The history of Stanhoe’s Reading Room

photo: Charles Butcher

The Reading Room: a Victorian red-brick single-storey building with later extension at the rear

Stanhoe Reading Room, nowadays often known as the village hall, is a single-storey Victorian building in red brick with an attached caretaker’s cottage and a matching later extension at the rear. It stands in Cross Lane next to the playing field.

Remembering a tragic mother

The Reading Room was built in 1886 by Henry Calthrop Hollway Calthrop of Stanhoe Hall in memory of his mother, Mary Esther Hollway, who had died giving birth to him. A plaque on the front of the building (under the central window in the photo above) reads:

In loving memory of Mary Esther Hollway

and of the affection which she bore to the inhabitants of Stanhoe and Barwick
this Reading Room was built for their use and enjoyment
in the thirtieth year after her death by her son and daughter in law
Henry Calthrop Hollway Calthrop and Wilhelmina his wife


The marble figure over Mary Esther Hollway’s vault in the churchyard is well-known in Stanhoe as the “Weeping Lady”, but Henry disliked the memorial and allowed a yew tree to grow and hide it. To keep her memory alive he instead built the Reading Room.

Henry Calthrop Hollway Calthrop became a King’s Scholar at Eton in 1867 and in 1874 went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he remained for four years. When he was 23 years old he married Miss Wilhemina Ralston of Edinburgh. Wilhelmina, whose father was a great friend of the explorer David Livingstone, ended her days in Stanhoe and was buried here in December 1947.

In 1903 Henry Calthrop became Taylorian Lecturer at Eton and lectured on Italian language and literature. In 1907 he published a biography of the Italian poet Petrarch.

The Calthrops had no children so they devoted themselves to the people of Stanhoe. They held night school classes for the village boys where they taught English literature, music and French. Henry also wrote and produced plays on classical lines.

Foundation of the MEHM trust

In 1932 Henry Calthrop made the Reading Room over to a village trust when he decided to sell the estate. The gift included the building, the land immediately around it and the caretaker’s cottage, which at the time was occupied by William Newell.

The trustees at that time were:

  • Charles Derick Seymour, Barwick House
  • Thomas Henry Calver, farmer
  • Thomas Pygall, farm foreman
  • William Newell, gardener

They were to hold the premises in the name of the Mary Ester Hollway Memorial Reading Room “as a reading room and club for the use and mental improvement of the male inhabitants of the villages of Stanhoe and Barwick”.

The document also says that: “the said reading room shall be appropriated as a reading room or club for the use of all the inhabitants of the said village of Stanhoe without regard to their political or religious opinions”.

Today the Mary Esther Hollway Memorial Reading Room is a registered charity whose trustees continue to run the building. Our MEHM Trust page gives more details of the current work of the trust.

Post-war decline

The Reading Room continued to be well used up to the Second World War, though by 1956 it was in financial trouble (see extracts from the minutes books, below).

Nevertheless, both the Reading Room and the MEHM trust survived. At some point the late Cecil Birch paid off the outstanding debt.

From the 1970s a flourishing sports and social club did much to keep the Reading Room finances healthy.

Refurbishment, 2002 and 2011

In 2002 Brian Smith led a campaign to raise £31,000 to build a new toilet block, including facilities for disabled people. Without this, villagers feared that this “hub of the village” might have had to close.

When the social club closed in 2009, its bank balance was transferred to the MEHM trust to help fund further improvements expected in spring 2011.

More about reading rooms

Village reading rooms appeared in England as early as 1834, but most were founded between the second half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century.

Many were built by village squires anxious to “improve” their workers and keep them out of the pub – Stanhoe certainly falls into this class. Other reading rooms were more democratic, however.

Carole King of the history department at the University of East Anglia has written a paper, The Rise and Decline of Village Reading Rooms, which refers particularly to Norfolk and includes a mention of Stanhoe Reading Room, including a photo of the dedication plaque. The MEHM Trust has a copy available for reference.

