Wrabness Village


History of old and new Halls (1922-1997)

After the Great War, the idea was floated for building a Village Hall as a tribute to those local men who had served, and in some cases given their lives, at that time.    Shares were sold to raise the necessary cash and, when the money had been raised, an ex-army hut was purchased. The Garnham family of Dimbols farm donated a site, in Station Road. With volunteer labour, the hut was erected and formally opened on 20th January 1920. Initially there was neither electricity nor running water laid on, but these were provided as they the came to the Village.

Miss Nora Garnham, whose grandfather donated the land and who was present at the opening ceremony, remembered that people using the Hut (as it was called) in its early days had to bring washing-up bowls and water to clean crockery, etc. after use. Lighting was by candles housed in square glass-sided lanterns and heating was by two "tortoise" solid-fuel stoves, the sides of which became cherry red when worked hard, Although the floor below and the wall behind the stoves was well protected with asbestos sheeting, signs of overheating were obvious but the soda-acid fire extinguishers never needed to be used. Coal for the stoves was stored in a bin in the entrance area where there was also the entrance to the kitchen and a small cloakroom. Between the wars the Hut was much used as a social club, known as the Athletic Club, for billiards, darts, etc. and during the Second World War the Defence Forces at one time used it. After the war it was again used as a social centre but to a lesser extent now that the greater use of private transport had opened up opportunities outside of the Village. A Committee that was elected annually managed the Hut and early Committee minutes give an interesting insight into how the Hut was used between the wars.

In the 1960s an extension was built on the South end to contain a Committee Room and two toilets. For many years sanitation was into Elsan closets but in the 1970s a cesspool was sunk using a large concrete pipe section and this was in use until the old Hall was demolished. By this time the Hall was used regularly by Village clubs as well as by a weekly baby clinic and library. It was also used for single functions such as stage shows, dances, exhibition, etc.

Facing the future

By the late 1970s it was realised that wood decay was taking its toll and that the old building would have to be replaced sooner or later and that this matter should be seriously addressed before the old Hall became unusable. As agreement by the Village to rebuild was necessary, a public meeting was called in July 1979 at which a proposal to rebuild was enthusiastically supported. It was felt early on that the most suitable site would be adjacent to the old building on land belonging to the Macaulay family and, although it was intended to buy this if available, it was confirmed soon afterwards that the land would be given to the Village for this purpose.

This was only the first piece of good fortune that came to the project and it enabled the Committee to start planning immediately with a firm end in view. At that time it was estimated that a new building would cost about £30,000 if volunteers could do much of the work, or rather more if labour charges had to be included, but it was hoped that a worthwhile grant could be obtained from the Local Authority (perhaps up to 50%). Nevertheless any grant would have to be matched pound for pound by local fund raising and, at that time, it was thought that £1,500 per annum was the maximum likely to be raised in our small village.

Preliminary work

Following the Village meeting a New Village Hall Sub-committee was formed, separate from the main Committee but reporting to it, to carry the project forward. It was necessary to appoint a Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer early on and the Sub-committee were fortunate in that a local bank manager, Derek Jeggo, was willing to be Treasurer with Jean Wood as Secretary (later Treasurer). One of the first matters requiring attention was to get the Village Hall registered as a Charity and this took over two years to arrange. Details of this part of the work, with copies of correspondence are in the appendix, File No. 2. The Registered Charity Number is 278,955.

Meanwhile the main Committee were planning to collect as much money as possible from donations, social events, etc. Many proposals were discussed and tried and all are reported in one or other of the scrapbooks, which were compiled by Evelyn Garnham and are filed in the Village Hall library. On occasions we were able to negotiate for the loan, at no cost, of empty shop premises In Dovercourt in which to sell donated objects of all kinds and several successful Charity Shops were run in this way. The Treasurer also received gifts from many sources, frequently anonymously. A popular fund-raiser was the "100" Club (later the "200" Club) which was organised and run by Gordon Barber and which raised more than £4,000 over a 5-year period.

The Committee also organised a Car Treasurer Hunt and an Open Gardens Day and there was also a sponsored  "slim-in" at which those of both sexes who took part shed a total of 82J Ibs. in 3 months. Other activities included Bingo, several May Fairs (organised by Trevor Harvey), entertainments in the old Hall,(in which Jane Caslake played a major part), a Home Brew evening and an Arts and Crafts exhibition, in addition to Coffee Mornings and other social events. There was great enthusiasm in the Village for the project and all these events were well supported.

