MEMORY LANE: Creating a place in the history books

Dr Derek Brumhead
Dr Derek Brumhead

New Mills historian Derek Brumhead looks at the legacy, buildings and books of John Mackie

John Mackie was an enthusiastic supporter of education in New Mills in the nineteenth century, being chairman of the New Mills School Board from its foundation in 1876, and President of the Mechanics’ Institute from 1887.

Mackie Memorial Library, New Mills

Mackie Memorial Library, New Mills

He and his wife were very generous to the poorer people of New Mills and in 1880 donated the St James’ Church and six almshouses on Spring Bank.

John Mackie died in 1891 at the age of 54 and a technical library was endowed by Mrs Mackie in his memory and placed in the first science day school in Derbyshire, which became New Mills Technical School an extension of the Board School.

This handsome building on Spring Bank (built in 1876) is now the Adult Education Centre, and a plaque recording the Mackie Library is still to be seen today over the entrance.

The books of the Mackie Library had a subsequent very unusual history.

When New Mills Public Library was opened in 1910 the Mackie Library books were transferred to it and remained there until the county library service started to sell off ‘old books’ from its libraries.

In the 1980s Mr W J West, an author researching the wholesale selling-off of books from the country’s public libraries, discovered in a Matlock secondhand bookshop books on sale with the Mackie Memorial Library stamp inside.

These valuable books which were on textile history included one which was not even in the British Library and appeared to be the only copy in England.

When the matter was taken up with the county council’s director of library services, he made an immediate order to purchase the books back (although some unfortunately had already been sold) and they were returned to New Mills and placed in the Heritage Centre.

Mr West’s book The Strange Rise of Semi-Literate England (1989) records a number of library disasters including the Mackie Memorial Library.

• Derek Brumhead was a guest columnist in issue one of Memory Lane, the Buxton Advertiser’s monthly retro supplement. Historian Ron Weston will be the guest columnist for issue two, which is published in the Thursday March 21 Buxton Advertiser.