‘Key to Darwen’ returns to town’s library

Published Tuesday 23 August 2022 at 16:59

Ceremonial artefacts gifted to Darwen Library benefactor, Andrew Carnegie in 1908 have gone on display in the town.

A unique ceremonial key and freedom of the borough, held inside an ornate casket, have been returned to Darwen Library, following their presentation to Scottish-American Industrialist (Turned Philanthropist) Andrew Carnegie at the library opening on 27th May 1908.

The casket and key had previously been on display at the  Carnegie Birthplace Museum  in Dunfermline, Scotland, but its been generously loaned back to the library for the next few months.

Mr Carnegie, who made his fortune in the steel industry, stood proud as he waved down at a crowd of thousands during the library’s opening, proclaiming it was ‘a never to be forgotten day.’

Crowd outside Library

A Large crowd greeting Andrew Carnegie at the opening of the Library, 1908.

For a man soon to become the wealthiest person in the world and shake hands with American Presidents, his reflections on the town have aged well.

He was a benefactor of many libraries in both the United States and Great Britain, though Darwen was one of the few he had visited in person. This likely provided more sentiment behind the ceremonial key and casket, both of which are finely detailed and are seen as some of the most unique artefacts in Lancashire’s history.

ACBM_1928_233_Darwen Key

Silver gilt and enamel key presented to Mr. Carnegie. 1908.

ACBM_Casket, Darwen_1908 (5)

Silver Gilt Casket presented to Andrew Carnegie, 1908.

One of the conditions Andrew Carnegie insisted on before submitting his £10,000 donation – the equivalent of £1.3 million today – was for a children’s section to be built in the library.

This was in place of an Art Gallery that was originally planned to occupy the space. This idea was welcomed by locals and construction of the building began in 1906, opening two years later.


Librarian Joseph Pomfret sits in the newly built Children’s room, 1908.

It must also be remembered that Darwen was making unique history – even before Mr Carnegie’s involvement. The old library was the first in the North of England to adopt the open-access system, meaning the borrower could browse through the books themselves before taking them home. Before that, only select members of the public were allowed in the library, with the librarian choosing the books deemed suitable to read.

The library maintained this policy when it reopened under Mr Carnegie’s funding, with the children’s room he had envisioned still flourishing today. There are a range of activities and services ongoing – visit the BwD Libraries Facebook Page or pop in to Darwen Library on Knott Street to find out more.

Darwen Library is a wonderful visit at the best of times, but if you want to see artefacts that capture a brief moment in time, in which two very different worlds collided, make sure you visit as soon as possible.


The casket and key on display today.


Darwen Library, 2022.

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