On the left hand side of Laws Lane, looking up from Dolben Square, stands two stone buildings and one brick building that formed the Star Institute complex that for over one hundred and fifty years was a social hub for the residents of Finedon.
John Bailey stated in “Finedon otherwise Thingdon” that the building on the corner of Dolben Square was built by Mr Mackworth Dolben in 1853, named the Star Coffee House, and built to further the cause of temperance.
The second stone building was built about 1890 as an institute for men, and both the Coffee House and the Institute were closely connected with the Church of England Temperance Society.
The Star Hall, as we know it, was built much later. The whole site was managed by Trustees and the sale of alcohol was forbidden on the premises.
In the 1970s the two stone buildings were sold, and converted to housing. Now only the Star Hall remains in the care of the Trustees. The restriction regarding the sale of alcohol remains and, therefore, restricts the uses to which the Hall can be put, although the annual pantomime remains a popular event.
What went on in these buildings in the 19th and early 20th century? For the early years it is difficult to say, as no concrete evidence appears to remain. The Coffee House would have been a place for the men of Finedon to meet and socialise, as an alternative to the numerous public houses, inns and clubs in the community that sold alcohol. A resolutions book of the Trustees, that has recently been discovered covers the period 1887 to 1906. This book indicates that the Coffee House and Institute offered a variety of activities, but this was limited to members only, who paid a subscription. A manager was employed by the Trustees, who, along with his wife, were responsible for the day to day running of the establishment. He was also allowed to form a committee of members to assist him in the evenings and together to work in harmony with the Trustees. The Committee in 1889 was made up of James Benson; James Garfield; Saml. Pettit; Geo. Young; John Ellson; Joseph Cheney; Wm. Liggins; Arthur Richardson; Henry Warner; Wm. Mills and Luke Wilford.
Newspaper reports from 1884 onwards indicate that the Institute building has been “newly built” and money was being raised by holding events to help pay off the debt incurred. The events began in July 1884 with Finedon Hall gardens being opened to the public. This event was reported as being very popular, attracting 1100 visitors from the locality.
The Men’s Institute by August 1884 was really getting into its stride, the Star Football Club has been formed, and a decision was made to hold an Association Rules football competition, with prizes, including a cup. On Tuesday 7th October 1884 the Institute was officially opened, with a tea and open meeting.
Much emphasis was placed on the building being erected for the benefit of the working man, and coupled with the principles of temperance.
The opening of the new building gave the Trustees and committee the opportunity to offer a wider range of activities to the men, and occasionally the women of Finedon.
Future articles will provide information, of amongst other things what was on offer.