Literary Institute, founded 1880

The idea of a literary institute was first suggested as part of a debate about opening a public room in Winslow. Rev. Alfred Preston's Reading Room closed shortly before the correspondence below (which continued for several weeks after these letters).

1880: Buckingham Advertiser, 31 Jan
To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser.
  SIR,- Allow  me, through the medium of your valuable paper, to call attention to what I believe to be a long felt want amongst the inhabitants of Winslow.
  I mean the erection of a room suitable for public entertainments, and which, at the same time, might be used as a Reading-room and Literary Institute.
  In my opinion, Winslow is in reality a musical town, and the people are musical people.
  This, I think, is partly proved by the fact that there is a well attended Choral Society, and also other musical institutions in connection with the various places of worship, all of which are being carried on with great zest and energy.
  And yet, strange to say, week after week, and month after month slips by without a single evening’s musical entertainment to enliven the monotony of one’s every-day life.
  How can we explain this?  When in the neighbouring towns, and even in the adjoining villages - with much less musical talent - we read of concert after concert, and other entertainments quite foreign to us.
  There may be other reasons; but I think nearly everyone will agree with me when I say that the main cause of this evil - for evil it is - lies in the fact that there is no suitable room at hand in which to hold such a gathering.
  True there is an Iron Room commonly designated the Reading Room; but from what I can gather, its walls are never more to resound with music - at least of a secular character.
 Thus we are obliged to fall back on the only other available place the Boy’s Schoolroom, in which several concerts have been held, but from what I can ascertain not only is this room too small for such entertainments - which are always well attended by the Winslowites - but it is very bad for sound, and consequently good singers are very loth to attempt to display their talents there.
  And so it comes to pass that Winslow is entirely without a place suitable for anything in the form of an evening’s musical entertainment.
  And now let me touch upon the subject of a Reading Room.
  Such an institution did, I believe, exist in the Iron Room, under the presidentship of the Vicar, till the end of last year; but then only in a very primitive form, the hours only extending from six to ten, and the periodicals and magazines being of a rather limited character.
  Comic papers - there were none.  Smoking room. - there was none, and for these and other reasons the attendance gradually diminished, till at last the thing died out.
  Now against this worthy effort I would not say a word.
  Many, I know desired an evening’s amusement and instruction, and many thanks are due to the Rev. A. M. Preston for his kindness in throwing open his room to the public.
  But still I think there should be one started on a more comprehensive scale.
  Let there be more periodicals, more secular magazines, and if possible, debates or lectures every week.
  And why should this desideratum not exist?
  There are many gentlemen in and about Winslow, whose chief pleasure it seems to take an interest in, and further the objects of anything for the public good.
  The great thing needed is, for some influential person to set the ball running by promising his interest and support.
  Many, I know, would follow.  Winslow people as a rule, go at everything they once put their hand to, with a zeal that can hardly be surpassed, and I believe sufficient funds could soon be realized to build a room suitable for both the purposes I have before mentioned.
  And then when the object was once gained and the people found out the advantage of such an acquisition, I am sure they would feel that their money had been well expended, and the only thing to be wondered at was, that it had never been done before.
  And now let me just say, in conclusion, that if, through this letter, the apparent lethargy of the townsmen of Winslow is at all dissipated, and the question opened up for discussion, I shall feel that my object in writing to you has been in a great measure realized.
                                                I am, sir, yours faithfully,
                                                            PRO BONO PUBLICO.

