A short history of “The British Jigsaw Puzzle Library” Sending out puzzles since 1933
We have all heard of public lending libraries where you fill out the registration forms and then have access to an almost unlimited number of books. The British Jigsaw Puzzle Library is a library with a difference! Operating in a similar way to the traditional public library, here a large number of jigsaw puzzles are available for loan, once the relevant subscription fee has been paid. We are not however talking about any old jigsaw puzzles. For starters, the entire stock of the library is comprised of hand-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles and secondly they are available in a huge range of subjects, sizes, styles, degree of complexity etc. We have a large number with the more familiar interlocking pieces along with many more which have been skilfully cut around the contours of objects in the picture, often in the non-interlocking, or push-fit style to challenge you that bit further.
A new and novel idea do I hear you say? Certainly not, the library was in fact established in 1933 by the Hon. James Craig of Stormont Castle and his twin brother, originally as The British Jigsaw Club. It would seem that the twins had found a splendid excuse to indulge in their passion for puzzles. These were exchanged by members, mostly consisting of friends, visiting premises in Sloane Street.
In 1935 the library progressed to taking in members who exchanged by post and was successfully run by one of those earliest members Rachel Lawrence until 1942 when it was passed over to Elsie Baldwin. Elsie added considerably to the collection but as the war progressed, she was advised to close the library. The appearance of a baby’s shoe inside one of the returned parcels of puzzles, for some reason prompted Elsie to persevere and that same shoe has remained as a mascot for the library to this day. In order to increase still further the number of puzzles available within the library, Elsie was able to find several excellent cutters who managed to add considerable technical complexity to their puzzles. In the late 1940’s, several members of the Royal Family became members of the library and “Under Royal Patronage” was included in the letter headings.
In 1961, after many successful years of running the library, Elsie decided to hand over to Margaret “Kitty” Waterfield. Kitty set herself the massive task of further enlarging the library and slowly but surely succeeded in her ambition. The parcel strike of 1962 threatened to be a disaster, but the then Prime Minister’s wife lent Kitty a car and driver so that she could at least deliver local puzzles. Kitty’s input to the library can still be seen in the cartouche of cherubs, tossing jigsaw piece around, which can be found at the top of the page, as well as on the website www.britishjigsawpuzzlelibrary.co.uk
The library changed hands again in 1967, to Mrs Goldwynne Jones and her sister Nancy, both keen collectors and expert puzzlers. The library relocated and moved away from London for the first time, becoming as a result an almost entirely postal enterprise. At this time one of their pledges was a guarantee to send out replacement puzzles the same day as receiving returns and because of the multitude of paperwork involved, a complete rethink was called for, a task undertaken by Mrs Goldwynne’s brother who designed the tracking card system which the library still employs to this day, recording each member’s preferences along with a record of the past puzzles supplied, all on one single card.
In 1970, the library changed hands once more, this time to another puzzle enthusiast, Carolyn Beves and was relocated to Blackheath, shortly afterwards taking on its “British Jigsaw Puzzle Library” identity, as the word “Club” was thought to be rather misleading. Once more the library stock was increased under Carolyn’s stewardship and it continued to prosper, with Pearl Crompton taking over its ownership in 1987. Pearl continued the library from Leamington Spa for the following thirteen years, handing it over in June 2000 to Dave and Val Cooper from the sunny seaside town of Herne Bay in Kent, where it remained until 2014 when David and Dawn Shearer took over and transferred the business to the small town of Ludgershall, close to the Hampshire/Wiltshire border.
Now over eighty years later and boasting a collection of well in excess of 3000 wooden jigsaw puzzles, along with a huge selection of prints for future additions, the library is still satisfying the puzzling needs of hundreds of avid members, quite a few of whom have themselves been with the library for four or more decades, hopefully without receiving the same puzzle twice!!!
The fact that the library has survived, and indeed prospered is due to the dedication of a succession of owners, all of whom have endeavoured to respond to the needs and correspondence of an ever-evolving membership. Comments such as “We couldn’t imagine life without the jigsaw puzzle library”, or that “we took the membership over from our mother, who had been a member since taking over from her mother”, are the types of message which spur us on towards our goal of preserving the library for future generations to come!
Do get in touch if you would like to join us.