The large room on the ground floor of the Institute building quickly became known as the Star Hall, this hall was able to accommodate up to 300 people and was available for hire for a variety of functions. This was probably the room that in more recent times was known as the Long Room.
At a time when there was only the Temperance Hall (now the Town Hall) and the schoolroom at the Independent Wesleyan Chapel offering competition for bookings the Star Hall became an important centre for communal activities within Finedon. Indications are that there was also a smaller room, sometimes referred to as the committee room that was available for hire for smaller events.
The Trustees produced a table of fees that was added to on a regular basis and would have been a very good source of income. A variety of different charges were made for the two rooms depending upon the event being held. There were also additional charges for the use of the piano and for provision of teas. In 1891 a nine penny tea consisted of a quarter pound pork pie, a penny tart, ordinary bread and butter and cake or sandwiches instead of the pie, and “nothing more” was to be provided. Temperance organisations were however given preferential rates, and were not charged for tea.
Following the grand opening of the Institute building in October 1884 bookings began to be received. One of the first events in December 1884 was a lecture and magic lantern show, entitled “Common objects of the microscope” that was apparently listened to with much interest by a considerable audience. Regular bookings were soon being received from, amongst others, The Choral Society, the Church of England Temperance Society (CETS), The Foresters Club, Mothers Meeting and Mutual Improvement Classes. All these organisations had bookings on at least a monthly basis and, in some cases, a weekly one.
The premises were particularly popular with the CETS who at their monthly meetings would have an entertainment provided by the adult members and on occasions prizes would be distributed to the youngsters. In December 1886 the prizes were for an essay entitled “The use of belonging to a Temperance Society”. First prize went to Enoch Munns and Arthur Richardson, second was Thomas West and John Lucas and third was W. Tite. Alongside this they held public teas, and also public meetings, although sometimes, as in December 1884, the meeting was restricted to men only, when they were addressed by the Revd J.T. Hayes of Swinshead. History does not record the subject that was too delicate, or to complicated
Events were also put on specifically for Star Institute members. An annual Christmas meat tea for members and a friend was introduced. The newly formed Star football club held a supper in November 1885, where they celebrated the recent successes of their team, who comprised of- W. Childs in goal; A. Bailey and A. Young backs; J. Piggott and C. Underwood half backs; J. Benson and G. Beetson left wing; E. Smith and C. Piggott right wing and A. Cooper and T. Rowe centre. After their excellent supper they passed a pleasant evening in singing led by Messrs J. Wilson and G and H. Beetson.
The Hall was also booked for a variety of different types of public entertainment. The Standard Entertainers of Wellingborough gave a programme of piano and violin solos, recitals and sentimental and comic songs. Another Wellingborough group The New Orleans Minstrels, sang ballads and chorals, instrumental solos, comic sketches, plantation walk rounds, stump speeches etc, to a large audience whilst on the same night the District Bell ringers, after ringing at the Church, retired to the smaller room to partake of a tea served to about 60.
Fairly quickly political parties began to hire the large room and they did not always get a warm welcome. In July 1885 Mr Ramsden, the Conservative candidate addressed a meeting of largely Liberal supporters. This was reported as “a lively meeting”.
This wide range of social activities and the income earned enabled the Trustees to pay back the money borrowed for the erection of the Institute building. As also did the receipts from the opening of the Hall gardens annually that the ladies Mackworth Dolben gave to the fund. The Institute also held a number of fund raising events upon the premises. These included a Sale of Work in 1888 that included Professor Bourne, the celebrated ventriloquist and conjuror, who gave three separate well received performances.
In April 1894 the charges were revised as follows: – for a concert, entertainment or soiree only 10/- with piano 12/-. Bazaar, entertainment and piano 7/-, Soiree after tea, if got by Star 5/- with piano 7/-, Lecture 7/6, Children’s performance in afternoon 5/-, Practices 1/- for 1st hour then 6d every extra hour, committee meeting in large room 2/6 or in committee room 1/-.(N.B. for younger readers 1 shilling is equivalent to 5 decimal pence)
Only 13 years after the Institute building had opened an ever increasing number of bookings and a widening of its client base caused the Trustees to decide that they needed to build a larger hall so they could accommodate all the events that their hirers wanted to hold. In February 1897 they decided to approach Miss Mackworth Dolben to obtain her approval of their plans. –Next month the Trustees have to make decisions on plans for the new works.