Notes and extracts from the minutes books

The following schedule was drawn up in 1885:

  1. All monies received by the Committee shall be used for the repairing and improving the trusts premises.
  2. Insurance against fire
  3. Payment of rates and taxes.
  4. Repairs to furniture, books and periodicals.
  5. Wages of Officers, servants in particular the Caretaker.
  6. The Trustees have the power of appointing new trustees when appropriate.


  1. The Society shall be called The Stanhoe and Barwick Reading Room Society.
  2. The Society shall be under the management of a committee.
  3. Officers shall be:
    • A President
    • One or more Vice Presidents
    • Treasurer who shall also act as Secretary
    • Committee of no less than 7 members in addition to the officers
    • Officers and members to be elected Annually.
    • Duties of Committee to keep order and at least one member to be present in the room every evening from 7.30 to 10pm.
  4. Opening Hours:
    • Every Weekday, 10am to 5pm, 6pm to 10pm.
    • Sunday: 2 hours Afternoon or Evening depending on Church Service
  5. If any member enters the Room the worse for drink, or shall swear and use bad language or otherwise misconducts himself, it is the duty of the other members to eject him. If the same member offends within 12 months he will be expelled.
  6. Cards shall not be played in the Room. No gambling.
  7. The Committee will determine the change of use of the billiard table.
  8. Smoking will be allowed.
  9. If refreshments are provided members must pay at the time of serving.
  10. Subscription not less than I shilling per quarter payable in advance.
  11. If a member allows his subscription to fall in arrears he shall cease to be a member.
  12. Lists of rules and members shall be kept in the Room.
  13. Any person may use the Room if introduced by a member.
  14. A.G.M. First convenient day after January.
  15. No book or periodical may be removed except by permission.

Financial crisis in the 1950s

1953 The minute book shows a balance of £6–12–11½. A whist drive is to be held to raise funds. There is a possibility of having water laid on at the caretaker’s cottage and it is hoped that it can be done by volunteers, as the trust has so little money.

January 1954 Two or three members have indeed laid on water to the cottage.

The Secretary writes that funds were low – less than £1 – owing to heavy rates and taxes. It was decided to raise the cost of meetings to 3s 6d to help to pay for coal and light. Another whist drive was to be held.

1956 The financial situation had improved and it was suggested that a youth club should be formed and run in conjunction with the Reading Room.

At another meeting no chairman present and the secretary resigned. The balance of account was £2–17–4. There was a considerable discussion and Mr A V Tuck was elected as chairman, with Mrs Tuck as secretary. It was agreed that The Reading Room and youth club should combine under one committee.

Extract from the accounts, 1956

Income Expenditure
Subs £1–19–6 Coal £6–7–8
Electricity £ 3–6–6
Caretaker £11–15–0
Cash in Hand £2–9–11  
Post Office £2–13–1  
Total £5–3–0  
Unpaid bills £ s d
Rates to June 1956 £5–18–9
Caretakers £11–15–0
Coal £6–7–8
Electricity £3–6–6
Rates demand £5–0–3
Income Tax £2–8–10
Insurance £0–9–0
Total £36–0–6

January 1957 Mrs A V Tuck expresses her anxiety about the state of the building, the little use made of it and the ever-increasing cost of its upkeep.

The meeting discussed whether the room repaid its usefulness to the village, given the continual struggle of a handful of people to maintain the cost of the building. The meeting unanimously considered it did not, but hesitated to decide to order its closure without calling a public meeting.

A request was made to the caretaker to keep the door locked in the evenings to prevent damage by a small number of irresponsible young people.

Public meeting, 21 January 1957

The meeting was well attended, but made no difference.

A proposal by Mr Walker, seconded by Mr P Steward, was that responsibility for the upkeep and administration of the Reading Room should be given up to the Parish Council, the proper representatives of the people of Stanhoe to whom the room had originally been given.

The meeting ended with an inventory of the furniture and goods owned by the youth club. It was agreed that these be sold to pay off any outstanding Reading Room debts, with any surplus used to buy a licence to use a gramophone and records for dances at the WI Hall.