The Minute Book, Accounts and other papers for the Leigh Institute from 1908 onward have come to light, thanks to Arthur Lewis, and they make interesting reading. There had been a “Reading Room and Institute” at 9 The Square from 1903, but the new and expanded “Leigh Institute” to operate in the Village Halls complex was inaugurated at a Special Meeting held on 7 October 1908. The meeting was chaired by Samuel Hope Morley and rules were drawn up. As will be known, the Village Halls and Clubroom had been erected as a Chapel and Baptistry in the early 1870s by the Samuel Morley family, but this son, Samuel Hope Morley, a Church of England man, agreed that the premises could be used for social purposes.
It is illuminating to see the wide variety of activities which took place between 1908 and closure in 1938. Many have continued in the Halls or the British Legion Club, and some that ceased or were only considered are on the Agenda for the present Halls Management Committee when planned refurbishment has taken place.
In 1908 a new billiards table was purchased for £25, and a gymnasium class was started for boys between 15 and 18 years of age. By 1909 a rifle range had been established (though boys were not allowed to shoot). Badminton started in the Large Hall in 1911, and a licence for the production of Stage Plays was taken out in 1912. Throughout the period the premises were used for baths for villagers who had no running water. (The Halls were on the Hall Place water system). Notice was required on a Friday night for weekend use. Newspapers and magazines were provided for the Reading Room. Ladies were not at first admitted, but from 1909 they were allowed to use the premises “at certain hours”, although their use of the baths was permitted!
The minutes of 17 November 1914 show the Large Hall being made available as a hospital for wounded soldiers (see the photo in Chris Rowley’s “We Had Everything . . .”) and for five years social activities ceased.
After the First World War, the Minutes show that the Institute re-opened with the “Lyghe” spelling which had been agreed at a Public Meeting on 20 December 1919. An Amusements Committee was formed with added representatives from the Cricket and Football Clubs and the Women’s Institute although a subsequent plan to amalgamate these groups with the Institute fell through after much discussion. Merging of funds was the main problem. The activities of billiards, badminton, the gymnasium and the baths were all re-established, although sponges and “any fancy scented soap” had to be provided by the users. The rifle range’s return was delayed but it was in use again by 1925. The Reading Room was provided with papers and magazines including the “Daily Telegraph”, “Spectator”, and “Strand”. It was also used in 1921 for a conference and various lectures and for sewing classes. At a later time Bible classes were also held.
Table tennis started in 1923 with a table made in the Hall Place workshops. Alfie Houghton was the first “coach”, having been appointed Secretary of the Institute in 1926 shortly after his arrival. Two billiard tables were now in use. A dartboard was bought in 1925 and snooker was introduced (with the purchase of a “Triangle”) in 1930. Central heating was in operation using anthracite as fuel. The two baths were in an annex to the small hall with the one nearer the kitchen, which had a fitted geyser, much hotter than the other. Concerts and dances (including a Children’s Concert and one in aid of the Leigh Fire Brigade) were held throughout the 1920s and proposals for a Tennis Court and Canteen were investigated but not proceeded with. In 1923 there are lists of the names of 53 Gentlemen and 47 Lady Members; in 1927 there were 46 and 23 respectively. Sadly from then on it was downhill, with lack of support forcing first summer closures from 1932, and finally closure in 1938, “for a year”. But then came the Second World War, and use of the premises by a Catholic School evacuated from London.
The Institute had closed, but its activities have continued. After the War the Royal British Legion Club was established in the Clubroom with continuation of billiards, snooker, darts and card games. Table Tennis, Badminton and Short Mat Bowls Clubs, the WI, Golden Years, Youth Clubs, Playgroups, the Historical Society, Arts & Crafts, Leigh Produce Association, and other organizations have all used the Halls. The Annual RBL Children’s Christmas Party, Dinners, Discos, Dances and Jumble Sales have contributed to our social scene.
In 1984 the whole complex was conveyed by the Morley Trust to the Parish Council, with management by the Village Halls Management Committee, and a Lease of the Clubroom and flat to the RBL Club. A RBL Snooker Room and a Large Hall Storeroom were added. As we approach the centenary of the formation of the old “Institute”, we hope that the future will see social activities, started all those years ago, widen and prosper.
Parish Magazine Articles: June/July 2004: by John Knock