Snippets of Lacock Schooling and the Establishment of a Reading Room, Brian Howells Banks


The chances are that members recently enjoyed the BBC Cranford Chronicles and will recall village scenes in Lacock. Relevant here is the ‘Literary Dispute’ between Miss Jenkyns and Captain Brown, dated about 1843. Miss Jenkyns was unable to accept reading and writing for the lower classes, but this was not the case in Lacock, probably equal to, or ahead of any similar village. Lacock petitions in the 1700s were supported by signatures, not marks, and the Wiltshire Community History says, ‘ the forerunner of the Day School is mentioned as existing in 1771 and in 1818 it was a voluntary subscription school with twelve pupils. It was superseded by the Day School in 1824.’

The Salisbury & Winchester Journal for Monday 19 Jan 1801 ran an advert, by the principal, for LACOCK SCHOOL, part of which read ‘…and to inform them that her SCHOOL opens after the vacation on Monday the 20th instant. Term 14 gns per Annum and one Guinea Entrance. Writing and Dancing as usual. Those Ladies and Gentlemen who think proper to favour her with their daughters may depend that the strictest attention will be paid to their health and morals’. In 1858 Mr Merewether erected a schoolhouse on Bowden Hill and employed a Mistress who taught twenty to thirty children.

The Lacock School Records, for the year ending 31 Oct 1865 record that the Night School opened fifty-five times.

A meeting was held at the Vicarage, Lacock, on Friday evening, 13 Oct 1854 at 7 o’clock, for the purpose of taking measures for the establishment of the Lacock reading Room. A committee was formed with President Rev Arthur Bloomfield, Vicar of Lacock, a Treasurer and a Secretary.

A summary of Rules to be adopted: Any person desiring to be a member to pay an entrance fee of 2s if a Farmer or Tradesman, and 6d if an artisan or labourer, and 2d a week afterwards, though a later resolution allowed them, admittance by weekly payment of 1d. A subscription of 10s and upwards constituted an Honorary member.

Gentlemen who requested to become Honorary members: Capt. Gladstone, H. A. Merewether Esq., Capt. Rooke, Sir J. Awdry, H. Awdry Esq., W. H. F. Talbot Esq., Dr Bailey, Mr R. Barton, and Mr Jas. Fussell. Capt. Gladstone, living at Bowden Hill, was brother of W. E. Gladstone, PM. An H. A. Merewether jr was Sergeant at Law, JP, author and Recorder for Devizes.

Books and papers needed approval by the Committee. Newspapers on the day of arrival were limited to a 10-minute hold if called for by another. No newspaper, periodical or other property was to be removed, under penalty of 1s. At 8 o’clock on Monday evenings, all weekly papers were to be sold if six days old. A stamp was used for marking books.

Weekly payments were taken every Monday evening when new members were admitted. Payment not made for three consecutive weeks resulted in termination of membership. Quarterly meetings were held for auditioning accounts and the statement of the same. A member having a friend not resident in the village was at liberty to introduce him to the Reading Room.

The guidelines also decreed no smoking; no noise; no conversation in tone such as to annoy; a limit on holdings; fines – beyond doubt forerunners of the modern library.

Income had to cover costs, other than printed material. Rent had to be paid and local tradesmen are listed in accounts for coal and general maintenance: Banks for coal, Tanner and Austin for candles, Gale for making a bookcase, Fortune for varnishing the same, Tubb for a book stamp and a brush, Eyres for American cloth. And yet, at a meeting on 7 April 1856, all entrance fees were abolished!

Events were held to raise funds. A concert, arranged by Mr John Barton, was held on 31 Oct 1856. The cost of hire of a piano was £3, other costs amounted to 11s to Mrs Banks at The Red lion (presumably for refreshments), Mrs Gale 7s 6d, Mr Barton 15s. It must have been a success, as Mr Barton was given a vote of thanks. On 19 Oct 1857 Mr Merewether gave a lecture, admission being 1s for front seats, 6d for the back.

Papers taken included: The Times, The Illustrated London News, Devizes Gazette, Punch, Chambers’ Journal, The Field, Mark Lane Express (it dealt with wheat crop and markets), the third edition of Keen’s Bath Journal and Dickens’ Household Words, the latter two being bound.

Dickens’ Little Dorrit was purchased and as it came out each month it was to remain in the Room for one month.

A list of purchased books included: Museum of Science & Art, 10s 6d; Webster’s Dictionary, 6s 6d; Mark Lane Gazette, 4s; History of London, by Charles Mackay, 7s; Roads & Railways, by Parker, 4s; Chamber’s Information for the People, complete in 2 volumes, 16s; Stanley’s History of Birds, 7s; The Merchant Friar, 3s; The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man, 3s; History of Arabia & its Peoples, by Dr Chrichton, 5s; Knightley’s History of England, 7s 6d; Life of Millington with Lord Brougham’s orations, 1s 6d; Voyages around the World from the Death of Capt. Cook to the Present Time, 4s 6d; History of War, by Russell, 5s; Map of Europe, 14s; Chambers’ Atlas for the People, 12s 6d.

The following were among books donated to the Room: Handbook of Chippenham, donor Mr Talbot; Longfellow’s Poems and Horse Training, donor Rev. A. Bloomfield; and a number of books donated by Mr Paley. The single storey Reading Room building was on Bowden Hill. The date it ceased to be used as such is unknown, but in the 1970s it was used as a Parish Room for events such as WI meetings. It was demolished in the early 1980s, but not without legal complications, as the land was in trust. The Lacock Parish Council are present Trustees of the site.