17th April 2019

The Lady Stephenson Library

Our head office, the Lady Stephenson Library in Walker, Newcastle, has a fascinating story behind it – with an unusual twist

William Haswell Stephenson was born near Newcastle in 1836, into a family of wealthy industrialists, with interests in coal and manufacture. He and Eliza married near her family home in Lincolnshire in 1862. A prominent and well-known figure in the city, William was Mayor of Newcastle on four occasions, before and after the turn of the century, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his services to the community in 1900.

William and Eliza both came from strongly Methodist families, and both were firm believers in social reform and philanthropy – those who were fortunate enough to have wealth and influence should try and change things for the better. Much of their philanthropic work was committed to establishing libraries in the city of Newcastle.

In the 19th and early 20th century, when TV, radio and the internet were many years away, libraries provided universal access to news, learning, and literature. The library was a place where absolutely anyone, regardless of circumstance, could read, study and self-improve – a virtue very highly regarded in 19th and early 20th Century society. In 1896, the Stephensons financed the Stephenson Library in Elswick, near to the couple’s home at Elswick House. In 1898, the Stephensons financed a second library, the Victoria Library, named for Queen Victoria, in the suburb of Heaton.

The Stephensons and the Dewey Decimal Classification System

In 1898, the librarian at the Victoria, Andrew Keogh, a working-class son of recent Irish immigrants, had learned about the recent innovation of Melvil Dewey’s Decimal Classification System in the USA, for organizing books in libraries. He persuaded the Trustees to introduce the Dewey System at the Stephensons’ two libraries - the first libraries in Europe to use Dewey. Despite his humble origins, Keogh later moved to the US and eventually became Head Librarian at Yale, and President of the American Library Association.

A memorial

In December 1901, at the age of 67, Eliza died, “somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly” according to her obituary. William and Eliza had been married for almost 40 years. She was survived by her two daughters, Charlotte and Kate, who continued their parents’ good works, endowing a children’s TB ward at the City Hospital, amongst other things.

In 1908, Sir William commissioned the Lady Stephenson Library in Walker, in honour of his late wife. This was the last of his library benefactions to the City

“The world is not enough”

In a carved stone panel above the Library front entrance is Eliza Bond’s family Coat of Arms, with the motto ‘Non Sufficit Orbis’ underneath – ‘The World is not Enough’. Those familiar with the James Bond films will recognise that as the title of the 19th movie in the Bond franchise, made in 1999. What is the story here?

In 1658, just before the restoration of the monarchy in England, King Charles II gave his mother’s financial controller, Thomas Bond, the title of Baron. Bond incorporated the motto of King Phillip II of Spain, Non Sufficit Orbis, in his new Coat of Arms. The Bond film producers decided to give their fictional star a family motto and a lineage from the real Sir Thomas Bond.

Eliza’s well-to-do Lincolnshire Methodist family had a (genuine) familial link to Sir Thomas Bond, and had adopted his Coat of Arms and family motto. So those walking past the Library today down the busy Welbeck Road in Newcastle, see a not only a memorial tribute from a loving husband to his partner of nearly 40 years, in the form of the Library; but also a link to some library history in the introduction of the Dewey Decimal Classification system to the UK; and an ancestor of the world’s most famous fictional spy, James Bond, 007 - as well as the home of a thriving academic publisher.

William Stephenson died at the age of 82, in 1918.