Our Treasurer was able to search around to obtain the best rates of interest available in the market for our increasing capital and, in the early 1980s, interest rates as high as 15.25% could be obtained, interest free for a charity. This helped considerably to increase the value of our savings.

A preliminary application for a capital grant was made immediately after the first Village meeting in 1979 arid correspondence was maintained with Essex County Council throughout to keep the application "alive". We did not, however, have sufficient funds to be able to ask for the item to be included in the Council's 1982/83 programs nor in that for the following year.

By September 1983, with savings then up to about £23,000, and rising rapidly, we were advised to submit a further application for the scheme to be Included in the 1984/85 programs and this was done with a target cost of £60,000. As funds were coming in more quickly than had been expected, thoughts turned as to how the grant (when made) could best be spent to achieve what we wanted. To see the project through to completion, the sub-committee was enlarged to include some members of the main committee and other Village residents who had kindly offered their talents and time. We were fortunate in having a professional architect, Tony Eaton, who volunteered to do the design work and produce working drawings at no cost to the Committee and he was recruited on to the Sub-committee together with Denis Lothian, who had practical building experience, as Clerk of Works. After the first meeting in 1979 the Sub-committee did not meet again until 1984 but it then met at regular intervals throughout the planning and building periods right up to the opening in 1985.

An important point to decide at this time was the type of construction preferred and the method of building. Enquiries were made of manufactures of "System” buildings (i.e. generally of the "pre-fab" type to be erected on a prepared foundation) but the designs did not fit in with what we had envisaged, and would have stretched our resources to the limit. This was the approach envisaged in our first grant application for £60,000, which was turned down. Had we built in this way our building would have necessarily been less than fully equipped initially.

It was then, in November 1983, that the Sub-committee were made aware of the assistance that we might be able to obtain from the Youth Training Scheme run by the Local Authority under the direction of the Manpower Services Commission. In certain approved circumstances this Government body was prepared to finance a team of unemployed men to build our hall under the supervision of an experienced foreman at no cost for labour, which would be regarded as training. This procedure had already been used successfully in Tendring for the building of Bradfield New Village Hall and the same foreman, M. Frank Graves of Bradield, was available for our project If approved. All other expenditure would have to be met by the Village with help from possible grants. Mr. John Blunden, representing the Manpower Services Commission on behalf of Tendring District Council, was invited to explain to the Sub-committee what could be done by this method of working to meet our requirements and the Management Committee later discussed his proposals. It was then decided to make application for our hall to be built in this way and Manpower Services accepted the work provided that an adequate grant could be obtained. The architect's plans were revised to allow for traditional building methods. After approval by the Village, the whole scheme was costed as fully as possible. The matter was then put to Essex County Council which then asked that a revised costing of the earlier estimate should be submitted, together with an explanation of the reason for the change and to seek the maximum grant available (25$%), with the possibility of an additional 12i% from Tendring District Council. This was done on 27h. January 1984 based on an overall cost of £39,500. We had no idea how long it might take for an answer to be received nor, if approved, into which Council Year expenditure might be allocated, but here we had a stroke of real luck. When the Council officer responsible for allocating funds was asked about progress and was reminded how much we were looking for, he checked his figures and said that there was just about the required amount of money still not allocated in the 1984/85 programme. Over the telephone he almost promised us this sum and this was confirmed in writing on 19th. March. Soon afterwards confirmation was received that the District Council would make their contribution also.

In the meanwhile the Architect had submitted plans to the Local Authority (Tendring District Council) for Planning Approval and this was quickly given, so that in mid-1984 the necessary clearances for the work had been received except for one aspect. The use of free labour by us was against the interests both of the Building Unions and the Building Employers Federation and we had to make a case out to both these bodies that it would not have been possible to precede without the use of Community Service labour. Fortunately this matter was quickly resolved, using quotations received earlier for system buildings as evidence, and clearance was given by both bodies by June 1984, allowing for a start to be made on site on 23rd. July 1984.

