The Leys Institute, Auckland, New Zealand

 

As a child, William Leys arrived in New Zealand from England with his family. He lived and worked in the Ponsonby district of Auckland, having a career as a bookbinder.

 

Upon his death, he made a bequest of £5,723 to establish a place organized along the lines of the Mechanics Institute. This was to "promote literary culture and technical education ... [and] advance in other ways the intellectual development and social welfare of the community."

 

His younger brother, Thomson Leys, took up the torch. Himself a successful businessman and co-owner of the Auckland Star, T.W. Leys convinced the town council to donate land while he would contribute half the cost of constructing the building. The Leys family involvement in the library would continue until the 1990's.

 

The building was completed in 1905 and described as "Edwardian Baroque and Renaissance Revival Style". A renovation in 1991 restored the exterior to the original terracotta color.

 

The Institute was composed of a reading room, a magazine and newspaper room, as well as a lecture hall. Fine details can be found everywhere inside, from the staircase to the plaster decorations.

 

 

 

T.W. Leys was a Creationist and as editor of the Auckland Star, composed many articles seeking to debunk Darwin's theories. Despite this, lectures at the Institute were barred from discussing religious or political topics. Knowledge and learning would be addressed beyond the lecture hall doors.

 

From the beginning, improving physical health of district residents was a goal. In 1906, the gymnasium wing was constructed, funded by a bequest by William Mason. While the facility was not open for photos, rumor has it that some of the equipment dates back to the opening of the wing.

 

Early on, a focus on children was also important. The collection of books for young readers in 1909 is claimed to be the first such in Australasia. Yet another addition would be finished in 1959. Sir Cecil Leys financed the Hilary Leys Memorial Wing in honor of his late wife, creating a separate room for children.

 

The library archives had a photo of the children's room from 1959. I was amazed to see that the world map and the mural of indigenous wildlife were unchanged and in beautiful condition after over fifty years.

 

 

 

 

The library was taken over by the Auckland Public Library system in 1964 as the Ponsonby branch. Over the years, local residents fought off efforts to close the branch for budgetary reasons. The dedication of the locals can be seen in murals that were added to the lobby. Designed by artist Murray Grimsdale, the walls depict scenes of the Ponsonby neighborhood where Mr. Grimsdale lived.

 

 

 

 

The trip to New Zealand was a wonderful opportunity, made all the more special by finding such gems as the Leys Institute amongst the volcanic hills and bustling cities.

Sources:
Urban Village: The Story of Ponsonby, Freemans Bay, and St. Mary's Bay by Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow, 2008.

One Man's Dream: The Leys Institute and the Family who Founded It By Coral Ridling, c. 2005.

Article, The New Zealand Herald, 9-2-1980.

Article, The Bay News, Jan - Feb 19080.

Article, Metro Magazine, Dec 1981.

The Doctrine of Evolution by T.W. Leys, 1888; Book Review and Analysis written by Lynnette Perrsons, c. 1987

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