26th December 1881
Guille and Alles lease the Assembly Rooms
Thomas Guille and Frederick Alles’ library was founded in 1856 when the two men men, returning from apprenticeships in America, donated their collection of books to Guernsey.
However, despite bring such a valuable public resource, the volumes had initially been spread right across the island as they couldn’t be accommodated as a single collection. Thus, it was only in 1881, after the books had been temporarily relocated to St Peter Port, that Guille and Alles signed a lease on a number of Assembly Rooms. At last, they could all be kept together, and made available in a single central location for public viewing.
The library opened its doors the following year, and in 1883 Guille and Alles bought the rooms outright. Five years later, the premises were extended and a new entrance was opened up, giving better access to the 50,000 volumes it then contained.
Guille and Alles had been childhood friends who rekindled their friendship when they worked in the same carpentry firm in New York. The company that employed them gave them access to New York’s apprentices’ library, which inspired the pair to set up something similar on their return to Guernsey.
An educational innovation
Libraries weren’t new, but the innovation here was that this library should be open to all. Members paid a subscription, as they would have done to join a club, which helped finance its acquisitions and the maintenance of its collection.
The institution was eventually run by the Guille-Alles Trust, but as this approached the end of its first one hundred years of operation it started to run into financial difficulties, and it looked like it might have to shut down. Recognising that this would be a serious blow to the island’s cultural heritage, the States of Guernsey stepped in. It provided funding to sustain the library, and make it free for all to use without requiring that they pay an ongoing subscription.