The Literary Institute, Egham, in the 19th Century

 

The development of the Literary Institute in Egham in the 19th century was closely bound up with the history of the Red Lion, now a public house located in the High Street in Egham. According to Turner the "Red Lion" can be traced back at least to 1702 when a reference was made in the court rolls of that year to Edward Nelson of London surrendering to Thomas Smith of Egham "a messuage called the Red Lion, together with a garden and orchard formerly called Squillers, and an acre called Aubrey Haw"1. By the first half of the 18th century, the Red Lion had become a coaching inn acting as "a stage" for coaches conveying travellers on their way to the west of England, and by the last decade of the 18th century the Assembly Rooms, had been added to it. The Assembly Rooms provided facilities primarily for the purpose of entertainment such as dancing, dining, card-playing, and theatricals, although it was also used for a number of other purposes such as public, business and club meetings and in 1805 its use was further expanded with the addition to it of a Reading Room.

 

It was in the first half of the 19th century that the Literary Institute first became associated with the Red Lion. The Institute rules printed in 1898 stated that "the Literary and Scientific Institute and Public Reading Rooms were instituted on 1st January 1847"2, presumably following discussions related to this that took place at the King's Head Inn on 24th November 18463. At the latter "meeting of the inhabitants of Egham convened by public notice" the proposal by Mr Long and seconded by Colonel Salwey "that considering the establishment of a Public Reading Room in the town of Egham to be a great advantage to its inhabitants this meeting do pledge themselves to its support", was carried unanimously4. It was perhaps with a knowledge of this meeting that Turner, writing in 1926, stated in his history of Egham that "the Egham Literary and Scientific Institution took its present form in 1846"5. Subsequent to its inauguration the Institute was able to rent some accommodation in part of the Red Lion's Assembly Rooms but was in due course aiming to find other premises. The opportunity arose to achieve this aim in 1854 when the Assembly Rooms came up for sale as Lot 1 of the sale of the Red Lion estate. The Institute decided to make a bid for the Assembly Rooms building. In the brochure outlining particulars of the sale, scheduled to take place on 15th February 1854, the Rooms were described as "comprising a very substantial and well constructed range of buildings capable of being turned to good account for Dwelling Houses, or appropriate for carrying on any extensive Business which requires strength and room, with arched Cellars, suitable for Wine vaults, Reading Room in the rear - together with about 100 feet of Building frontage to the High Street"6. The Institute made a successful bid for the Assembly Rooms and the purchase of the building was completed on 25th March 1854. "The land attached to the building, the Garden Ground and Aubrey Haw, were included in the original sale but were soon disposed of as surplus to requirements"7. At this stage the Assembly Rooms, which had now taken on a separate existence as the Literary Institute, were still physically linked by a courtyard and various buildings to the Red Lion. Later, after the Red Lion had undergone further extensive reduction of its site and when the courtyard ("now the outside seating area of the Red Lion"8) had been sold, this physical link ceased to exist, and, with the various modifications (including the addition of the current Main Hall which "it is thought ... was added to the building between and 1857 and 1859"9 ) carried out by the end of the century, the Literary Institute had reached a stage of its development akin to that which exists to-day.

 

The space which the Library Institute's acquisition of the Assembly Rooms afforded lent itself to all sorts of different uses. Organisations such as, for example, the Oddfellows, Egham Cricket Club, a Penny Bank, and the Volunteer Rifle Club made use of rooms for their meetings, mostly for a fee, and in January 1871 a room was used to provide a large group of old people with tea and entertainment10. "In October 1858 the Chief Constable applied to use the cellar and three rooms as a Police Station"11 and by 1859 consideration was being given to the idea of "establishing a small museum under the care of a curator" to accommodate donations to the Institute "of items such as a case of butterflies in 1857 and another of geological specimens two years later"12. Part of the Institute was for a time providing living accommodation as was the case, for example, of two families ("those of John Perkins the parish clerk and George Marshall, a lodger whose trade was that of grocer"13) living there in 1871. The Institute was even used in 1859 to accommodate the court proceedings related to "several cases of robbery at Egham Races" that were conducted by the local magistrate, Capt. Seymour"14. The focal point of the space available in the Institute was no doubt the Library and Reading Room which was run by a Librarian who, as well as carrying out a variety of duties specifically related to them, had also the responsibility for preparing other rooms for meetings, lectures, and entertainments (which no doubt included musical concerts).

