Yeovil Mutual Improvement Society
Yeovil Mutual Improvement society
Successor to the Mechanics Institute
A Mechanics Institute, to provide a technical education for young men, had been formed in Yeovil by the Chartist campaign. However the Institute was not well attended and soon petered out. More successful were the "active steps towards the formation of a Literary Institution" reported in the Sherborne Mercury in May 1847. This led to the inaugural meeting of the Yeovil Mutual Improvement Society on 4 November of that year, with William Cox in the chair. It was planned that lectures would be given in science and general knowledge, to be followed by a discussion. A quarterly subscription was set at two shillings. In the first year membership reached fifty.
The Society flourished for over thirty years with the support of many prominent townsmen. Its members were young people who enjoyed lectures, debates and classes. The Society conducted a library, reading room, a museum. The Society formed a 'Harmonic Group' in January 1855 and ran a 'Glee Club' from February 1855.
In 1856 Daniel Vickery wrote in "A Sketch of the Town of Yeovil" - "A Yeovil Mutual Improvement Institution has existed in the town since the year 1847, when it met at Mr. Aldridge's school-room, Clarence Place, and numbered 20 members. These premises were far from adequate to supply its progressive requirements. It was then removed to a room in Vicarage Street, formerly the Church Sunday Schools, and now used as a chapel by the Brethren. It afterwards occupied the room over Mr. Watts's wine vaults, Princes Street. Various Committees had, for some time, turned their attention to the providing more suitable and convenient premises. During the year 1853 such an opportunity occurred. J T Vining Esq. had purchased some land in Church Street for the purpose of erecting Sunday Schools for the parish of St John and had also erected a building, which he offered to the Society for £700. This offer was, after some delay, accepted and in August 1854, the Society moved into its new premises. The cost for fixtures, furniture and fittings was £103 13s 7d which, added to the cost of the building, amounted to £803 13s 7d. This charge was met by cash received from subscribers to Capital and Building Fund, £441 3s, and £5 share subscriptions, amounting to £400. During the year 1855 the number of members' cards issued was 454 against 207, and the number of books taken from the Library, 1,873 against 616 in the former year."
The list of Shareholders is interesting for the inclusion of so many local worthies -
|John Hill||Glove Manufacturer||Yeovil||5||£25.00|
|Joseph Kingwell Chant||Builder||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|James Tally Vining||Gentleman||London||20||£100.00|
|Elias Whitby Jnr||Glove Manufacturer||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|Elias Lyndall Whitby||Glove Manufacturer||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|Joseph Whitby||Glove Manufacturer||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|George Wadman Jnr||Linen Draper||Yeovil||2||£10.00|
|Cuthbert Raymond||Glove Manufacturer||Yeovil||2||£10.00|
|Henry Marsh Custard||Bookseller||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|George Edwards||Linen Draper||Yeovil||2||£10.00|
|Thomas Charles Maggs||Chemist||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|Richard Vining||Brick & Tile Manufacturer||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|Nathaniel John Baker||Manservant||Yeovil||6||£30.00|
|Henry Salisbury Watts||Inn Keeper||Yeovil||1||£5.00|
|William Fooks||Glove Manufacturer||Yeovil||2||£10.00|
Perhaps surprising is that butler Abraham Jessop invested £20 and manservant Nathaniel John Baker invested £30 (over £30,000 at 2017's value) - perhaps appreciating more than some of the 'worthies' the value of educating the working class.
By 1856 membership had risen to over 400 and typical lectures were those given by W Macready - 'On the uses of the microscope' and 'On intolerance'. An audience of 500 assembled at the Town Hall to hear Macready's lecture 'The Great English Poets' in December 1856.
Though the educational classes died out in 1872, a gymnasium was then opened. The lectures, library and reading room continued.
At the November 1880 meeting of the Society, John Aldridge reported that the Yeovil Mutual Improvement Society had merged with the Young Men's Christian Association and that henceforth the Society would be called the 'Young Men's Christian Association and Mutual Improvement Society'.
The Mechanics Institute building in Church Street later became the 'Institution Hall and Reading Rooms' and later became Thring's Central Auction Rooms which was destroyed by fire. Later still it was replaced by the Central Cinema and has since been replaced by today's offices.
Map based on the 1886 Ordnance Survey. By this time the original Mechanics Institute building in Church Street was named the "Institution Hall and Reading Rooms".