In Victorian times, Blaenavon workers became keen to better themselves. Mutual Improvement Societies were set up, which helped people learn. Penny Readings were held at the Infants’ School, at the town hall and at the chapels, where people would pay a penny to listen to a novel being read aloud. This let people who could not read or write enjoy literature and gain knowledge. Libraries and reading rooms were also established, including in Broad Street.
…now, instead of men having recourse to the beerhouses to spend their evenings, they may go to the reading room, and instead of smoking and drinking, they may employ their time in reading and improving themselves, and then in time to come they may look back and thank in their hearts those persons who were the cause of establishing such a good thing.
‘A Junior Member’ 1859
The Blaenavon Workmen’s Institute and Library was founded in 1883 and a new Workmen’s Hall was opened in 1895. Paid for by the workers, the hall boasted a library, reading rooms, billiards and an impressive auditorium. The hall quickly became the heart of community life. It was used for concerts, eisteddfodau, tea parties, bazaars, and political gatherings.