1837 Members Record

1837 Members Library Record 

On Tuesday 30 Oct 2023, Shildon Railway Institute was visited by Derek Walker and his wife Ann, from Stockton-on-Tees, along with Barry Thompson, a member of the Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway who had made Derek aware of the Institute’s existing library and collection of artefacts.

Derek brought with him a number of artefacts that he wished to donate to the Institute’s collection to be catalogued as the Jack Walker sub-collection in honour of Derek’s Father, the original owner of the items.

Among the items was a single piece of paper which on one side appears to have a random collection of handwritten notes, and on the other a tabular matrix with a list of persons names down the left hand side, and an series of dates from October, November and December across the top.

Among the notes on the first side are the words ‘Shildon Library for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge” which we know from two newspaper articles of November 1833 to have been the original name for what eventually became Shildon Railway Institute. There are also names of persons that are known to have been associated with the early days of the Institution.

On the list side it states that the named persons are ‘Members’ (see top row) and gives the year 1837.

The names featured in the table are names that are known to have been associated with the early days of the Institution, using a history included in the the Institute’s own celebratory Centenary Book as a reference point as well as half yearly report books in the possession of the institute that cover the years from 1855 onward.

This therefore appears to be a list of members of the Library for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge for the last calendar quarter of the year 1837. The ‘7’ is clearly readable. Furthermore the sheet of paper has a watermark which reads 1835. Though this does not necessarily refer to a year it is quite probable that it is. As a consequence the likelihood that this is the list of the first ever members from 1833 can be ruled out.

However the paper still seems to be a very valuable piece of evidence as to the involvement of certain persons in the first phase of existence of the Shildon Institute and as such worthy of much care and special attention. 

The paper dates from a period when Timothy Hackworth was president of the organisation (1833 to 1841) and Thomas MacNay was Secretary (1833 - 1840). We have analysed the handwriting which looks to be that of Thomas MacNay, comparing it to letters sent by MacNay to Hackworth and to Henry Pease.

This was a period when the fledgling Institute did not have a dedicated premises and was sharing the Wesleyan Schoolroom.

The Notes on the scribbled side appear quite random, but the following can be read:

The words “Shildon Library” appear three times in separate places

“for what”, ‘inter’, “Geo.”, “moral”, “Thomas”, “John Glass” twice, “Durham” twice, “Jno Morley”, “Robt.”, “Newcastle”, “MacNay”, “Shildon Library for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge”

The table depicted transcribes as shown in the below table. It should be noted that all of the numbers, excepting the dates at the head of the columns, were subsequently crossed out. All of this begs the question of what is being recorded here?

Starting with the dates - if the year is correct and this represents information from the year 1837, then the dates are all Thursdays. This may be significant as we know that the first ever meeting of the committee to found the Library was a Thursday, which suggests that Thursday was their chosen meeting night.

With the library not having a premises of its own, it is likely that the early institute members may not have been able to attend the Wesleyan Schoolroom as they pleased, and may have been limited to meeting on a Thursday.

What of the numbers in the columns? They don’t appear to be subscription or donation payments as they aren’t represented in monetary terms and there is no notation to suggest that they show money.

We do however know that the Institution’s collection of books was indexed with each book having a number. The lowest number shown here is 1 and the highest is 59. It would not be unreasonable to think that by 1837 the library might have at least 59 books. It is also probable that not having its own premises they might have been limited as to the space they had to store books.

A membership rule booklet (also from the Jack Walker collection) from the Darlington S&DR Library which was founded in 1858 suggests that it was founded on a similar model to the older Shildon one. That booklet lists the books that library held and gives the catalogue number for each, starting with 1. The rules states “VIII - No member shall be allowed to have more than one volume out of the library at the same time.”

If it is reasonable to assume that the principles of the sister libraries were the same, and this is a reasonable assumption given that by 1858 Thomas MacNay, former Secretary of the Shildon Institution, was now president of the Darlington S&DR Library, then what I believe we are able to see through this sheet of paper is the lending records of the early members of the Institute over a period of 8 weeks.

The implication is that at each meeting, when a member borrowed a book, the number of that book was recorded against their name in the column for that date. When that member returned the book, presumably at the next meeting, that book number could be crossed out to denote that it was returned, and a new book number for the next book borrowed written against that members name for the current meeting.

The logic of this interpretation is supported by the observation that no number appears more than once in the same column, yet numbers may be duplicated in a subsequent column (as a member became the next to borrow that book).

Of the historical significance of this document

We know that the National Archives at Kew hold several records relating to the Institute at Shildon. These include:

  • Library Record Book (1842-1847) - RAIL 667/1281 - from the period after the Institute had set up a reading room at the Mason’s Arms following closure of the Shildon Tunnel and the consequent end of that room’s use as a waiting room.
  • Minutes of General and Committee Meetings  (1852-1865) - RAIL 667/1273 - which spans into the period where the Institute moved into its first dedicated building on Station Street
  • membership Record Book (1846 - 1850) - RAIL 667/1278

However it seems there is nothing archived there with relation to the Institute in any of its incarnations that precedes these records. This sheet of paper is surely the earliest surviving physical artefact form the Institute’s earliest days.