Webpage created: September 20, 2018
Webpage updated: September 20, 2018
WILLIAM BEST HARRIS (1913-1987)
William Best Harris was born on Thursday December 18th 1913. He was educated at Howard Gardens, Cardiff, south Wales, and joined the Cardiff Public Libraries service, where he made a name for himself through his work in the library located in the notorious dockland area of Tiger Bay.
On June 18th 1935 he got an appointment as Senior Assistant Librarian with Plymouth City Council. He was elected a Fellow of the Library Association in 1937.
He is recorded in 1939 as living at number 36 Ladysmith Road, with Mr Francis C and Mrs Jessie L Rendle.
During the Second World War the Plymouth Central Library was destroyed, along with a large number of its books. While this was happening, he was serving with the Royal Engineers, where he became a Staff Sergeant. He was also responsible for the formation of the Army Command Libraries (one to each command throughout the army), an idea that was later taken up by the Royal Navy.
He returned to Plymouth just at the time when its City Librarian, Mr Frederick Charles Percy Cole (1879-1954), was retiring and Mr Best Harris took over that post in January 1947. The main library was at that time housed in the City Museum because of the damage done to its own part of the building and he had the task of re-establishing the Central Library and opening new branches on the housing estates that were constructed to the north of the City. He was particularly keen on providing facilities for children and was responsible for the allocation of space within the rebuilt Central Library for a Children's Room. During his time as City Librarian he is said to have increased the book stock to 400,000, triple what it had been before the Blitz.
In 1958 he compiled the well illustrated 'Book of Plymouth" for the Plymouth Guild of Social Service, which sold 15,000 copies, and was followed by two more in the same format.
Up until and beyond his retirement in March 1974, he broadcast, wrote about and lectured on the history of Plymouth. In 1973 he was devastated when notes he had compiled for a history of South East Cornwall were lost when a fire destroyed his weekend home at Whitsand Bay. His Plymouth residence was at number 10 Queen's Road, Lipson, a stone's throw from his first home in Ladysmith Road. When the Council planned to redevelop Freedom Fields Park in 1983 he organised a petition to protect it. The previous year, 1982, he had resigned from the Labour Party because it was becoming too left wing and joined the new Social Democratic Party under Devonport MP, Doctor David Owen.
Mr William Best Harris died at Greenbank Hospital, Plymouth, on Friday January 9th 1987 at the age of 73. He was survived by his wife, Mrs Betty Harris, and three sons, Martin, David and Owen. The funeral was a private affair.