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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Centre

(formerly Bermondsey Library)

The Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Buddhist Centre overlooking Bermondsey Spa Gardens opened in June 2010 in the former Bermondsey Library, a Grade II listed building built 1890/1891. An extension built in the 1930s  and decorated with art deco  motifs now forms the shrine room where a 2.5m statue of the Buddha has been installed.  

Bermondsey Library Bermondsey Central Library 1960

The library was opened in January 1892 by the Chairman of the London County Council Sir John Lubbock and presided over by Alfred Lafone, the MP for Bermondsey. The Times reported that during the opening ceremony, Sir John Lubbock said he was glad to see the rise of the opening of public houses, not for the supply of alcohol but for the supply of good sound literature.  The library comprised a spacious hall, magazine and news rooms, lending and reference libraries, book stores, a committee room and apartments for the librarian.  It had a capacity for 80,000 books but at the time of opening it had only been possible to purchase 10,000 volumes.

The library was well-used and in 1923 a new department opened which The Times described as an “experiment”, a part of the library devoted to the exclusive use of children between the ages of 9 and 14 years of age.  The Children’s Library had 4,000 books which included adventure stories, school tales, history, science, engineering, biography and travel and the aim was to encourage a “library habit” in children. Clearly the experiment was considered a success with children’s sections becoming standard in public libraries.  

The loans desk in 1959

After closing as a library in 1989, the building was used as offices and an advice centre by Southwark Council until the building was sold in 2009 to Kagyu Samye Dzong London, a branch of the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland and who had already leased the former Manor Place Baths.  The building was fully refurbished and the Centre runs a programme of courses and workshops focusing on meditation, Buddhism, and holistic therapies.