Sussex Advertiser - Tuesday 09 December 1856
CUCKFIELD. The Reading Room.
—There never was an establishment here fraught with so much good as this. The history of it is as follows.-
T. W. Erle, Esq., wishing to benefit the classes by the spread of intelligence, and affording facilities for study, furnished a room last winter at Whiteman's Green, with a library, making it free to all comers.
But the distance from town was a bar to the attendance of many, and the plan was found not to answer. However, determined not to be foiled, Mr. Erle renewed his exertions at the early part of the present winter, and, hiring a large room in the town, removed the library thither, adding to it very largely, and at his own expense causing the room to be lighted and warmed. The hours for reading were appointed from six to ten, except on Sundays, when the time was extended from four to ten, but it has been found expedient to close the room on Saturday nights since then, as the attendance was small, and people were otherwise engaged.
It may not be amiss to state here that, at the suggestion of a reverend gentleman, readers are debarred from studying aught but works on religion and religious books on Sunday evenings. At first, a good deal of inconvenience was found from the throng of children who attended the room, and thumbed the books over, preventing many from attending that wished to do so; and many of the poor people sent or took very small urchins to the room, some to get them out of the way, and others under the erroneous impression that teachers would be present to instruct them.
But this was soon counteracted by the liberality of Mr. Erle, who has employed a librarian ; and rules are laid down by which the younger fry are dismissed at eight, to make room for the adult readers, many of whom are not able to attend before that hour. The librarian, Mr. Howard, very judiciously selects books for children that suit their capacity, and there are works to suit every reader, from the juvenile A B C aspirant, to the man whose aim is to study abstruse sciences, and perfect himself useful knowledge, while the lover of the beautiful may take up the works of our best early and modern poets, and pass an hour in communion with the spirits of Shakespeare or Milton, or the ruling spirits of the present age, past, and present.
The man who wishes to drive away ennui may do so by the aid of Bulwer, Scott, Dickens, Maryatt, and our first novelists, the seeker into the secrets of antiquity has Layard, Bonon, and others, to consult; and the more seriously inclined may indulge in the study of the sacred writers; the historian refer to authorities of the first grades; and all find the news of the day on the table in the shape of newspapers and periodicals. In fact, the library, to which Mr. Erle constantly adding, is everything that can be wished, and useful to all.
Some weeks since it was suggested by a few to start a discussion society on a broad principle, and Mr. Erle was consulted on the subject, who readily fell in with the plan and offered the reading room for the purpose. But the scheme lingered, and was likely to die away, when a few spirited individuals determined to start it, notwithstanding some parties rather jeered at it; and at a thinly attended meeting, rules were laid down, and an evening appointed to open a discussion.
Mr Erle kindly consented to take the office of president, although not able to attend often, from the nature of his profession, which at times detains him a good deal in London; and the society is progressing fast. In one short month not less than 42 members have joined it, the room being filled on Wednesday evenings, the nights for discussion, from 8 to 10. The members are called on to pay no subscription, and the rules are miid and simple, and we have no doubt but that many more will join.
On Wednesday evening last Mr. Erle gave a most instructive and luminous lecture on the "steam engine," which was highly appreciated by a crowded room, and not one went away who paid common attention to the lecturer but that understood, or was put in a way to understand, the nature and working of the steam engine, especially the locomotive, and the wonderful power and nature of that extraordinary agent—steam. We cannot, in this paragraph, follow the talented lecturer in his graphic description of the parts and properties of the high and low pressure, the oscillating, marine, or the locomotive engines, but his language was so familiar and divested of technical terms, and his comparisons so simple, and often so amusing, as to be easily understood; nor is it necessary, for he has added to the library several very useful works, by Lardner and others, on the subject, and left his diagrams for the use of the members who wish to study them.
We were pleased to see several in the room who added their names to the society, whom we could not previously count on, and still more pleased to hear observations made by parties afterwards on the good it has already done in altering the tone of conversation among them in public rooms, it being noticed by one party, that, but for the society, their conversation would have been turned to a useless and profitless end, while it now stirred up a species of emulation, and gave rise to a train of very different ideas from those they commonly indulged in.
In conclusion, we may add that this establishment is desideratum that has long been wanting in Cuckfield. It has been tried two or three times before, with varied success, but has always failed in the end. At one time, bickerings have arisen, and at another, want of funds, that have swamped the societies, putting one in mind of Sam Slick's story of the partridge, "nothing can go on long without a head." But with the liberal leadership of Mr. Erle, we confidently anticipate a long and lasting career to the present one.— A Correspondent.
NOTE: The first Library and Reading Room was set up at Whiteman's Green but the venue was considered to be too far from town for popular use