A guest post from Mark Thomas.
The Bluecoat School building is often thought of as only a school but newspaper articles show other users of the building, particularly during the latter half of the 19th Century. Thanks to the power of online search I have discovered the following:-
Thatcham Agricultural Society
The Thatcham Agricultural Society was formed in 1839 and held the Thatcham annual ploughing match. From 1840 to 1848 the Society held their Annual Dinner after the competition in the Bluecoat School or, as they called it, “the large schoolroom of Lady Frances Winchcombe’s Charity”. The schoolroom was decorated with evergreens and flowers of every description (but mostly dahlias).
From the 1843 report:- “The Schoolroom was most superbly decorated with flowers and the multiplicity of designs formed of the choicest dahlias, representing stars, crowns and appropriate sentiments, and even the horses and plough as at work in the field, interspersed with laurels and banners.” 60 sat down to dine in 1843, and 80 in 1846 which must have been a tight squeeze.
The meal was a “cold collation”. The speeches were numerous, as were the number of toasts. Between 16 and 24 toasts were drunk each year and the proceedings clearly became quite lively.
The expression that the toasts were drunk with “three times three” was puzzling, but it seems to be an old expression for “three cheers”.
The Agricultural Society folded in 1849, but was resurrected in 1884. Between 1887 and 1889 the Society again held their annual dinner at the Bluecoat School. The 1889 dinner attendance was 75. As previously the schoolroom was “gaily decorated with flags and mottos” by the ladies. There were speeches and singing, but the number of toasts had been reduced to half a dozen. In 1890 the enlarged Society moved their annual dinner to the Infants School.
Apart from the Agricultural Society, other users of the Bluecoat School were:
- 1810. A surgeon, Dr Beam, gave a lecture in favour of vaccination, advocating “the preventative power of cow-pox against the contagion of the inoculated smallpox”.
- 1863. The members of the Association of Church Schoolmasters held their quarterly meetings in August and October.
- 1864. Thatcham Literary Society. Mr Buckmaster of the South Kensington Museum gave a lecture to a large audience on “What the public should know, or the importance of an acquaintance with Elementary Science”.
- 1866. Rev Bradshaw, curate of Bucklebury, gave a lecture on “Getting About”.
- 1866. Thatcham Literary Society. J. Hinton gave a lecture to a large audience. “Reading from various Authors”
- 1871. After the Dedication of St Luke’s the 26 members of the choir retired to the Bluecoat schoolroom for a substantial dinner.
- 1875. A group of Ratepayers met at the Bluecoat School to organize opposition to the plan for the new Thatcham drainage [sewerage] scheme to be “foisted” on the town by the Rural Sanitary Authority at Thatcham’s expense. The ratepayers believed a sewerage system was not needed in a small village like Thatcham.
- 1876. Lecture by Rev James Ormiston from Dudley for the Thatcham and Cold Ash Branch of the Church Association:- “The Confessional”. Attendance was large and many were unable to gain admission.
- 1894. The tenants of Henley’s Allotments met the owner, Mr Staniford, to hear that the rent would be reduced because of the crop failure caused by drought.