LocalMatters       

Supporters gather to celebrate 150 years of Leigh Library

Posted at 9:00am Tuesday 04 May, 2021

The library’s original home at Collingwood. Charles Clarke and family are in the foreground. This photo was taken sometime in the 1880s. The house no longer stands, but Collingwood Farm in Leigh still exists.
The library's original home at Collingwood. Charles Clarke and family are in the foreground. This photo was taken sometime in the 1880s. The house no longer stands, but Collingwood Farm in Leigh still exists.

Leigh Library today – one of the most picturesque in New Zealand.
Leigh Library today – one of the most picturesque in New Zealand.

Leigh Library members with a collection of mementos. From left, Jenny Stewart, Wendy Brown and Ian Bradnam.
Leigh Library members with a collection of mementos. From left, Jenny Stewart, Wendy Brown and Ian Bradnam.

The library features a great selection of books on local history and personalities.
The library features a great selection of books on local history and personalities.

Scores of supporters will gather in Leigh this month to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Leigh Library.

The gathering will include descendents of the library founders, former and present members of the library, library volunteers and committee members and other residents of Leigh, Whangateau and Pakiri.

Library secretary Wendy Brown says the present committee and volunteer librarians believe this is an important piece of local history that should be celebrated appropriately.

To this end, a sub-committee has been working tirelessly towards the anniversary celebrations, which will be held at the Leigh Library and Leigh Hall on Saturday, May 22 from 11am.

Celebrations will include the unveiling of a historical board in the library grounds, a display of photographs and artefacts in Leigh Hall and refreshments.

Wendy says it is fortunate that there is a wealth of photographs, historical documents and diaries held by local families and the Warkworth museum, which will contribute to the display.

She says notable local family names who have played a part in the library's rich history include Clarke, Wright, Greenwood, Matheson, Wyatt, Witten, Dunning, Torkington, Meiklejohn, Cruickshank, Birdsall, Gravatt, Ashton and Whitaker.

“Many new residents have moved to the wider area over the past 10 years and this will be an opportunity to not only celebrate their new community, but to educate themselves on the rich history of the area and appreciate the tough life realised by the early settlers and their families,” Wendy says.

The Leigh Library dates back to 1871, when a young settler, Charles Septimus Clarke held a public meeting at his house in Little Omaha (now known as Leigh), which also included residents from Whangateau and Pakiri.

That night a library committee was formed and the Omaha Public Library (later Leigh Public Library) was born. It was originally housed in Charles Clarke's home, known as Collingwood. It later moved to Little Omaha School, then Leigh Hall and finally its current home – a restored worker's cottage that was transported to Leigh from Warkworth.    

Today, Wendy says the Leigh library is one of the oldest remaining community libraries. It houses around 4000 books and has 565 adult and 187 child members. 


 

Leigh Library timeline

1871
Charles Clarke calls a public meeting with the intention of forming a library. The Omaha Public Library committee is formed and the library established in Charles' home.     

1880
The library moves to Little Omaha School on land donated by Charles Clarke.     

1900
Extensions to Little Omaha Hall are completed, and the library moves into a side room at the hall.     

1901-1938
A fire in 1958 destroys most records from this period. Those that survive indicate the library is a focus of the community.

1939
New Zealand's Country Library Service (CLS) is formed. The CLS visits Omaha Public Library four times a year, each time loaning 75 books.    

1942
Due to World War II travel restrictions, CLS visits are reduced to twice a year.   

1944
The library opens its first bank account. Trustees are Miss Booth and Mrs Gravatt.  

1956
Little Omaha is renamed “Leigh”. Omaha Public Library becomes Leigh Public Library.  

1958
Leigh Hall burns to the ground. The library is relocated to the basement of Mr and Mrs Charles Young's house in Totara Street. The book collection is rebuilt using insurance money and generous donations.       
1960
The library is relocated to the new Leigh Hall. However, there are problems with leaks, dampness and mice eating books.

1987
The CLS service ceases. Mahurangi East Library lends books quarterly to Leigh Library to make up the shortfall.

1994
A historic worker's cottage in Warkworth becomes available. Councillor and library member Sue Greenstreet negotiates for it to be shifted to Leigh to house the library.  

1995
The renovated  cottage is officially opened on September 30 by Rodney Mayor Doug Armstrong.

2017
Leigh Library gets support from Auckland Council's rural libraries programme but maintains its autonomy.


 

Library founder a leading light in early Leigh

Charles Clarke in 1915.
Charles Clarke in 1915.

Grave. Leigh resident Jackie Atkins (nee Wyatt) at Charles Clarke’s grave in Leigh Cemetery.  Jackie is a descendant of John Wyatt whose daughter Charles married. Jackie will speak at the 150th library celebrations on early settlement in Leigh.
Grave. Leigh resident Jackie Atkins (nee Wyatt) at Charles Clarke's grave in Leigh Cemetery.  Jackie is a descendant of John Wyatt whose daughter Charles married. Jackie will speak at the 150th library celebrations on early settlement in Leigh.

Even as a young man, Leigh Library founder Charles Septimus Clarke was a leader in the fledgling Leigh community and a well-known figure among early settlers.

His home Collingwood, was the largest in the district and became a focus for community activity. In addition to the library, it was the home of the first shop and hosted the first Omaha Horticultural Show.

As well as being a farmer, Charles was the registrar of births, deaths, and marriages, a Justice of the Peace, chairman of the Roads Board, and a lay preacher for the Church of England. 

For many years, Charles was also the Omaha and Matakana West correspondent for several Auckland and northern newspapers, including The New Zealand Herald.

A dedicated diarist, his writings provide a social history of his era and give insight into the life of Leigh's early settlers.

Charles was born in 1843 in Leicester, England, the youngest of 12, and was orphaned at a young age.

After completing school in Leicester, Charles worked for two years as a farm cadet in Rutland, but a letter from a pioneer in Albertland made him aware of a new “life of opportunities” in New Zealand.

In 1863, he boarded the ship Queen of Beauty, arriving in Auckland on his 20th birthday. On the ship, he formed a close friendship with John Wyatt, his wife Mary and their daughter Mary Anne, 16, who later became Charles' wife. 

Charles and John purchased adjoining land in what was then known as Little Omaha (now Leigh) under a scheme whereby anyone over the age of 18 was eligible to purchase 40 acres.

While clearing the bush from his land to make it suitable for farming, Charles lived in a tent. It was a tough life but one compensation was there was plenty of timber available to build a new home.  

In 1866, Charles found a builder to build Collingwood, a triple-gabled, shingled-roofed house of eleven rooms, around which he later developed an extensive garden. When the house was completed in 1869, he and Mary Anne Wyatt married. 

On 27 May, 1871, Charles organised a public meeting at Collingwood for those interested in forming a public library. Eleven people turned up. Charles was appointed chair and began pointing out the advantages of a library to the community, noting that it would be likely eligible for some Government funding. It was then proposed seconded and carried that a library be established with a membership fee of 10 shillings.      

The library was originally housed at Collingwood, but in 1880 moved to Little Omaha School

Charles and Mary Anne raised five children in Collingwood. In 1881, they left to live in Auckland. Two children were born there. However, one died and in the same month, Mary Anne also died.

In 1884, Charles and his six children returned to Collingwood where they remained for the next 37 years. Willie, his youngest son, eventually took over the family farm and orchard. In 1923, Charles retired to live with his daughter Jane in Whangateau. He died in 1929, aged 86, and is buried in Leigh Cemetery.

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