on it that offered free books. Thankfully, another chap, a Walthamstow resident called Nick Cheshire, founded a little free library project in the U.K. Nick and the little free library team have been spreading the love of books since 2014, and I’m pleased as punch to say that we now have a book box in our front garden.
Free libraries in the U.K. first popped up as part of the E17 art trail, and can now be found not just Walthamstow but all over the UK. Each box is decorated in a theme picked by the host, the theme of our library is Walthamstow Marsh. We shared our idea for a theme with Nick and local artist Emma Scutt back in August. We met with them both in the Castle pub one Monday afternoon and talked books and designs over a few pints. When we first committed to being a library host we didn’t know which artist would be selected to paint ours, and we were really chuffed to find out Emma would be in charge of the paint brushes for our project.
We picked the marsh for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s beautiful, and a significant part of what makes Walthamstow Special for us, but there’s more to it than that. The marsh is full of history and stories, wild tales, rumours, and true stories that seem hard to believe. We wanted the marsh library to tell as many stories as the books it contained. We wanted it to reflect the beauty of the marsh, to show some of it’s history, and give a nod to the mysteries and tales this wild space has inspired. As we sat in the window at the front of the pub, I shared some of the marsh tales and truths with Emma, and agreed to send her some photos I had taken of the marsh. Drinks finished, and stories shared, we parted company and waited to see what the library would look like.
On a Monday afternoon at the end of September, Nick came over to install the library. We hadn’t seen it, and the art work knocked our socks off. The design was instantly recognisable as the marsh, with the railway arches that span the marsh on one side, and one of the many pylons that grow out of the grass lands on the other, there was no mistaking that this was the mighty marsh and River Lea. There are some nice personal touches as well. In front of the railway arch, Emma has painted My other half and I walking our dog. On the back, which generally only we can see, Emma painted a sunrise, based on one of the photos I had sent her.
The real magic is in the stories that have been incorporated in to the design. On the roof, flying over the marsh is a triplane. This is a Nod to A. V. Roe, who built the first all British Triplane and took it for it’s first flight on the marshes. On the side of the library with the railway arches and us walking the dog, you will also notice the red and white sail of a Viking Long boat. Viking invaders sailed up the Lea from the Thames, and there was even a battle of the River Lea between the English and Danes in 895. Whilst it’s waters are calm and tranquil now, this important water way, and border between rival clans, was fiercely fought over and protected in the past, and it’s great to have that reflected on the box. Finally, we wanted something to reflect the mysteries that the marsh has inspired. Something that reminds us you can’t always see what’s moving in the shadows, which is why there is a bear painted on the front. There have been various rumours of bears being spotted on the marsh. Sometimes dead, sometimes alive. There was even a police hunt once after two local boys claimed they had seen one roaming free. There have been rumours of big cats, beasts and in recent years reports of something living in the Lea, something that could pull Canadian Geese under the water and devour them. The bear, as friendly as he looks, is a reminder that the marsh hasn’t been tamed yet. A reminder that we don’t really know what’s lurking in the mist that swells on the edge of Walthamstow.
Within minutes of Nick installing the library it had received it’s first visitors. It seems to prove poplar with kids. Our first visitors only took books, but now people are starting to bring their unwanted books and leave them in the library for others to read. I really enjoy watching people come along and browse through the box, though I have to really try hard not to stare at them through the front window. We paid for our library using money from an unexpected PPI refund, but there’s loads of ways to get one. Funding is available, and some people have used crowd funding to pay for the construction, design and install of their libraries. If you want to know more about this great charity, take a look at their web site. If you’d like to know more about our library, or would like to borrow or donate books, come down to Springfield Road and take a look.