In the 1880 Kelly's Directory Handsworth is described as 'a fashionable suburb to the north-west of Birmingham, containing many handsome mansions and villa residences' Although only three miles from the centre of Birmingham, in Warwickshire, Handsworth was an independent district in Staffordshire. Until 1894 it was termed Handsworth Urban Sanitary District, from 1895 until it became part of Birmingham in 1911 it had the perhaps more dignified title of Urban District of Handsworth.
The first Public Libraries Act in 1850 established that money could come from the rates to pay for free libraries, accessible to all. The rate was set at 1d in the pound. Some councils, Birmingham for example, voted to increase this, but Handsworth stayed with the 1d rate. In 1876 61 ratepayers of Handsworth voted that there should be a library. The library was planned, and donations of books were promised.
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