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1866: Commotion at Reading Room session

Former Reading Room now a private residence (not Whiteman's Green) in Wivelsfield Green in 2019

The first reading and music night for the season was held under the superintendence of the committee on Wednesday last [November 1866], when the British School’s Reading Room at Whiteman's Green was filled by a numerous and respectable audience, among whom were several of the gentry

and a large number of young people, with the Rev. J Stuckberry in the chair.

The Chairman, in opening the proceedings, said that the system of holding a fortnightly meeting for the purpose of reading and music had turned out admirably, and it was agreed to carry it on again this winter, and, as he hoped, with every prospect of success, but with a slight alteration made by the committee, that limited the time allowed for reading to ten minutes.

But this was merely an experiment, and if it did not answer would be altered, and they must go on tonight at least on the new rule. But it must be understood that although when a gentleman had consumed his ten minutes in reading and must stop, even in the middle of a sentence, at the tap of the hammer (laughter) he would be allowed to resume the tale afterwards, if time sufficient was left. He would now call on the musicians to commence the evening, which was done by the performance of a popular air.

The Chairman then named George Knott, Esq., for the first reading, who read an Austrian tale “Fortune telling” …

A rendition by the choir followed and several other readings - but performances were delivered against the background of a commotion outside with the Chairman commenting that 'they would find it more profitable and pleasant in the end to spend an hour or two in the room where they would learn better manners and be less boisterous.’ The article continues:

… The Revd. TA Maberly’s Reading Rooms, at Whiteman’s Green, were also opened on Monday evening, and will be carried on every evening during the winter. There has been a great improvement since last year, and the admission to the upper rooms will be 2d [two pennies] per week, where no smoking is allowed, that to the lower room being 1d per week as before.

The upper rooms, sat apart for study and writing, have been newly papered, and the addition made to the library is a vast improvement, while a separate room is added as a study. In the lower room various games, such as bagatelle, draughts, chess, dominoes, etc., are carried on, and smoking allowed, and various newspapers and periodicals are provided.

A half-pint cup of coffee is furnished to every member each evening, gratis, and those who wish for more have to pay a trifle for the extras.

Reading Room indicated on right, Tollhouse is on left foreground. Photo c 1905 (colourised)

The rooms are looked after by Mr E Norris, gardener at the Vicarage and Mrs Norris, who are very attentive to the company, and keep order admirably.

From a report in the Sussex Advertiser, 6 November 1866.

NOTES: The Whiteman's Green Roading Room has long since been demolished, probably pre 1960. It was located opposite today's Tollgate Lane on what is now the garden of a private house.

If anyone has a better photograph of the Reading Room at Whiteman's Green please do get in touch.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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