The village of Harrold and the Harrold Centre have a long association with the leather industry. The Harrold leather industry began in the early 1800’s and a number of tanneries thrived for many decades, employing the majority of villagers. At one point there were six leather factories in the village, the location of which are shown below.
One of the local tannery owners was Charles Pettit, a wealthy Victorian philanthropist. To give something back to the leather workers of the village he financed the construction of the Harrold Institute in 1901. It was built to enable the men of the village to learn new ideas and skills, and with a coffee tavern and reading room (as an alternative to the alcohol serving public houses) it provided a place of recreation and learning. During the following 10 years it grew to include darts, a snooker room, card room and a croquet lawn.
By 1911 the Institute had become so popular that Charles Pettit provided further funds to build a separate hall on the site which was used for weddings, dances, whist drives and theatrical productions. Subsequently a bowling green was added at the side of the building, and at the rear there were grass tennis courts. The Institute also held the Harrold library from 1925 until 1976. What is now the Red Room has previously been used as a bank and table tennis room.
Charles Pettit continued to fund the Institute until his death in 1917. The building was then handed to the Congregational Union of England who held the premises in trust for the people of Harrold until the early 1970s. The two separate buildings were then bequeathed to the village by the Congregational Union and a new trust and committee was set up to manage and improve the facilities.
At this time, the two buildings were joined together and a new bar and kitchen were added. The building was renamed the Harrold Centre. The ground to the rear was leased to Harrold Tennis Club who built hard tennis courts. In addition, a children’s play area was constructed at the side of the Centre.
Today the Harrold Centre continues to serve the village with a wide range of facilities, activities and clubs. To ensure the Centre is preserved for future generations and remains an historic link to Victorian philanthropy and the local leather industry, the committee of trustees is currently pursuing plans to significantly refurbish, modernise and extend the Centre.