Dark, dingy, under-used, dirty and forgotten. Less than than 10 years ago, this was how Richard Godley remembers the 200-year-old Grenoside Reading Room. “It was deteriorating and had fallen into disuse.”
The former school house was at the time Grenoside’s only listed building, but by 2005, the reading room’s primary function was occasional home for snooker players from outside the village.
A small group of locals, including Richard, won a small lottery bid to plan the restoration of Grenoside Reading Room, and after five years and a further successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid for £218,000, the building was transformed and is opening for a series of open days.
“It’s been a slow and sometimes painful process, and hundreds of hours of work,” said Richard. “It’s now a valuable asset for the village, and we hope people will use it,” added Alan Hooper, chair of the reading room’s trustees.
Built between 1789 and 1791, the building was the second endowed school in Grenoside, intending to ‘educate such a number of poor children as the trustees should think proper’ - this was up to 90 children by the end of the 19th century, in a space little bigger than a single modern classroom.
When the board school on Lump Lane opened in1893, the old school closed and the parish decided to use the building to provide a place where the young men of Grenoside could come and ‘better themselves’.
The enquiry team noted ‘the young men of Grenoside, when they left school had only the public house and the street corner’.
Now they had the Reading Room, where debates, lectures, and concerts were held, there were books and newspapers to read, alongside snooker and darts.
Over the 20th century, however, the young men’s interest in debates and lectures reduced, and the incidence of snooker increased, until the modern trustees and the Heritage Lottery Fund stepped in. Work began in January to restore the building to a modern version of the old Reading Room, where people can learn about Grenoside’s history as a rural innovator in the nearby city’s steel industry and where villagers can hold meetings, classes, exhibitions and community events.
It’s a few minutes walk from Greno Woods, now managed by Sheffield Wildlife Trust thanks to lottery and other funding, and the building will now form a base for volunteers and education work related to one of the largest areas of woodland in Yorkshire. Trustees have designed an activity plan which includes art exhibitions, dance practice facilities, family and local history groups, wildlife gardening and willow weaving, a children’s wildlife group, Victorian school days, craft fairs and more.
The Reading Room will open for tea and coffee regularly and Richard hopes the link to the woodland will enable the increasing number of outdoor activity tourists to Greno and Wheata Woods to learn about local history too.
Richard and Alan are delighted with the history uncovered during the restoration work: an original unused 200-year-old hand forged nail was lying on a roof rafter, the portrait of founder William Dronfield was found to be a retouched photograph, the metal ‘Reading Room’ sign on the front door was engraved on the back of a oil grade guide for 1930s motor vehicles, and the original stone porch was so weathered restorers believe it had actually been recycled from a much older building.
“The building has a story to tell about the conservation of an old building,” said Alan. “And we hope to keep it here for another 200 years.”
Open days will be tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow to Sunday mornings.