The Simms Reeve Institute was built in 1905, as a gift to the village from Mrs Reeve (wife of Simms Reeve. It was her idea and she paid for the building with her own money. Mr Simms Reeve provided the land. According to his speech at the opening of the institute
‘The institute was for the benefit of the people at large-to instruct them and to amuse them. It was to be used as a library and a reading room and for general amusements….. At the institute no favour or affection would be shewn to any particular person; everyone would be treated alike. It was to be unsectarian and not used for any religious or political object’
The Building was designed by the prestigious Norwich Firm of architects-Edward Boardman and son. The firm was responsible for many of the best Victorian Buildings in Norwich such as the conversion of the castle to a museum and the extension to the old Norfolk and Norwich hospital. The same firm was used by the Simms Reeve family for alterations to Brancaster Hall.
A snapshot of village life After its opening, the Institute soon became the hub of village life- somewhere to meet friends and discuss the issues of the day. Originally it was well used as a Reading Room -The Lynn Advertiser cost 2d (about 86p at today’s prices) in 1905 and a communal copy enabled poorer families to read and keep up with the news It was also a men’s Social Club with billiards and football being regularly organised
As the 20th century progressed women became more involved and the Women’s Institute was instrumental in staging many of the entertainments at the Institute. The hall was also used as a mother and baby clinic, run from the 1930s by Miss Fiddaman, distributing orange juice, cod liver oil and malt extract.
During wartime spirits were kept up with dances and children’s parties organised by Messrs Johnson and ’Fruity’ Wright. There was a fancy dress competition entered by Janet Lake as ‘Dig for Victory’, whilst Kenny Lake recalls a “hero’s party” being organised for Albert Seaborne who had seen service in the Battle of the River Plate. The Institute became a schoolroom for evacuee children. Local girls (suitably chaperoned) enjoyed dancing with the troops to live band music. Some met their future husbands at the Institute dances.
Village cinema is not new, films were shown on Saturdays from the 1930s to the 1960s. There were amateur dramatics, and a Christmas pageant on the stage in the 1950s. Special events such as the Coronation were celebrated here. Derek Southerland put television sets both in the Institute and the Staithe Village Hall for parishioners to watch the event.
The Institute had always served only soft-drinks or chocolate; and locals remember slipping over to the Lifeboat Inn (link to picture of lifeboat) opposite if “things got too hot” while dancing to records of ‘The Shadows’!(link to modern uses)
Various alterations were made to the building over the years, the most notable being the construction of the 71 Club in 1971.(link to 71 club)
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