Standing in its own beautiful grounds on the outskirts of St. Peter Port, the Priaulx Library is a converted Georgian Townhouse that became Guernsey’s first free public library in 1889. The house, known as Candie House, was donated to the people of Guernsey by Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx, along with his vast and important collection of books. It is now Guernsey’s centre for local studies and family history research and holds important collections of newspapers, documents and photographs. It is a wonderful place for tourists and clients alike to browse in the atmosphere of a Victorian library.
Candie House was built around 200 years ago by Peter Mourant, a merchant and business man who made his money from brandy running and smuggling. The death of his wife, Marthe Mollet, in 1798 is recorded in a family bible held in the Library.
The house was bought by Joshua Priaulx in about 1830 and sold on to his brother, Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx. Osmond, who had a perfectly adequate house in Cavendish Square, London, leased it to Sir Peter Stafford Carey, Bailiff of Guernsey. The Bailiff occupied the house until his death in 1886. There is a brass plaque in the library inscribed with the words “Sir Peter Stafford Carey, Bailiff of Guernsey, died in this room”.
In 1871 Osmond offered his large collection of books and Candie House as a gift to the island of Guernsey and contracts were passed in that year. This was very generous, as the grounds were huge (they have now become a much-loved town park). When the Bailiff died in 1886, it was decided to use the house as a library.
The building was enlarged and quite heavily remodelled by architect and engineer, A.C. Andros. It became clear in the roof renovation project of 2005 that the workmen on the original job in 1887 had concealed objects in the roof-space to ward off evil spirits – a fairly common practice of the time, but largely kept secret by the workmen.
The bay window of the Bailiff’s dining room was extended up to the first floor to provide a reading room, the pillared portico was transferred to the rear entrance, and the interior lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves. The furniture was provided by Fuzzey & Co. There is a portrait of Osmond by Hewitt over the fireplace, and above the fireplace opposite there is a brass plaque on which is inscribed in Latin:
I, a Sarnian, Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx, have placed my books, the solace of my life, in this library, and given them for ever to the people of Guernsey, in the 82nd year of my life. As they have profited me so may they profit you.
When he died in 1891, he was cremated, following his wishes, and his urn placed in Candie House, where it remains on view to this day.