A while ago I was asked by a Canadian visitor for a heritage place to visit during the week. At the time it was extraordinary difficult to find somewhere as many only opened at the weekends or in spring and summer. Things have changed at many places since then. If you have a Monday morning or lunchtime free the Grenoside Reading Room, on the northern edge of Sheffield, is somewhere you might like to call in on.
When you hear the words Reading Room you may be thinking of some grand ancient library or gentleman’s club. The reality is more down to earth, and that is part of its charm. Near the corner of a quiet street and a busy road, slightly back from the road, is this small, one-storey building from the late 18th century. It was once a school that took in 90 pupils. It's hard to imagine how they managed to fit that many pupils in.
The school was supported by Thomas Walker, whose father, originally a schoolmaster, had helped to develop a version of crucible steel first in Grenoside and then in a huge profitable works in Masborough. The Walker’s family home in Rotherham is now Clifton Park Museum. The school struggled to pay its bills, the pupils moved out and the little school lay empty for many years.
It was then suggested that the building be used as a Reading Room for the young men of Grenoside who had “only the public house on the one hand and the street corner on the other.” The original purpose was to provide a place where the young men of Grenoside could come and “better” themselves. Debates, lectures and concerts were held and there was a small selection of books and newspapers to read, besides snooker and darts. Over the years it became mainly a snooker room. By 2006 it was again empty and neglected, and the trusteeship passed to the villagers of Grenoside.
The Reading Room is now restored and seems to have kept its Tardis-like attributes. It is now a community hub with talks, craft workshops and exhibitions. Among its regular groups are the Grenoside Sword dancers, who practice every other Thursday – everyone is welcome to come along and give it a try.
Every Monday the Reading Room opens for breakfast, elevenses and lunch. There is always a great selection of homemade cake and really good coffee. Lunch is simple – bread and soup of the day. It is a relaxing and friendly place and there are a number of heritage walks in the area to walk off all that lovely cake. Alternatively, there's usually a good supply of free printed leaflets in the Reading Room.
Access to the hall is easy and there are accessible toilets but no car park.
- Words by
- Joyce Bullivant