1880: Buckingham Advertiser, 7 Feb
To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser.
    SIR.- The discussion opened by your correspondent Pro Bono Publico, is certainly a valuable one, but the slighting tone of the letter in reference to the Iron Room is rather calculated to jar upon the feelings of those who considered it a great boon to the public of Winslow, and profited by many interesting entertainments, musical and otherwise; your correspondent’s knowledge of the ways of Winslow life must be of the dimmest.  Surely our population is not so large, but that the existence of the Reading Room at Winslow was within the knowledge of every inhabitant; but your correspondent only believes that such an institution existed.  This expression implying so much uncertainty scarcely justifies your correspondent in his criticism, on its primitive character, for such a population as Winslow.  How long does he think places should be kept open, lighted and warmed.  And as to the limited character of the literature, it is within the writer’s knowledge that there were on the tables ten daily and ten weekly newspapers, besides a library of 400 volumes.  Your correspondent’s mild approval of this worthy effort, the existence of which he only ventures to believe in, reminds me of the oft quoted chorister, who condemned his friend with faint praise.  If he will take the trouble to make himself as well informed of the ways of Winslow folk, as he wishes to appear, he will find neither the absence of comic papers, nor the lack of smoking, led to the closing of the room.  If those who bestowed an amount of passive opposition to the reading room, will now follow the example of the vicar by instituting this reading room “On a more comprehensive scale,” then the Winslowites will soon see Pro Bono Publico’s suggestion successfully carried out.                                                             Yours faithfully
                                                A MEMBER OF THE READING ROOM.
  Winslow, February 3rd.

To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser.
    SIR.- I was pleased to see the letter in your last issue relative to a Public Room for Winslow, but I think your correspondent is rather mistaken as to the majority of the tradesmen of Winslow.  It seems to me, during my stay in the town, that they would be the last to further any such institution as the one in question.  If it were a matter of business, and one by which their trade receipts could be augmented, then I think they would as “Pro Bono” says, go at it with zeal and energy, but unless I am greatly mistaken, the result needed will not be achieved by their efforts.  However, I shall only be too happy to do my part as a tradesman, and hope that the opinion entertained by me of my fellow townsmen, will turn out to be unfounded, as I feel sure the effort is a worthy one.
            Yours truly,                A WINSLOW TRADESMAN.

1880: Buckingham Advertiser, 14 Feb
To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser.
  SIR.- I have been, more than once, credited with the letter signed “Pro Bono Publico,” in your issue of January 31st.  I acknowledge that I have been working for many years for the public good, but I do not claim the above title, and only sign myself by the name you will find at the end of this letter.
  The suggestions of “Pro Bono Publico” are delightfully Utopian in their character.  Public-spirited individuals are to come forward to build a Hall, where lectures and debates are to take place; where a reading room, with all the accessories of periodicals and secular magazines, is to be located; and which shall also be a house for concerts, to surpass all the efforts of the villages in the neighbourhood.
  As a plain man, I declare this scheme to be quite impracticable.  Two strong reasons may be given for this opinion, viz, that such a public room would never pay; and that a simple reading room would not be supported in Winslow.  Is it to be supposed for a moment that any person or persons will invest the large sum required without a proper return in the shape of interest?  Can a reading room, pure and simple, be successful, when we consider how great is the influx into our town of all the current literature of the day!  I think not.  I have never known such an instance of success, but shall be willing to sit at the feet of “Pro Bono Publico” and learn from him.
  I will not follow the example of “Pro bono Publico” in deprecating the efforts that have been made by the managers of the Iron Room.  The measure of success may have been small, but the kindness of intention on the part of the Vicar when he built the room, the industry and perseverance shown by his co-workers in their efforts to amuse and instruct the public, shall always have my cordial praise.
  There cannot be any necessity for the erection of a public room.  Your correspondent “a member of the reading room,” says that the room is “to be instituted on a more comprehensive scale.”  If to his former kindness in building the Iron Room, the Vicar is now willing to make it more useful to the parish, we shall have every reason to be grateful, and so we shall avoid an outlay which would be serious.
  Your correspondent “Pro Bono Publico” has given his idea of the uses which a public room might be put to.  Let me suggest a programme for the newly instituted Iron Room, which I hope will meet with the Vicar’s sanction.
  A working man’s club might be formed.  The present library utilized.  Papers and periodicals provided, and the Room warmed and lighted so as to induce men to spend some part of their evenings there.  At stated times, amusing and instructive lectures might be given by competent lecturers.  Debates (non political and non religious) would be popular.  Music should find a home, and the Choral Society - already possessing a name - should find a “local habitation.”  Let the fine old glees and part songs of our English composers form at least an equal share with Moody and Sankey in the recreation of our working men.  In short, let the fact be recognised that there are-
                                                            Sermons in stories,
                                                Books in the running brooks,
                                                And good in everything;
And then, I believe, an immense work for good will be done in Winslow; there will be no need for building and all classes will be drawn together for mutual recreation and improvement.
                                    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
                                                            THOMAS NEWHAM. M.D.,
  Winslow, 9th February, 1880.

