Book cabinet on horse-drawn cart
From The Illustrated London News, 1860
Wikimedia Commons

The Warrington Perambulating Library has been described by historian Ian Orton as “one of the most revolutionary library advances of the nineteenth century”. Among the earliest mobile libraries in the UK,[1] it was set up by the Warrington Mechanics’ Institute in Cheshire, England in 1858. Keen to increase borrowing from its library, the institute determined in the summer of that year to raise money for the purchase of a one-horse van, which it planned to fill with books and send each week “to every door in Warrington and the vicinity”.[2]

The idea was taken up enthusiastically by local residents, who organised a flower show and bazaar, which raised £250 (equivalent to £25,700 in 2021[a]Using the retail price index.[3]). An October 1858 account in the Warrington Guardian reported that:

Not only have many of our wealthy townsmen given their pounds, but women – some of them poor widows – have given their mites. Two hundred working men’s wives and daughters, at their homes, have stitched, darned or knitted articles for the Bazaar.[2]

The perambulating library began touring the streets of Warrington on 15 November 1858 and was an immediate success; the number of books borrowed from the institute’s library increased from 3000 a year to 12,000.[2] The service continued until 1872.[4]


a Using the retail price index.[3]