When I am not writing and researching these blogs I have a ‘day job’ working for a small charity on the Isle of Wight – Independent Arts. The office is at number 30 Quay Street Newport. I was delighted to discover the beautiful glass doors at the entrance, it was only a matter of time before I had to discover the historical significance of the grade two listed building. Luckily the minutes of meetings are kept the the Isle of Wight records office and after a few days of wading through the hand written notes I had got the measure of the place!
The Newport Literary society was formed in 1876 to provide ‘recreation for the men of Newport’. Offering reading rooms and recreational space in band new premises at 30 Quay street from 1880. The road down to the Quay was being redeveloped during this time with the Warburton Hotel (now Calverts) on the corner, a couple of small shops, the Literary Institute, Police Station (at 31) and then the Methodist Church all being built within this this period. The original Minton tiles that were specially commissioned for the building still highlight the front of the building.
The minute books are a treasure of information including meetings to discuss the cost of linoleum for the ground floor reading rooms, and the furnishing of the committee room. There was an ongoing debate for some three months in 1880 about the provision of a smoking room – some members of the committee felt that smoking was “ a departure from the purposes the society was designed to serve”. When all members were petitioned, the smokers won with a narrow margin of 6 votes in their favour. A chess club – with tuition was soon established and a junior debating society – it is noted in the minutes that this group should be conducted under ‘proper supervision’! There were essay writing competitions including one for the under 25’s with the title “ The History of England from the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII to the end of that of Elizabeth”.
In 1893 a lady’s name appears on the notice board to be considered as an ordinary member – I have been unable to find minutes to report whether she was admitted or not. However, as the building is described as “Young Men’s literary Institution and IOW Museum in the 1891 Kelly’s directory, I am assuming it was a negative response.
The society benefitted from newspaper subscriptions being offered, donations of books including the works of Tennyson by Mr W Waterworth. Mr A Waterman presented four engravings and plaster busts of Shakespeare and Milton, a very handsome clock, two large photographs and a further engraving. By 1895 the library at the Institute contains over 2000 volumes and by 1909 over 4000.
By 1893 the Institute branched out, taking on a collection of fossils belonging the the late Dr Wilkins – purchased by donations of members of £35.40. The premises were expanded to contain the new collection and there were rooms opened for a museum. This was housed in the building next door which was rented from Miss Dyer for £10 per year, for up to the next seven years.
The 1900 Minerva IOW Pictorial guide described the site as “Newport Literary Society have a headquarters in Quay street. There is a good library, with a line of curiosities” The Isle of Wight County Press reports on January 30th 1909 “The Newport Literary Society recorded another prosperous year in its 33rd annual report. The society has 243 members, the library has over 4,000 books. The card room has been well used largely down to the success of the societies whist team, who won the Newport League”.
The building had a live in steward/caretaker, who had premises on the ground floor. In the minutes of a meeting in August 1882 it was resolved that a cupboard in the passage should be altered, at the expense of the society, for the storage of the caretakers bicycle! There was also a gardener employed in 1883 to cut the grass, prune the trees and shrubs, attend to the gravel. It was also minuted that he should paint the garden seats.
The First World War took it’s toll on the Institute – as with every family across the country. A war memorial is erected in the entrance to the building to the memory of those who were killed in the Great War. The memorial was unveiled by the Mayor of Newport Mr Edward Munden on the second of March 1921.
Between the wars the building was used much more for recreation than for education and debate. The installation of more billiard tables and a provision for ping pong brought sport to the forefront of the buildings use. Both the Billiards team and the ping pong team performed well in the local leagues well into the 1940’s. This also resulted in a change of name to ‘The Newport Literary and Recreational Society’. By the 1950’s as the world moved on the society’s membership dropped and the mortgage on the building increased by £100.00 and the society was struggling to survive. The doors closed in 1955. The building was then converted to office use and has been used for this ever since.