The Agricultual Reading Society at Much Wenlock

The Agricultual Reading Society at Much Wenlock

After the successful opening of the Agricultural Reading rooms at the Corn Exchange in 1852 and the increase in subscriptions to the Societies libraries it was decided to expand the Corn Exchange building to include new rooms and facilities. Supporters of the Society set about raising funds for this project.

On August 9th 1856 “The Wellington Journal and Shropshire Advertiser” carried a front page advert for “A Grand Fancy Bazaar. In aid of a fund for the enlargement of the Society’s Building by the addition of a Working men’s Reading room with a room over for Drawing, Music, and other classes, and a Museum of Local Antiquities” which was to be held at the Library (Corn Exchange) in Much Wenlock on October 22nd, 23rd and 24th 1856. The Patrons of the Bazaar were:

HER GRACE THE DUTCHESS OF SUTHERLAND
THE COUNTESS GRANVILLE
LADY WILLIAMS WYNN
THE VISCOUNTESS HILL
THE VISCOUNTESS NEWPORT
LADY CHARLOTTE LYSTER
LADY MARY WINDSOR CLIVE
THE BARONESS WINDSOR
THE LADY FORESTER
THE LADY LEIGH
THE LADY WENLOCK
THE DOWAGER LADY WENLOCK
THE HONORABLE MRS FORESTER

LADY ROUSE BOUGHTON
MRS HUGH WILLIAMS
MRS DAYRELL
MRS STACKHOUSE ACTON
MRS BENSON
MRS UVEDALE CORBETT
MRS MILNES GASKELL
MISS MORE
MRS MOSELEY
MRS CHILDE PEMBERTON
MRS JOHN CHILDS
MRS HENRY WHITMORE

The advert stated that “The contributions already presented include a great variety of useful, elegant, and recently invented articles, from some of the most eminent firms in London, Edinburgh, and the principle manufacturing towns, an inspection of which will amply repay those who may honour the Bazaar by a visit; whilst the importance of the object cannot fail to enlist the sympathy and support of all who feel interested in the welfare of the working classes.” and that “The front of the Society’s Building will be illuminated on the first evening, in celebration of the opening of the Wenlock gas works.”

Such a bazaar required a great deal of organising so two committees (one of ladies, one of gentlemen) were set up to organise the event. Mrs W. Brookes, Mrs Blakeway, Mrs Adney, Mrs A. G. Brookes, Mrs Foskett, Mrs Burd, Mrs Haywood, Mrs James and Mrs Wayne, served on the ladies committees with Miss Mary and Miss Adeline Brookes acting as honorary secretaries. The Mayor, W. Chalin, Mr Blakeway, Mr Adney, Mr E. Hinton, Mr A. G. Brookes, Mr W. A. James and Mr G. Burd, served on the gentleman’s committees, with William Penny Brookes acting as Secretary and Mr R. Horton as treasurer.

Both committees must have put a great deal of effort into the Bazaar as they managed to attract a wide variety of articles to the event which were “of more than ordinary extent and variety, including objects of art, the most recent results of scientific discovery”. Mrs A. G. Brookes, Mrs W. Brookes, Mrs Adney, Mrs Blakeway and Mrs James each had their own stalls which displayed locally made embroidery, needlework, flower arrangements, drawings and paintings.

The main display area for the Bazaar was the proposed new room for the “drawing class”, in which a wide variety of articles were laid out. These included contributions from The Coalbrookdale Company, of a hat and coat stand: Messers Allen of London, one of their new travel bags: Messers Day and Son, London, a set of coloured prints of the Crimea: Collin’s of London, copies of their atlases: perfumery, scented soaps from Eugene Rimmell, James Lewis, Piesse and Labin, H. Rigge and others: music sheets from Alfred Novello, D.Almaine and Co: Persian parasols from Sangsters, London: a patent folding umbrella, invented and manufactured by Mons. Mangin of Paris: and six volumes of “Dred” autographed and donated by Mrs Beecher Stowe (best known as the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”). Companies from London, Oxford, Stoke, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leamington exhibited at the Bazaar and many of these companies sold goods there.

The basement floor of the building displayed agricultural equipment, which would have been of interest to the agricultural workers. A diagonal harrow made by William’s of Derby and a champion plough made by Howard’s of Bedford were on display there. Also on show was an American invention “a floating-ball (washing) machine: in addition to the great saving in the cost and labour of washing, the machine did not tear the clothes even so much as hand washing. On Wednesday a piece of thin calico was operated upon for nearly two hours without any perceptible wearing out.” (WJSA:1:11:1856)

One of the highlights of the Bazaar came on its first night, when, for the first time, the outside of the Corn Exchange building was illuminated by gas light, as a way of celebrating the opening of the Wenlock Gas Works. The front of the new building was illuminated by three stars and the initials V. R. in gas jets. The Donnington band played at the ceremony and the church bells were also rang. The Wellington Journal and Shropshire Advertiser regarded the bazaar and opening of the Gas Works as a major event and remarked that:

“Much Wenlock is a little corporate and agricultural town, isolated and in a quiet nook among surrounding hills, and cut off, to a certain extent, by the absence of river, rail and canal, from its neighbours. Indeed until Wednesday last, when gas lighted-up for the first time, when a smart display in front of the Corn Exchange was made, its streets used to wink and blink as though not quite awake, with a few miserable oil lamps, no more effective than farthing rush lights placed wide apart. It was amusing to hear the pseudo remarks upon the gas devices, wondering at the time it continued to burn. Much Wenlock never the less, afforded illustration of what may be expected by energy, co-operation and perseverance, even where party and political differences are strongly marked.”

The paper was also keen to point out the vital role that William Penny Brookes played in the organisation of the event. Stating that “We cannot conclude our report without awarding due prise in the promotion of the Bazaar by Mr W. P. Brookes and his accomplished daughters, who acted as honorary secretaries from the first formation of the committees of management, until the conclusion of the whole proceedings.”

The Bazaar proved to be a success, and attracted a large number of local dignitaries and personalities. Over 800 people visited on the first day of the exhibition, Wednesday October 22nd 1856, and “sales in each department were extensive, most of the choice articles being quickly disposed of.” The Wellington Journal and Shropshire Advertiser of November 1st reported that:

“The Bazaar which opened in aid of the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society was finally brought to a close on Saturday last. The proceeds are as follows: Wednesday £220, Thursday £130, Friday £75 13 6 and Saturday £50”

These proceeds went towards paying for the expansion of the Corn Exchange, into which a new room was built which housed the music and drawing class of the Wenlock Agricultural Reading Society. Mr Mulligan, the master of the Coalbrookdale School, was asked to act as an instructor, and the room was also used as a museum for objects of local interest.

While many of the goods on sale at the bazaar sold out within the first day of the exhibition, it seems that one aspect of the Bazaar of 1856 was a failure. While the people of Wenlock made use of the facilities available at the Agricultural Reading Society, and were grateful for the benefits that the new gas supply brought, they were not keen to embrace the new technology of the washing machine, as the Wellington Journal reported that:

“The new floating ball washing machine remained on hand to the last, the ladies generally are not in favour of new fangled notions, and did not appear very eager to patronise it.”

Sources:
The Wellington Journal and Shropshire Advertiser, 1856
The Shrewsbury Chronicle, 1856.




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