The first British public libraries were established under the Museum Act, in Canterbury (1847), Warrington (1848), and Salford (1850). The 1850 Public Libraries Act, piloted by William Ewart against stiff opposition, empowered borough councils in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) with a population of 10,000 plus to spend a halfpenny rate on libraries and museums. By 1866 the population limit was removed, and by the turn of the century some 400 libraries had been set up.
By 1913 the American philanthropist Carnegie had given £2m for public libraries and John Passmore Edwards supported 24 libraries. After the First World War, the Public Libraries Act of 1919 removed the rate limitation and extended library powers to the counties. By 1928, with the help of the Carnegie Trust, most counties had started a library service. The Mitchell Report of 1924 and the Kenyon Report of 1927 reflected an increasing interest in library development, and marked a stage in the development of libraries for all. The Public Library service continued to grow despite being set back by the depression of 1931–3, helped by the overall increase of local government spending on libraries between 1928 and 1939. The growth of the county library service was a notable feature of the post‐war years, until it was arrested by the recession of the early 1980s.