Researchers share an insight into 1800s Hartlepool

The grandest of  concerts was held at the Athenaeum in December 1852.
The grandest of concerts was held at the Athenaeum in December 1852.

Researchers at the Central Library reference section have come up trumps with another of their insights into Hartlepool life.

This time, they have taken a look at the early days of the Athenaeum – to highlight the sort of family history researchers could enjoy if they come along.

Sandra McKay. Picture by FRANK REID

Sandra McKay. Picture by FRANK REID

The excellent facilities at the York Road-based library include top-class research material.

Take, for example, the Athenaeum which was opened in grand style in Church Street in September 1852, with a ‘social tea-meeting’ held in the principal hall.

It was a lavish occasion with the hall beautifully decorated in flowers. Evergreens were hung in ‘graceful festoons’ about the room, said a report at the time.

Tables were set, decorated and ‘supplied with all the edibles and delicacies usual on like occasions’,” the report added.

The speaker’s platform was given similar treatment and the name of the West Hartlepool Literary and Mechanics Institute was blazed across a large white banner. An inscription adorned the opposite end of the hall and it said: “All we add to our knowledge adds to our means of usefulness.” Another sign said: “Knowledge is power.”

Library officer Sandra McKay told us: “The building celebrated branches of knowledge.”

That meant everything from art and literature to history, painting to music and astronomy to chemistry.

It was such an important event in Hartlepool’s history that more than 1,000 people were there. They were treated to a sumptuous meal which needed a second sitting to ensure everyone had eaten.

Thanks to Sandra and the team, the people of Hartlepool can access wonderful details about the Athenaeum such as original drawings, paintings, and even a poster of a lecture that was held there.

It was given in October 1853 by William Hutton Esquire, on the topic of ‘A Lecture on the Geology and Antiques of the Island of Malta.

A certain Ralph Ward Jackson was the chairman for the occasion and, for those who were not members of the West Hartlepool Literary and Mechanics Institute, it was six pence to get in.

The delighted committee also reported that this was to be the first in a series of lectures. And if you wanted to educate yourself even more, you could take evening classes in drawing, chess, arithmetic, French, German, vocal and instrumental music.

Another poster told of a Grand Concert to raise money for a hospital extension. And yet another told of a concert in December 1852 with ‘dancing to commence at 9 o’clock’ to a band. It had the informative note on the bottom: “Ladies residing at Hartlepool or West Hartlepool requiring a conveyance are requested to give notice to the secretary.”

The library is open between 10am and 6pm from Monday to Friday, and 10am to 2pm on Saturdays.

For more information, contact (01429) 272905.