A Few Words From Our Founder

125 years ago today our founder William Frederick Rock addressed the Board of Directors during a planned visit to his native town, what follows is taken from our first minute book.

William Frederick Rock
William Frederick Rock

Mr Rock with great feeling addressed the Directors as follows

“This is the first and last occasion on which we may hope to be together.  It is for me personally to surrender to you the care of an Institution which I need hardly say has occupied my thoughts for a very long time For many years and thousands of hours upon my Bed I have endeavoured to come to a Conclusion as to what would be the best means of giving my feeble aid to this my beloved Town.

I rather early came to the Conclusion that my simple and limited means should be directed to the improvement and sustentation of the Body and Mind The Park and Sports Ground is provided to meet one requirement and when the Body has become enfeebled there will be a place at Mortehoe – for which the noble Chairman has given the necessary Site where the Frame can be refreshed.  But I have more particularly to thank the Gentlemen present on this occasion for undertaking the great Charge of all this and especially of directing the minds of the Community to the higher pursuits of Literature Science and Art.

The old NDA building being constructed in the 1880s
The old NDA building being constructed in the 1880s

It was thought at first that the Institution in which you are now gathered should be denominated a Free Library.  But I do not think that included sufficient (hear hear) I think it is capable of higher things than the common Free Libraries which are scattered about the Country and which in point of fact are not free Libraries (hear hear) inasmuch as they are chiefly maintained by the respective communities.  This I hope has been mainly established and will be fully maintained in the future by my humble self.  I from this day disclaim all interference with it.  I have no responsibility respecting it from this moment.  It devolves upon you and I hope you will endeavour to carry out the best part of my wishes, but if they are faulty I hope you will correct them by your better and united judgement at all events I can only thank you for undertaking the task; and I implore Almighty God that he will assist you in the great duty you have undertaken- My inestimable friend Mr Chanter and Myself have been united in making the arrangements as we have been united in all the Matters in which we have been concerned.  We have differed but on two points connected with the Athenaeum.

The first was with regard to the News Room.  I think this is provided for elsewhere…applause  My Friend Mr Chanter has given way in every thing he ought to give way on (laughter) but unitedly I think we have conducted all things to at least a respectable point.  There is another point in which we have differed the question of the establishment of a Ladies Room.  I have a decided objection to that – it would be at best a mere place of Female gossip (laughter) and it might be a leaving Room and Cloak Room which may be had at the Railway Station over the way.  We aspire to higher things than that (Hear Hear)  It is not to meet Servants or engage them, or to get here what can be got at the Pastry cooks or Hotels of the Town.  I therefore recommend the Directors that they should not provide any special Ladies Room.  It has been long ago found out that for the study of Literature Science and Art, lady Students can mix with Male Students (hear hear) I see no reason therefore why these should be a separate Room assigned to the Ladies which might be lowered to frivolous and objectionable purposes.

The old NDA building now the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
The old NDA building now the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

I have only to thank you for having accepted this very high Trust for relieving myself and I must say My Friend Mr Chanter who can only give a limited attention to it for the future, from duties for which our age and more particularly my own in a measure unfits us.  There is only one thing I would wish to add – Our Noble Chairman has kindly undertaken to open the Athenaeum to Declare the Athenaeum open- and it only remains for us to fix the time.  I dare say his Lordship will inform us when it will be convenient for him to open and declare the Athenaeum open to the Public – and if his Lordship pleases I will Move – That lord Fortescue be requested to open the Front Door and declare the Athenaeum open at the termination of this Meeting.”

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