Though of a very different character to the houses we have just been looking at, its history is of interest,because Berkswell is very lucky to possess such a fine Village Hall. It was built by Mr. J.H.Wheatley, of Berkswell Hall, who also provided the site, and the foundation stone was laid by Mrs. Edith Adele Wheatley in November 1900. When the building was finished, it was formerly opened by Miss Ida Wheatley on 12th April 1901 using a golden key, which is still to be seen in the Museum. The architect was Mr. H.W.Chattaway of Coventry, and the construction was carried out by Mr. Charles Hope, of Berkswell, at a cost of £830.1 Is.Od. Mr. John Feeney agreed to pay for the furnishings, which consisted of 4 mats, 2 Axminster Rugs, 15 Arm Chairs, 36 Small Chairs, 1 Umbrella Stand, 19 Tables, 2 Walnut Mirrors, 1 Lavatory Glass (whatever that was!) 1 Art Serge Curtain, 6 pairs of Art Serge Curtains together with rods and fittings, 6 Holland Blinds, 3 Iron Fenders, 4 Lamps and 1 Clock.
The main Hall was divided by a tall folding partition, which could be dismantled and stored in the corner by the main entrance and the recessed shelf which took the tops of the sections is still in position. These sections were very heavy and cumbersome to move, and were eventually scrapped. The idea of this partition was to provide a room for reading, where daily papers were provided, together with book and periodicals (which included the Illustrated London News and The Graphic). The larger room was used for games. When the Room was used for stage entertainments, the billiard table was covered with a heavy board, on which forms were placed. As this was not very satisfactory, it was decided to lift the height of the stage, and extend the main hall floor, so that the billiard table could slide under the stage. Lighting was by paraffin lamps, with two inverted burners for the billiard table; heating was from two coal fires, and water was obtained from a well in the garden of the house next door, which was occupied by the caretaker. In 1948, the Trustees of the Lant Charity purchased the Room from the Berkswell Estate, and, the following year, they provided an extension on the North Side of the Hall, which is known as the Lant Room. Various modernisations have insured that the Room provides first class facilities and a high standard of comfort for the many events which are held there during the year.
But why is it called The Reading Room? In 1894, the Berkswell Charity Trustees granted the use of an Almshouse to the local branch of the Ancient Order of Foresters (a Friendly Society), but, as their Meetings were always held in the Club Room at The Bear Inn, it seems likely that the Almshouse was used as a meeting place for the young members of the Society. Then, in 1899, the Trustees granted permission for the temporary use of the Boy's Schoolroom as a Reading and Assembly Room for young men of the parish on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 6 to 10 p.m. Also, it was common practice in the 19th century for the Parson, or his Curate, to read to villagers from time to time, for the fee of one penny. In Berkswell, the room in which this took place was called The Reading Room, and so it seemed only logical, when the Village Hall was opened, to call it The Reading Room, and, no doubt, the Penny Readings were carried on there. You may remember that, in Act II of Ruddigore, when Sir Despard Mergatroyd has become a good baronet, and married Mad Margaret, they sing a song about their reformed way of life, and one of the things he sings is, "Now I'm a dab at Penny Reading", to which Margaret replied, 'They are not remarkably entertaining". The sort of things that would be read would be The Bible, religious books (so beloved by the Victorians) and the Newspapers. Very few people in Berkswell would be able to read or write in those days.