Down by the Liffey Gallery
‘Coronation Library’ 1911, was built in 1911 to celebrate the Coronation of King George V, and opened on 18 April 1912. The site the library stands on was given by William Tod in 1873 to the “inhabitants of Lincoln School District for the purpose of a library and reading room” The first library to be built on the site, in 1876 was sold and moved to a site across the Liffey to make way for the new building. That building became The Pioneer Hall and still stands today as the centre of the Lincoln Historical Society.
Construction and Opening
Construction of the mere 30’x 16’ building with its 10’ stud was enabled by a Government subsidy of £100, ($16,000 in 2013) and citizens’ donations. The foundation stone was laid by local Member of Parliament Mr R. Heaton Rhodes on 28 December 1911. It was part of the Government’s conditions for the grant of £100 to the project that the stone be laid ‘before the end of the year (1911).’ The Lincoln community nearly missed out on the grant altogether, because of a mix-up in the paper work. The original application had been made by a special coronation library committee, but the original application was refused because it had to be submitted by an authorised local authority. So the committee put the task upon the Springs Roads Board, whose next meeting had been two weeks after the applications for Coronation subsidies closed. That application too was refused. Enter Heaton Rhodes, MP for Ellesmere. He took the matter up with his fellow Canterbury MP Hon. Mr David Buddo, the Minister responsible for the subsidies. Having convinced his colleague that the initial application had at least been submitted on time, eventually won the £100 grant for his constituents.
The £100 grant was not the end of the financial story. The total cost of the building was estimated at £163, with a further £50 for the library fit-out. Part of the added cost was for a tiled roof, in place of the planned iron roof prescribed in the specifications. As the Press reported on the MP’s largesse, Heaton Rhodes himself came up with the balance of the construction money for the tiled roof, while the community contributed the other £50 ($8,000).
The official opening, again by Mr Rhodes, took place on April 18th the following year. Opening celebrations in the library continued later in the day, with a social and dance in the Druids Hall for there was insufficient room in the library.
The building continued to provide a library service for the area until 1995, at which time the collection moved to share premises with the Selwyn District Council Service Centre further south down Gerald Street. After that the Lincoln Coronation Library no longer provided reading material, but held instead all the items of childhood amusement that make up a toy library. This use of the building lasted a decade from 1997.
In 2011, as the building reached its century, a group of Lincoln art enthusiasts, who had previously exhibited in private premises, applied to the Selwyn District Council for permission to use the old Coronation Library as a Gallery. The Council granted a lease to the Down by the Liffey Gallery Committee in exchange for their use and care of the building. The Gallery members completed some essential restoration work from March 2011, including a lick of fresh paint, and opened for exhibitions on 21 October 2011 by Mr Michael McEvedy, Chair of the Selwyn Arts Trust.
Exhibitors rotate collections monthly. They pay an exhibition fee and grant a commission on sales to the Gallery. The Gallery is attended by volunteers Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. The exhibited works are not required to meet any particular theme, but works showing local scenes or which are made from local materials, tend to prove popular. The exhibitors are largely drawn from the local Selwyn District and surrounds, and have included artists with a far wider Canterbury, New Zealand and international reputation.
The Down by the Liffey Gallery is popular with local people, many of whom come monthly to view the new offerings. In February 2013, this little gallery hosted its 10,000th visitor. The Gallery values, above all, its links with its local community. We recently ran a special Selwyn Heritage exhibition in honour of the District’s 150th Anniversary. There is an annual Community Art Month, when local school children, from kindergarten to High School age, and members of the community art group are invited to show their work. The Gallery also hosts afternoon or evening events for poetry and short story readings, and musical recitals. In 2012, the Down by the Liffey Gallery won the Selwyn District Council Arts and Culture Award.
The continuing use of this small historic building demonstrates the town of Lincoln’s commitment to preserving its history and the value the community places on the spirit of art and culture.