Whithorn Library, opened in 1911, was designed by the Newton Stewart architect, Alexander Young. The front elevation, in an Arts and Crafts style, is rendered in drydash with terra-cotta brick facings, brick detailing in blue and with a cast concrete door lintel of the date and name.
The idea of founding a library for Whithorn appears to have begun in 1896 chiefly through the work of Alex MacFie and J.J. Colquhoun with the backing of Charles Hawthorn, the Provost at the time. A public meeting in October that year unanimously backed the proposal and a committee was elected with McFie as chairman and Colquhoun as secretary. A number of women present offered to collect subscriptions and were so successful that as library was opened two months later in the side-rooms of the New Town Hall, with over 200 books and 100 members.
A further 100 books were added each year and the Ferguson Bequest contributed further volumes. By the end of 1905 space was becoming a problem and the committee approached the family of the late Charles Lockhart of Pittsburgh. He had been a native of Whithorn and made his fortune as one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company which later became Esso. The family agreed to subscribe £300 on condition that a further £200 was raised from another source. A weekend bazaar was held in the New Town Hall on August 1907 and over £300 was raised. However, no suitable premises could be found in Whithorn at the time and the committee decided to temporary re-locate the library to the larger ‘supper-room’ at the rear of the Town Hall.
Mr Johnston-Stewart, local landowner of Glasserton Estate , offered the site of a old building opposite the Town Hall in St John Street where the present library now stands. It was Mrs Johnston-Stewart who opened the Library on 29th November, 1911. She was presented with a gold key inscribed with the date and her name as a souvenir of the occasion.
When the building opened it had 2,200 books, with space for 800 more, with a reading room and a recreation room to the rear. As it was a popular recreation at the time, 2 billiard tables were installed in this area. One, a full-sized Burroughs and Watt’s table gifted by Rear-Admiral Johnston-Stewart, and the other, a smaller Ashcroft table. At the back of the recreation area was a raised dais for card tables.
The building re-opened in 1995 after extensive refurbishment but the façade, that featured in the film ‘The Wicker Man’, was left virtually intact with the exception of a recently added wheelchair ramp. The Library appeared as Summerisle Library in the movie. The exterior shot also showed the children of Summerisle chanting, ‘We carry death out of the village’!
First Published October 2009
Postscript: In Novermber 2010, Dumfries and Galloway Council decided to close Whithorn Library. A community campaign fought a determined battle to save the resource and won.