The society had a brief existence between c.1857 and c.1865. It is known now through a collection of manuscript magazines - The Essayist and The Critic - in the Local Studies Library in Southampton Central Library. The society first met in a room belonging to the Albion Congregational Chapel in St Mary Street. The members later moved to Above Bar, renting successively rooms in the book emporium of Thomas James and - more congenially - in rooms belonging to George Parker, cook, pastry-cook and confectioner (his son was a member). Lectures (given exclusively by society members), conversations, recitations and discussions were the staple diet of the weekly winter meetings. The society library was well used. Summer activities included rambles, cricket matches on the Common and rowing. The society appealed to young, earnest young men, intent on self-improvement. Several came to play a prominent role in the life of the borough. Edward Bance, later three-times mayor of Southampton, was a regular contributor to The Essayist under the pseudonym of 'Phoenix'. He was secretary of the society in 1860. Eustace Hinton Jones, son of the coachmaker William Jones, was president in 1860. Circulation lists for the society's magazines show that six members worked for the Ordnance Survey, five for shipping companies (three for P&O) and one each for the Post Office and the London and South Western Railway Company. Others worked for businesses in the High Street and Above Bar.

A tribute to Eustace Hinton Jones in The Southern Reformer, no.42, 17 March 1881, p 6 gives a succinct account of the society. The anonymous memorialist begins with the self-revelation that he commenced his literary efforts many years ago as a member of a semi-private literary club of which E H Jones was also a member with other aspiring young men of the town. “Never shall I forget our little meeting-place above the Bar, and our meetings for lecture, debate, and class study, and even for the acquirement of dexterity in the use of boxing-gloves and foils. I doubt much if there has ever been elsewhere, or subsequently, a better written or better illustrated manuscript Monthly Magazine, cleverly illustrated by pen and ink, than that of which our friend was the editor, and to which we all contributed something in the way of poem, article, or story. In its pages was first written the excellent tales of Sir Bevois, and Ascupart, etc, afterwards printed and published. Rowing, bathing, walking tours, combining exercise with the study of archaeology and natural science, also formed parts of our modest curriculum. Then, as circumstances willed it, we scattered….”

The reference to “the excellent tales of Sir Bevois” is to Eustace Hinton Jones, The romance of Sir Bevis of Hamtoun, published by H M Gilbert and Alfred Randle in 1870. The romance was freely rendered from the verbatim reprint of the Auchinleck Manuscript of the Metrical Romance, privately issued by the Maitland Club in 1838, and of which but one copy was presented to each of its seventy members. Consequently this work is now almost unattainable (Introductory).

See also

Further reading:
‘Southampton Society for Mutual Education’, by Richard Preston, in The Journal of the Southampton Local History Forum, no.11, Winter 2003, pp 6-10. (HS/h)


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