To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser.
    SIR,- Had I known that my remarks on the late Reading Room would have called for such a show of feeling as your correspondent indulges in, I think, perhaps, I should have been more particular in citing facts  which he appears to take so much to heart.  Although I happened to say that I believed in the existence of that institution, yet my knowledge of the ways of Winslow life is not, perhaps, quite so dim as he would wish to imply.  And certainly I know enough to justify me in my criticism on its primitive character.  I say, sir, with all due deference to your correspondent, it was a primitive institution.
  As to my remarks on the time of opening, which he seems so greatly to object to, there are, I am sure, many people who would take advantage of the opportunity of looking at daily papers for a short time every morning.  And these would most likely become some of its best supporters.  But the old reading room was only open in the evening.  Then there is, as I have said before, the absence of both comic papers and a smoking room, without which no such institution is complete.  And here  let me ask your correspondent just to refer to my previous letter, and he will then see that I did not say that this alone was the cause of the room being closed, but “from these and other reasons.”  And without “troubling to make myself as well informed of the ways of Winslow folk, as I wish to appear,” let me tell him that I am perfectly aware of the other reasons, but I did not think it worth while to bring them up in such a discussion.
  There is one sentence, however, in your correspondent’s letter which I cannot quite understand.  It is that in which he says there were ten daily and ten weekly newspapers.  I do not for one moment question the verity of the statement, but still I must say that I was quite ignorant of there being more than half the number, at the most.  As to the library of 400 books, the least said about that the better.  It might do very well for a Sunday School library, but your correspondent must be aware that it does not contain the class of reading sought for at such places.  But here let me stop.  I have neither the inclination nor the desire to raise a discussion on the merits of the old reading room.  I can confidently assure your correspondent that when I referred to it, I had not the slightest intention of wounding the feelings of those interested in it, but did so with the sole desire of proving that one on a more comprehensive scale was needed.  Therefore if I have not accorded it the credit it deserves, I will cry peccavi and leave the subject.
  And now let me briefly notice the letter of your correspondent signing himself “A Winslow Tradesman.”  I think I had better answer him by the same remark that has been applied to me, viz. “that if he will take the trouble to make himself as well informed of the ways of Winslow folk as he wishes to appear,” he will find quite the opposite to be the case.  I know the Winslow tradesmen are good men of business, but I am also certain they are most liberal.  Take for example the fact that we possess a first-class Fire Brigade, in thorough working order, and one that can compete with many in the county, as recent facts plainly show.  Then there is our annual Flower Show - the most important event in the year for Winslow, and one that necessarily involves considerable outlay and expense.  Yet it is the tradesmen and inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood who support both these by their voluntary subscriptions.  And when the forthcoming Agricultural Show was proposed to be held at Winslow, did not the people most readily come forward with pecuniary aid !  Surely your correspondent must confess himself in the wrong on this head. I am glad, however, he promises his assistance, and I sincerely hope many more will follow his example by doing their best to aid in promoting what every sensible person must acknowledge to be neither quixotic nor chimerical.
                                    I am, sir, yours faithfully,
                                                            “PRO BONO PUBLICO.”

Buckingham Advertiser: 27 March 1880
  A PUBLIC ROOM FOR WINSLOW.- We understand that Mr. Silvanus Jones, of Winslow, has liberally offered £50 towards the erection of a Public Room in Winslow, on which subject much discussion has lately been prominent.

Silvanus Jones may have been "Pro Bono Publico". No new room was built.

The Literary Institute was formed later in the year, mainly by Nonconformists. Their first known venue (in March 1881) was the Boys' School but later they followed Dr Newham's suggestion and used the old Reading Room.

