The Reading Room
Saunders,R and Marsden,D
The Reading Room is situated in Wycombe End in Beaconsfield Old Town. It has a mixed past. The site once contained a large house owned by the Stransom family. The family moved in, in the late 1700s at a time of great wealth in Beaconsfield. There were a number of family members and Joseph, James, Sarah, John, Mary, John and Elizabeth are buried with prominent gravestones in the nearby graveyard of St Mary and All Saints Church. Dates of death are registered between 1777 and 1837. The family was very wealthy and set up the Stransom Trust in 1837 to support 6 widows. The Trust had 9 members and was funded, initially, by a Deed of Gift from John ( a possible relative of Mary Stransom) and prudent investment in property north of the Churchyard, resulting in rental income. After the trustees died, no further Trust records are found after 1861. The Stransom family had moved away a number of years before.
Part of the large house was sold to Willliam Boddy the butcher and where the reading room stands today was the slaughter house. The Old Slaughter House was owned by Sealers Leather which oversaw the ‘shambles’ or slaughter house. They inspected and stamped hides, pig skins, sheep skins and saleable items guaranteeing their quality.
The butchers shop fell into disrepair and was sold in 1868 to initially a private owner with the initials ‘F.C.’ which was carved on the wood frame but disappeared many years ago. The unknown occupant, F.C, added an extra window on the south facing gable end. The building was then sold to become a cottage hospital, Old Stransom House. An extra annex was added to the original timber framed building whose frame was filled with wood and bricks and the gables with two solid corbels to the east side. The hospital was not used much and was eventually sold. The money received from the sale was used to buy a ‘Beaconsfield Bed’ at the Wycombe Cottage Hospital which later became the Wycombe Memorial Hospital. This was recorded by Mr Thomas Lane in the May 1926 parish magazine.
The hospital was bought by Capital and County Bank who underpinned the building and added solid concrete damp proofing. The whole building had separate parts, bank, a large reception room used as a shop and other buildings for recreation and business. The slaughter house was demolished in the 1870’s and the Reading Room and cottages were built by C.G. Du Pre of Wilton Park and Allan Morrison of Hall Barn.
One of the cottages was named Oakley Cottage after its owner Mrs Oakley. It was a saddlery and always had its door open to welcome business. Apparently the Oxford to London stage coach used to stop by the White Hart unharness its horses ready for a night’s stay before onward journey to London or Oxford. On one occasion one of the horses bolted across the road into the saddlery up the stairs and finished head out of the window overlooking the graveyard. It took some time to reverse the horse down the stairs, out the door and unite it with its partner horse in the White Hart.
The Urban District Council (U.D.C.) meetings were held informally in the White Hart but changes in the law stated that council meetings could not be held in licensed premises, so a new place was required. The first reconstituted Board of the U.D.C. was held in the Reading Room on January 5th 1895. As a result, town events centred on the Reading Room. There are photographs of a big gathering believed to be for King George’s accession to the throne in 1910 and the whole Town Council is seen standing on the balcony. After the Town Hall was built in Burkes Road, the U.D.C used to store development plans in the Reading Room rather than the official Town Hall.
In 1920 the Reading Room became a library, initially with donated books. However, there was competition from a similar library at 7 Windsor End, called the Saracens Library so it became a place to read periodicals and books upstairs, and to play billiards, snooker and have social activities on the ground floor. Beaconsfield County Library was opened in 1957 in the New Town. Today the Reading Room is cared for by a group of Trustees with links to the church or Town Council.
The History of Beaconsfield, Beaconsfield Historical Society, (Robin Pedlar Ltd.,) 2009.