Daily Archives: February 10th, 2012


cawston reading room chapel st



Cawston’s village Reading Room was in Chapel Street. It was established in 1907/8 when William Bush (an agricultural engineer) bought the building that had formerly been the Prince of Wales pub. The building is now known as Forge House. It was the local representative of a great institution in the late 19th/early 20th centuries – the village Reading Room. Reading Rooms were made possible in rural counties by the Education Act of 1870, which made literacy almost universal. They were killed off largely by the growth of radio, which made brought entertainment the broadcast of current events into the home. A very few favoured spots still have a Reading Room; Southwold springs to mind, where the Sailors’ Reading Room continues to be open to the public although there are no more sailors and reading is now done online. Reading Rooms were by no means universal – many quite sizeable communities never had one.

Reading was not the only thing which took place there; games such as billiards (now largely replaced by snooker) were also popular. [I remember playing billiards in Southwold Reading Room over sixty years ago.] Apparently in Cawston the billiard room was located in the cellar. Also popular was the playing of the piano. In the above photo of Cawston Reading Room  the piano is being played by a young lady as an older woman – no doubt her mother –  looks on. The Reading Room was an excellent institution that brought the community together in a way nothing has done before. Nothing brought the community together before either, this side of the Reformation; then the Church fulfilled the same sort of function, where the whole parish would gather regularly for church services.

When looking at the people gathered in the room you will see a gentleman standing at the left and marked with a cross; sitting down facing him and with her head turned away from the camera is a lady, marked with a circle. These are the only two people named on the back of the photo, and they are Mr and Mrs Chaffey. Mr Chaffey was the village schoolmaster. My mother would have known him well because at six years old (when they moved from Cawston) she must have been one of his pupils. Of her two brothers’ schooling I know nothing, until at a later age they attended Hammonds Grammar School in Swaffham as boarders. They were at Swaffham in 1925, as I have a postcard from there from one of them for her fifteenth birthday. But by then the family had moved home out of Norfolk.

This is a picture of my granddad in his Flying Corps uniform. What a contrast he presents to the picture I reproduced in my first piece on Cawston P.O., where he is in front of the village shop. Here he is wearing his forage cap at a jaunty angle and he has a slightly cheeky grin. I never met my grandfather who died two years before I was born. It was on the Queen’s (then Princess Elizabeth) wedding day on the 2oth November (St Edmund’s Day) 1947 that he passed away. My parents were just setting off to Kings Lynn where he lived to visit him when they got the news. They hurriedly took my sisters to my paternal grandmother (Nannie’s), and went to Lynn alone.



This family photograph shows all the members of my mother’s family. It must have been taken shortly after the war, judging by children’s ages. The family was shortly to forsake Norfolk altogether and move to Wolverton in Buckinghamshire, now part of Milton Keynes. It was a move which brought her into contact with the Jones family, especially her best friend Kathleen. Kath Jones was a cousin of my father’s, and although he had been born a few miles from my mother at Norwich, it was in Buckinghamshire that they met.

I would like to acknowledge the help I have had from Helen Kennedy in writing this article. Her Grandfather was William Bush who set up the village reading room. She also lived in part of the old Post Office building in the High Street where my mother was born. Anybody else with any information about the reading room or people I have mentioned is very welcome to get in touch. joemasonspage@gmail.com

JOSEPH MASON                                                                                                                                                                       THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE