Original features

November 27, 2008

The People's Palace opened in 1887 - on the site of what is now Queen Mary, University of London - to bring education and entertainment to the East End of London.

The complex, most of which burned down in 1931, consisted of summer and winter gardens, concert hall, swimming pool, gymnasiums, trade and technical schools. It was visited by about a million and a half people in the first year.

One of the few surviving buildings is the library known as the Octagon, which was designed by Edward Robert Robson and inspired by the Reading Room at the British Museum. It has an unusual three-tiered interior with cast-iron galleries. Plaques commemorate the great writers of antiquity, while English literature is celebrated in busts of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Johnson, Wordsworth, Scott and Byron.

The library was run by women, starting with Constance Garnett, a pioneering translator of the Russian classics into English.

Although it closed in 1902, it was reopened in 1931 and now forms an adjunct to the main library at Queen Mary. It has hosted many lectures and even a recent alumni wedding. A major refurbishment, completed in 2006, stripped out later additions and restored the Victorian decorative plasterwork to its original glory.

Send suggestions for this architectural series to: matthew.reisz@ tsleducation.com.

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