Friday, July 6, 2018

Lutterworth, Leicestershire

Local interest

I know some people who would scoff or at best smile tolerantly if I said I’d made a point of going to Lutterworth. A similar admission about a trip to Kidderminster once elicited a snort of disbelief from an acquaintance. These are places off the tourist trail – and places in addition that the road network has made it easy not to stop at. But I know from experience that I can find something of interest in any English town, and that somewhere engraved in my consciousness is the maxim embossed on the cover of Jonathan Meades’s book Museum Without Walls: ‘There is no such thing as a boring place’.

So I expected a bit more than Pevsner’s somewhat dismissive comment that most of the town centre was rebuilt in the first half of the 19th century ‘predominantly in a debased neo-Greek style’. Here’s something later, a detail of the Reading Room, built in 1876, near the churchyard gate. A decorative bargeboard breaks out into an eruption of turned spindles above two carved panels that give the date and purpose of the building amid sprays of flowers.

None of this represents the height of sophistication, but it’s interesting and heartening that the Mechanics’ Institute built a reading room for their members in 1876, and lavished a bit of care on its construction. This was a time when, since the 1850 Libraries Act, local authorities were allowed to levy an extra charge on the rates to pay for a public library for their town. But few did, in part because because the provision only allowed for funds for the building – books had to be paid for separately, which posed an additional challenge of fundraising that many places could not rise to.

Mechanics’ Institutes sometimes filled this gap, and offered lectures and discussion groups as well as reading rooms. They were a boon to workers who wanted to supplement what education they’d been given, which was usually basic at best. Lutterworth has long had its own public library and the old reading room is now used as a museum. And so it fulfils another important cultural function, helping to enhance the town and to reflect the aspirations of those who founded the original Mechanics’ Institute.


Joseph said...

We are pleased you have come back to the educational facilities available for working adults. Small libraries and small museums were essential for lots of towns, but Mechanics' Institutes were even better. Lectures and discussions provided a sociable place to learn!

We have included many photos of rural Australian Mechanics' Institutes, just so you can make some comparisons. Thanks for the links

Hels and Joseph
Art and Architecture, mainly

akfurness said...

One certainly couldn't call a town in which John Wycliffe and Frank Whittle lived and worked, and where Joseph Hansom built the Town Hall, a "boring place"!
Home of the first British jet engine, and a quick look at Google Maps and Street View reveals four white horses galloping across the grass at the junction at the southern end of the High Street.
There is something of interest everywhere one looks. If one looks. And you make us look - so thank you for that!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Yes! Great to know that Australia has a tradition of these places - and in rural areas too. I think as our populations get older, the value of this kind of education will be recognised more widely.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Avis: Thank you. Yes there's plenty of interest there! And if I make people look, I'm pleased! It's what I want to do, above all else.