It then became a matter of   organising the work, with the Sub-committee continuing to deal with major aspects, while a small Project Group was formed to cover day-to-day matters. This Group consisted of the Treasurer, Clerk of Works, Architect, and Sub-committee Chairman to guide the work through. Over the next year and a quarter, and with much other help particularly from the Foreman, stores were ordered and the work of construction pressed on. While the Manpower Services team did most of the construction, certain specialised work, such as electrical installation and floor laying was done by contractors who tendered for each job as required.

In  1984 the Village entered the project in the Village Ventures competition organised by the Rural Community Council for Essex for activities of all kinds in the County that would be beneficial to the community. After being sent a summary of the work planned and the reasons for it, the Review Committee visited the site, interviewed the Sub-committee and inspected work in progress. Subsequently they awarded the First Prize for 1984, which comprised a cheque for £500 and a commemorative plaque, which is now displayed in the entrance porch.

The Hall was completed by November 1985 and the old Hall was demolished. A large contingent from the Village attended a ceremony at which Mr. John Macaulay formally declared the Hall open and he also donated the wine, which was used to toast the success of the new building.

Subsequent improvements and additions have been made, the first of which was to build a pre-fab garage on the East side of the Hall as an overflow storeroom. The sound lagging followed this on the ceiling to reduce the echo effect inside the building that had made hearing difficult when the hall was less than fully filled. Later on, an inward opening door was installed in the porch to minimise problems caused by high winds on the mandatory outward-opening double doors. More recently a Village Sign was designed and crafted by John Calver and a memorial seat in memory of Mrs. Florence Goshawk (for many years Caretaker of both halls) was placed outside the front fence. In 1996 the small toilet at the South end the hall (originally provided to give washing facilities for performers in the hall) was enlarged to make it suitable for use by disabled people and a light standard, given by Anglian Water in compensation for disruption caused by sewerage works over many months, has been installed at the front of the car park.

In addition to those members of the Village mentioned above, help was freely given by Rikki Aldons, John Calver, Harry Caslake, John Garnham, Mick and Wally Pavey and others too numerous to name. We were very fortunate in being so well supported. There was once the remotest possibility that our Queen might have performed the opening ceremony in 1985. Sometime in the early part of that year Her Majesty was due to perform some ceremony in neighbouring Suffolk and the Rural Community Council for Essex was asked if there could be a suitable event that she might attend on the same day. However we weren't ready at that time but, even if we had been, I think that our chances of having such a visit would have been very remote.

Reference Material

(a)     Files and documents relating to both old and new Halls, including those relating to the planning, financing, construction, etc. of the new building.

File No. 1         Correspondence with Parish Council and Sub-committee and Project minutes relating to the new Hall

File No. 2.        Correspondence with the Charity Commissioners.

File No. 3.        Quotations from builders and application for grant.

File No. 4.        Accounts relating to the new Hall.

File No. 5.        Drawings and approvals.

File No. 6.        Historical material including 1977 Jubilee celebrations.

File No. 7.        Dealings with Electricity Board.

File No. 8.        Acoustic treatment.

File No. 9.        Toilet for use by disabled people.

File No. 10.      Lamp standard in car park.

File No. 11.     Information and guarantees for electrical equipment.

File No. 12.      Information on non-electrical equipment.

File No. 13.      Heating.

File No. 14.      Cleaning equipment.

File No. 15.      Information sheets and guides.

File No. 16.      Socials over the years.

File No. 17.      Village Hall accounts (not New VH).

File No. 18.      Letter of welcome.

File No. 19.      Maintenance and running instructions. Also forms to use with hirers.

File No. 20.     Correspondence with Tendring District Council (including electrical testing).

File No. 21.      Newspaper cuttings and photographs.

File No. 22.     Minutes of meetings.

File No. 23.     Annual General meetings

(b).    Scrapbook in two volumes covering the New Village Hall project, from planning to completion compiled by Evelyn Garnham between 1979 and 1985 and kept in the village Hall library.

(c).    Wrabness Village sign. Account of the design, manufacture and erection. Book written by John Calver with photographs by Janet Truscott and Fred Chamberlain. Stored in Village Hall library.

(d).    Audio recordings:

(i)      Memories of Wrabness Old Village Hall by Miss Nora Garnham

(ii)     Opening ceremony of Wrabness New Hall on 10 November 1985.

(e)     Colour slides covering the whole of the constrluction period.

Robin Looser

Village Hall Secretary and Chairman of New Village Hall Sub-committee. August 1998