Building on over a century of history

Exhibit of the Week''Robin Hood's Bay Museum''w140809b
Exhibit of the Week''Robin Hood's Bay Museum''w140809b

We’ve covered a great wealth of items from the Robin Hood’s Bay museum already, but have yet to touch on the building which houses these curiosities.

On 31 July 1891, the Reverend R.J. Cooper, Vicar of Fylingdales Parish from 1859 to 1916, bought the building on a 1,000-year lease. It seems to have been a small cottage built into the upward slope of the land. Two upstairs rooms were perhaps entered through an outside door in the back wall. At his own expense, the Vicar had the downstairs room converted into a Coroner’s Room and a mortuary was built against its east wall.

At a meeting there on 6 March 1900, Rev. Cooper suggested the building should be used rent-free as a Reading Room for the people of Robin Hood’s Bay, on the understanding that it would always be available for its original purpose. A committee was formed with newspapers and periodicals were provided. The partition between two upper rooms was removed and a billiard table installed.

The Reading Room became the Library and Reading Room and was officially opened on 5 June 1909. It remained rent free and the vicar provided bookcases. Some remain to this day. A Mr Wade-Wilton gave 100 books and the Congregational Church committee 200 when their reading room closed. WH Smith received 10 shillings a year to regularly provide 30 new books.

Records show Oddfellows Lodge meetings, as we covered last week,french classes, lectures and ambulance classes were all held there.

In 1919, the Davies family donated £500 on behalf of the late playwright Hubert Henry Davies, who enjoyed spending time there.

A site on Thorpe Lane was designed by a London architect for a new library as there were now more members at the new houses on Bay Bank top and Thorpe Lane than in the old village. However, by March 1924, with the financial aftermath of the Great War still being felt, it was decided to abandon the project on cost grounds and instead alter the exisiting building with work carried out by local tradesmen J.T. and T.P. Skelton. £200 of the Davies’ gift was allotted for alterations and furnishing, with £200 invested in the stock of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and the £10 per year interest used for general upkeep and buying reference books.

The Mortuary was given to Fylingdales Parish Council. Several years later, occupants of a nearby cottage used it as a store-room. In the 1980s, it was purchased by the Museum Trust.

The Reading Room and Library flourished for some years after the Second World War. The Library was, and remained, as the Minute Books show. It remained independent with no connection to public council-funded libraries.

Members on duty sat at tables, recorded borrowers’ names and books, receiving subscriptions, offering advice and information on the area and walking considerable distances to deliver to members unable to travel.

Inevitably, the mass-use of television and the mobile library from Whitby appear to have caused a decline in the 1960s and 1970s. The last meeting of the trustees was recorded in March 1977, the library closing in 1987. A Museum Trust was formed, signing a deed for the building, seven years later.

In 2006, the Reading Room and Library Trust finally amalgamated with the Museum equivalent, to be known in future as the Museum and Library Trust.