Tavistock Subscription Library was founded in 1799 by: John Taylor, a 19-year-old engineer from Norwich who had come to Tavistock to manage a local copper and tin mine; John Commins, of about the same age as Taylor, a bookseller; Edward Bray, the young Tavistock curate; and Reverend William Evans, an older man, a non-conformist minister who ran a local school. John Taylor became an eminent mining engineer and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The Library is located in Guildhall Square in Tavistock PL19 0AE next to the well-known Court Gate Archway, between the archway and the Tavistock Museum. Our front door is just to the left of the Museum entrance.

John Commins (c) Tavistock Subscription Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Russell (c) Tavistock Subscription Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Initially the Library was located in the upper floors of a bookshop, which it soon outgrew. A purpose-built library in the classical style was opened in 1822, nicknamed the Propylaeum. The Duke of Bedford, who owned most of Tavistock and the surrounding area, his family having been given the lands by Henry VIII at the Dissolution, decided to demolish and rebuild the centre of Tavistock, and the Propylaeum, being in the way, was demolished. However, the Duke, in compensation, refurbished Court Gate, one of the old Abbey gates, as a purpose-built library and librarian’s cottage. The Library remains in one room of this building, however the old library and cottage now house Tavistock Museum.

Tavistock Subscription Library became a registered Charity in May 2007.