50 objects 6: Plaque commemorating the opening of the Library by Heinrich Böll, 1973.

A post by Subject Liaison Librarian Joanne McPhie.


A modest wooden plaque on the first floor staircase of the Library represents the tangential coming together of two giants of the literary and artistic worlds at Brunel. As Brunel University developed its Uxbridge campus in the early 70’s, the creation of a new Library building brought sculptor and artist Joe Tilson to the site. Often named as one of the early innovators in the British Pop Art scene, Tilson initiated what was to be a long tradition of art in the Library in the commission and creation of huge wooden sculpture called Relief Murals that still adorn the main stairwell.

For the official opening ceremony in December 1973, acclaimed German novelist Heinrich Böll, was aptly invited to perform the honours. Böll, who the previous year had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for, amongst other things, “contributing to a renewal of German literature”, was a former bookseller and author of several novels concerned with the struggle of the individual against repressive situations. His prestigious attendance at the opening was an auspicious start for a university library. No less significant than the Nobel, Böll was also awarded an honorary degree from Brunel the same year.

The Library that Boll opened was situated in a very different campus from the one we know today. Few students had made the move to what was then a fairly unpopulated and un-landscaped campus. Indeed, when the Library first opened there were not enough books to fill the shelves and the Library hosted yoga classes and art exhibitions in the remaining space.

In a nice touch Tilson crafted the panel to commemorate the event and accompany his murals. If you look closely at the panel you can perceive the strange shape of the letter 3, which was burnt into the wood by Tilson with a hot poker.

This small plaque marks a major moment in Brunel’s history.


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