The Institution was formed in 1848 and began with classes in Grammar, Elocution, Arithmetic, Writing and Latin. A committee was formed to erect a new building which was officially opened in 1850 with a soiree of tea and lectures. This building housed the Reading Room and Lending Library. The building would later be used for lectures, meetings, exhibitions and also housed a museum, a boys’ school and a School of Art. It is now the Ventnor Library.
The 1910 Rules of the Institution began with a statement of General Objectives: The advancement of Literature, Science and Art. The special objects are the establishment and maintenance of a Reading Room, Class Rooms, Lending and Reference Libraries.
The first rule was concerned with membership: Any person wishing to become a Member must be proposed by two Members, and his (sic) name and address with the names of his proposers shall be entered in the Members’ Book. Should no objection be received, the proposed Member shall be considered duly elected. Should any objection be lodged, he shall be balloted for at the next Meeting of the Committee.
Rule 7 read: The Committee may expel any Member for misconduct, but the member so expelled shall be entitled to appeal to the next General Meeting of Members.
In 1900 membership cost 2/- (10p) per quarter and visitors to Ventnor could also make use of the Reading Room and Library for 3/- (15p) per month or 5/- (25p) per quarter. The rules stated that The Library shall be open from 7.0 p.m. to 9.0 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Saturday; and from 12.0 noon to 1.0 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Once membership was obtained there were then 19 byelaws concerning use of the Lending Library, including:
No member will be allowed more than one volume at a time except novels.
All books borrowed must be returned within fourteen days, under a penalty of one penny for each week or portion of a week beyond the time.
The Librarian shall cause each book returned to be carefully examined. If the same be soiled (except by fair wear and tear), written in, marked, the leaves turned down, or otherwise injured, the borrower must immediately replace such book, or set of books to which it may belong, or pay for the damage, as estimated by the Library Committee.
In 1900 the lending library had 1,727 books: Fiction 936; anonymous authors (also fiction) 65; Biography, history, travel 354; Sciences, art natural history 111; Education, commerce, politics 12; Theology 52; Music, essays etc. 151; Poetry 46.
The Reading Room contained reference books. It also held newspapers and magazines which could be borrowed after they were the current edition.
Several magazines had evangelical origins. Sunday at Home, from the Religious Tract Society, was for Sabbath reading. Good Words was established in 1860 and was directed at evangelicals and nonconformists, particularly of the lower middle class. It included overtly religious material, also fiction and nonfiction articles on general subjects including science. The standard for content was that the devout must be able to read it on Sundays without sin. The Century Magazine began as an evangelical publication but over time began to speak to a more general educated audience.
Other magazines included Harper’s which was a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts. Once A Week was a weekly literary magazine of serial fiction that had an innovative group of illustrators. All the year Round was founded and edited by Charles Dickens. It was the direct successor to his previous publication Household Words which he abandoned due to differences with the publisher.
The English Illustrated Magazine featured travel, topography and a large amount of fiction contributed by writers such as Thomas Hardy and Henry James. The Magazine of Art was an illustrated journal devoted to the visual arts. It included reviews of exhibitions, articles about artists and was lavishly illustrated by leading engravers of the period. The Reading Room also held copies of Punch which would have offered some light relief.
Richard Downing, Ventnor & District Local History Society. This article is based on two items in our Collection: a copy of the Rules and a Complete Catalogue of Books in the Members’ Library of the Ventnor and Bonchurch Literary and Scientific Institution 1900. This article first appeared in the South Wight Chronicle in May 2015.