Reading Room & Evening School

There was a Reading Room in Charney Bassett (now Milkwood Cottage), opposite the Methodist Chapel (now the village hall). The first reference to a reading room (which we assume is the same one) that we have found is in the Longworth Parish Magazine January 1906:- ‘This winter has seen the starting of two useful institutions in the village. One is the Evening School, which owes its existence to the energy of Mrs Atkinson; the other is the Reading Room, the opening of which is largely due to the kindness of Mr and Mrs Pusey. Although these two institutions, which have made good progress up to the present, are in no way connected with the Church, we may be allowed to express the hope that they will continue prosper and have a beneficial influence upon the village at large.’

The growth of mass literacy instigated a working-class desire for books, and in many newly created village reading rooms, this was satisfied by small lending libraries. They were often founded local landowners or vicars. The foundation of reading rooms was an extensive national phenomenon during the second half of the nineteenth century, continuing into the twentieth both, to stem the decline of the rural population and the original intention was also bound up with contemporary attitudes to philanthropy, recreation and self-help. One aspect of this was not only to fill a gap in the provision of alcohol-free recreation but also to provide the working man with educative materials unobtainable elsewhere.

This article describes the development of the reading room, from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. KING, C. (2009). The Rise and Decline of Village Reading Rooms. Rural History, 20(2), 163-186. doi:10.1017/S0956793309990033.

It appears that The Reading Room in Charney was opened for the winter October to March/April as documented in the Longworth Parish Magazine:

  • April 1906: We have now passed the Equinox and are getting more than twelve hours sun each day. People’s thoughts turn away from fireside subjects to gardens. The Evening School has finished its season’s work, and doubtless, by the time these lines are in print, The Reading Room will also have closed for the summer.
  • December 1906: The Evening School, was re-opened on October 9, but owing to the difficulty experienced in maintaining the attendance required by the rules, the teacher withdrew on October 25; and as the Managers wer4e unable to secure the services of another teacher, they were compelled, regretfully, to abandon a project which succeeded last winter, and was well calculated to promote the welfare of the village. The Reading Room, – Mrs Pusey having again kindly consented to supply the papers and to give the use of the room free, it was re-opened for the winter on October 15, with a membership of 24. The subscription has been reduced to a penny a week.
  • May 1907: Reading Room. – The room was closed for the season on Saturday, March 30th. A hearty vote of thanks was passed for the use of the room, and for the newspapers kindly given by Mrs Bouverie-Pusey. The accounts are as follows: – Received – Members’ subscriptions £2 12s 8d, advanced for members who have not paid 2s 10d, donations 9s; total £2 12s 6d. Paid – Wages £1 4s, 17cwts coal 19s 3d, 6galls oil 4s 6d, faggots 2s 3d, box for subscriptions 2s, sundries 6d; total £2 12s 6d.
  • November 1907: Reading Room. – A meeting was held on Wednesday, October 9th. The Rev F J Taylor announced that Mrs Pusey would again kindly give the papers and lend the cottage. He said that the room could not pay its way unless at least eighteen members  joined, and only then if outside help were obtained. Subscriptions towards the cost of a ton of coals may be sent to Mr W Kerridge, who has kindly consented to act as Secretary and Treasurer, and will be gratefully received.

Village Committee 1909

Longworth Parish Magazine, March 1909: A village Committee has been started; its duties will be to arrange such things as concerts and anything connected with the communal life of the village. Its members are Mr Kerridge, Mr Parker, Mr C Whitfield, and Mrs Atkinson, with Mr Binyon as chairman. It is proposed to start a village Library. Part of the proceeds of the lecture on March 9 will be devoted to this purpose.