Penny Readings Return!

7th June 2016


The Penny Readings Return

In a fun and exciting collaborative adventure, Swindon Civic Voice and the good people of Poetry Swindon are proud to bring back to Swindon the Penny Readings.

Swindon Civic Voice on Facebook:

Poetry Swindon on Facebook:

In a town that has a Mechanics’ Institute – albeit a decrepit one – this is an entirely appropriate venture. Why? Read on …

Swindon penny Readings poster

Swindon penny Readings poster

When and Where: 

Okay – properly speaking these new  Penny Readings would be in the Mechanics’. Sadly that’s not possible but at least we have the wonderful Health Hydro so hurrah for that!

The first one will take place on Tuesday the 28th June 2016 at the Health Hydro on Milton Road in front of that wonderful trompe l’oeil mural.

11am – 1pm

FREE admission – all welcome

So dig out your favourite poem, tune up your vocal chords or your guitar and come along! It’ll be fun.

Some photos of the mural in the Health Hydro:

A bit about Penny Readings

Penny Readings – as the name rather implies – were performances of poems, songs and readings for which the admission was 1d .

In a time, the 19th century, when many people were illiterate or at least had no regular access to books the Penny Readings were popular public entertainment. The iTines and YouTube of their day if you like.

Wikipedia has this to say on the matter: Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin criticised this passive consumption of literature through reading aloud, fitting as it did into Victorian culture and in particular poetry recitation.[3] 

Penny readings, however, appealed for a period in both urban and country settings. They were significant as a way forward for the Mechanics’ Institutes set up in the early Victorian period, where they became a staple activity, along with smoking concerts and study for scientific qualifications. In the fictionalised Candleford Green of Flora Thompson, the penny reading, although outmoded elsewhere, was “still going strong” in the 1890s.”

And from this site called ‘Victorian London’: ‘… Now when my energetic old friend Smith, president of the Boughtborough Histrionic Club, chairman of the local Mechanics’ Institution, and the great promoter of all intellectual amusements in the borough, established the Penny Readings, and subsequently saluted me whenever we met, with, “You should come and hear me read,” I, while replying, “I shall come and hear you some of these odd times,” mentally put it down as another case of Bishop of Batterseaism. But as I began to hear upon all hands that the Penny Readings were “jolly things,” and were “drawing immensely,” I determined to attend one of the Boughtborough Penny Readings to hear my friend Smith read. Accordingly one Saturday night I wended my way to the Boughtborough music ball, a little before eight o’clock, at [-170-] which hour the doors of the hall were to be opened. The hall was capable of holding fifteen hundred persons, and when I arrived in front of it, there was, so far as I was able to judge, more than that number of persons waiting outside…”   You can read more of that here:

There’s a nice article here from the Victorian Society about the Health Hydro:

See also this from the Swindon Advertiser:


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