1880: Buckingham Advertiser, 13 Nov
  FORMATION OF A LITERARY INSTITUTE.- On Wednesday evening last, a few persons interested in the scheme, met for the purpose of organising a Literary Institute for Winslow, when some very satisfactory arrangements were entered into.  A suitable room has been secured, and Mr. W. H. French has engaged to lay the gas, while Mr. J. Ingram, who was present, kindly offered to provide a suitable table.  Mr. W. Turnham places on the table games of chess, drafts, &c., and Mr. Day has no doubt of Mr. Wigley’s willingness to send round all the local papers of the district.  With such valuable aid, the projectors found themselves able to provide gas, fuel, the daily and weekly London papers, &c., for the small subscription of 1s. per month, payable in advance.  The season now being fairly on, it was decided to open the room with a musical entertainment of the “Free and Easy” kind, on Monday next, when it is hoped that a goodly number of respectable young men will attend to invest the necessary shilling and thus assist a movement which deserves the success we anticipate for it.

1880: Buckingham Advertiser, 20 Nov
  LITERARY INSTITUTE.- On Monday last the Winslow Literary Institute was inaugurated by an entertainment, under the presidency of Mr. W. H. French, who, in opening the proceedings, disclaimed the idea of making a set speech, having come down solely for the purpose of giving some substantial expression of sympathy with the movement for mutual improvement, which the young men of Winslow were thus working out for themselves.  He was glad to see around him several faces associated in his mind with the cause of progress in its different stages at our little town, and he made no doubt that from this modest commencement a successful institution would ultimately ensue.  Later in the evening Mr. E. J. French made a suitable speech encouraging them to work for the cause, and the time passed pleasantly by with readings, songs, etc.  Mr. Day accompanying on a harmonium.  Coffee was partaken of at intervals during the evening.  We append the programme:-
            Song…”The Cork Leg”…Mr. Sopham [=Topham]
Reading…Selection from “Valentine Vox”…Mr. W. Turnham
            Song…”In the Gloaming”…Mr. H. Hawtin
Reading…”The Troubles of a Night”…Mr. A. J. Clear
            Song…”The good Rhine Wine”…Mr. J. Warner
Reading…Selections from “Pickwick”…Mr. W. H. French
            Song…”The Schoolmaster”…Mr. Day
Song…”March of the Mulligan Guards”…Mr. W. Turnham
Recitation…”Advice to Young Men”…Mr. J. Ingram
Song…”The Minute Gun at Sea”…Mr. J. Turnham
            Song…”The Ghost”…Mr. Day

1881: Bicester Herald, 8 April
  WINSLOW LITERARY INSTITUTE FESTIVAL.- On Thursday evening, March 31, the last day of the institute season, a first-class dinner was provided in the room, to which the following members sat down: Mr. W. H. French, who took the chair, and Messrs. R. W. Jones, jun., Jno. Ingram, E. J. French, James East, J. Turnham, W. Turnham, R. Coxhill, G. Turner, G. Day, A. J. Clear, F. Topham, G. Alderman, J. Colegrove, jun., J. Warner, G. Ratley, W. Olney, E. Illing, W. Dunkley, H. Roads, and W. Midgley.  After the cloth had been cleared the Chairman referred to the excellent repast provided for them, and expressed the obligation they were under to Mrs. S. Jones, Mrs. J. Turnham, Mrs. W. Turnham, and Miss Simmonds for their kind assistance in various ways on the occasion.  He congratulated the members on the success of the institute, and on having produced, without exception, the two best concerts that had been given in Winslow for which they were greatly indebted to the ladies who so kindly helped at the concert, and also to Mr. Goadby for his exhaustive lecture.  The secretary, Mr. G. Day, read the balance sheet, which showed the financial position of the institute to be a very good one, there being a balance on the right side of over £3.  Mr. Day then took his seat at the piano, and music, interspersed with more or less humorous prose, was the order of the evening.  Songs were given by Messrs. W. Turnham, Day, Warner, Ingram and Topham, and readings and recitations by the chairman and by Messrs. Coxhill, Clear, and Alderman.  Later on in the evening coffee was served and an address was given by Mr. R. W. Jones, who stated that, although he should not be resident in Winslow when the institute was next open, yet he heartily wished for its success, and should be happy to continue a member.  Mr. Jones also spoke of the services rendered by the secretary in very eulogistic terms, and Mr. Day’s health was then drunk with musical honours.  “Auld Lang Syne” and “God save the Queen” were then sung, and a very pleasant and convivial meeting was thus brought to a close.

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Copyright 17 January, 2021