 

The documents displayed in the exhibition are listed below. It is clear from item 11 of the display that Colonel Salwey's work for the Institute was very much appreciated by its members. After his retirement from the Army, in which he served under Wellington in the Peninsula War, Colonel Salwey (one-time owner of Runnymede Park) devoted the rest of his life to taking part in many projects for the benefit of the local community. One of these projects involved the development of the Literary Institute of which he was a founder member and a leading light for many years. It was very much due to his financial backing in the form of a deposit and various loans that the Institute's plan in 1854 to purchase the Assembly Rooms was implemented.

 

1. Egham Institute and Public Reading Room in account with Champion Constable Wetton. 1846-1855. Account book.

 

2. Ledger of the Minutes of meetings of the Egham Literary Institute from 1846 to 1856. Includes accounts from 1847-1864.

 

3. Egham Institute, January, 1848. To the subscribers of the Egham Institute and Public Reading Room ... "FIRST ANNUAL REPORT of the financial state of its affairs".

 

4. The Egham Institute and Public Reading Room. Descriptive leaflet. 16th February, 1850.

 

5. The Egham Institute Building Fund, in shares of 5 each. Receipt to a subscriber to the 5 shares. 24 March 1854.

 

6. Rules of the Egham Institute in relation to the Building. Agreed at a meeting of the Building Committee and of the Committee of Management, held October 27th, 1854. Chairman: Colonel Salwey. 1854. Printed leaflet

 

7. Register of shareholders in the Egham Institute Building Fund in shares of 5 each. 1854-1913.

 

8. An appeal by the Committee of the Egham Literary Institute for the purpose of "raising funds for the repair and embellishment of their lecture room". Leaflet including a list of subscribers. 1856.

 

9. Egham Literary Institute. Leaflet of October 12th, 1864, calling for a meeting of the Shareholders to be held on October 18th, 1864, to appoint a Building Committee , or "re-appoint the present one".

 

10. Literary Institute, Egham. A grand concert of vocal & instrumental music on Wednesday Jan. 4th 1865. Printed programme.

 

11. Photographic copy of Illuminated certificate worded: "This record of the munificent favors and unfailing interest conferred on the Egham Literary Institute ... by their President Colonel Salwey, Runnymede Park... has been ordered to be placed in the Reading Room as a mark of their... appreciation. June, 1870. [The original illuminated certificate (55 x 45 cm) is also held in the Oliver Collection]

 

 

Joan and Barry Wintour

10 September, 2013

 

 


1. Turner, F. Egham, Surrey: A History of the Parish under Church and Crown (Egham: Box & Gilham, 1926), p.231

2. Williams, J. The Literary Institute, Egham, Surrey: A Story of Changing Fortunes of a building in Egham High Street (Egham: Egham-by-Runnymede Historical Society, 1997), p.6

3. Egham Literary Institute Minutes 1852-1857, p.[l] [on display]

4. Ibid., p.[2] [on display]

5. Turner, op.cit.,241

6. Williams, op.cit., 22 (Plate 1: Title page of the brochure produced for the Sale of the Red Lion and

Assembly Rooms in 1854)

7 Williams, Ibid., 6

8 Williams, Ibid., 7

9 Williams, Ibid., 9

10 Williams, Ibid., 9

11 Williams, Ibid., 9

12 Williams, Ibid. 9

13 Williams, Ibid., 8

14 Williams, Ibid., 9

 

 

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