What Andrew Carnegie did for us - remembering the world's richest man and his gifts for Sunderland

An arts display celebrates one of the richest men in history whose legacy lives on in the libraries he built for Sunderland.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 12:27 pm

From humble beginnings in Scotland, Andrew Carnegie moved to America and led the expansion of the steel industry in the late 19th century, amassing him a huge fortune which made him one of the richest ever Americans.

He used his wealth and influence for philanthropy with a particular focus on education and libraries as well as public buildings which would become world famous, such as Carnegie Hall in New York.

In total, he established 3,000 libraries in America and the British Empire, including three in Sunderland: the old Hendon library, Monkwearmouth and West Branch library (Kayll Road).

Assign Art group recreate the photo of philanthropist Carnegie's visit in 1903. From left Tony Redman, Martin Gollen, Angela Rogerson, Matt Moore, Debbie Monks and Hilda Redman

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Now, in the 100th year of his death, an exhibition inspired by the business magnate has gone on display at Carnegie Community Corner, which is run by Back on the Map, the charity that kept Hendon Library at the heart of the area by taking it over as a community centre after the library closed five years ago.

Carnegie 100 is on display at the site until September 16 before it moves to Quaker Meeting House in Roker, a house which Carnegie went to on a visit to Sunderland in 1901.

It features artworks by Assign Art Group, who meet at Carnegie Community Corner.

Tony Redman, chairman of Assign, said: “Carnegie was one of the richest men in the world and in today’s money would be richer than the likes of Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) and Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft). He retired at 55 I think, and died at 83 and he spent all those years giving money away to good causes. But he was careful with it, he made sure it went to a good home.

Carnegie visiting the Quaker House in 1901.

“He used a library as a boy when he moved to America and I think he really saw the value of education. As we meet in one of the buildings he established in Sunderland, it seemed fitting to host an exhibition here.”

As part of anniversary year of his death the art group have also recreated a photo of Carnegie visiting the Quaker House. After the display has finished at Carnegie Community Corner, the exhibition will move to Quaker House in Roker for a month.

One of the artists whose work is displayed in the exhibition is Angela Rogerson, whose paintings depict him as both a saint and sinner.

“I took my photo of Andrew as my basis,” she explained. “But the depiction of him as a saint and a sinner comes from the fact that he was a divisive figure with strong views. “Although he was a great philanthropist, his working practices caused hardships for workers, so he divided opinion.”

Quaker House, Roker Park Park

Hendon Library was established by Andrew Carnegie for the benefit of Sunderland on land gifted by Thomas William and Arthur Backhouse. It was opened on October 19 1908 by Samuel Storey, an MP who founded the Sunderland Echo in 1873.

Hendon Library in its hey day
The library was opened in 1908 by Samuel Storey, who founded the Sunderland Echo
Hendon Library was saved for the community by charity Back on the Map