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The History of Charlbury through ... the Royal Oak, Temperance & the new Town Hall

Janet Jeffs for Charlbury Museum

In the UK in the mid 1800s, there was growing concern about the effects of excessive alcohol on family life. Charlbury with all its public houses and taverns was an obvious target for the Temperance Movement. During the 1870s, there were many concerts and lectures by the Charlbury Band of Hope, its Drum and Fife Band and the Charlbury Temperance Society. In July 1870 the subject of one lecture was John Bull’s Drink Bill for 1869 when “some interesting and ingenious calculations were given to show the enormous amount of strong drink disposed of in the United Kingdom”.

As rumours spread in Charlbury about mysterious new facilities, the Royal Oak in Church Street held a Gala Reopening in 1879 as a Temperance Hotel, Commercial and Coffee house and Public Free Reading Room. At the opening a large star was set up to illuminate the premises in the evening. All this was the gift of Arthur Albright (1811 – 1900), a businessman and benefactor from a Charlbury Quaker family. In 1881 he built a Club and Institute for at least 120 members behind the Royal Oak. Club membership for one penny per week covered use of a spacious well-warmed and lighted hall provided with papers and magazines, frequent lectures, readings, recitations, and song meetings, and Saturday Free and Easy Night, with excellent coffee-house refreshments at extremely low prices.

The Club Room became so popular that more space was needed, so in 1886 Mr Albright built a corrugated iron Town Hall and Ante-Room joined to the Club Room, to house 200 people, with access via the alley off Park Street. A variety of events followed quickly: a lecture on Pilgrim’s Progress with magic lantern slides; a Cinderella Dance; an entertainment in aid of the Club and Institute, admission 1d or 2d. The Hall was crowded. In March 1887 at a concert in aid of the Volunteer Fire Brigade a piano was provided from donations collected by Mrs Waller of Lee Place, and in 1897 the Cinematograph arrived in town.

Judy Dod · Fri 14 May 2021, 20:00 · Link

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