TWO scintillating pieces of a Victorian town’s history are on display in its library.
An ornate coffin containing Darwen’s freedom and a gilt silver and enamel key was given to Scottish-American millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1908 when he came to open his new collection of books.
Large crowds gathered outside the Knott Street building to thank the philanthropist for paying it – one of 2,509 he has endowed across the UK and the world.
Now the ceremonial items are on display at the Darwen Library on indefinite loan from the collection of the Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline.
Their return was hailed by veteran Liberal Democrat Darwen East Cllr Paul Browne and local town historian Tony Foster.
The objects were given to the steel magnate when the library opened on May 27, 1908 and have been cared for by his family ever since.
Mr Carnegie told the crowd it was “a day to remember”.
He endowed the libraries that bear his name, including 660 in the United Kingdom built between 1883 and 1929, to provide “working boys” with books enabling them to acquire the knowledge necessary to improve their skills.
Mr. Carnegie’s visit to the Darwen Library was one of the few he made in person.
Cllr Browne said: “It’s great to see these items back in the city.
“I think the people of Darwen will really appreciate it.”
Mr Foster said: “It’s very welcome.
“We are really grateful to the Birthplace Museum.
“It’s a shame we can’t keep them but it’s great to have them back at Darwen and on display in the library he paid for.”
One of the conditions he insisted on before submitting his £10,000 donation – the equivalent of £1.3million today – was that a children’s section be built in the library.
It was in place of an art gallery that was originally to occupy the space.
Construction of the building began in 1906.
Its predecessor was the first in the north of England to adopt the open access system, meaning the borrower could peruse the books themselves before taking them home.
Prior to this, only certain members of the public were allowed into the library, with the librarian choosing the books he deemed appropriate to read.
The library maintained this policy when it reopened with funding from Mr. Carnegie, the children’s room he insisted on is still thriving today.