Over 8 decades
The village hall was originally built for the Army as a Territorial Drill Hall, although no records are available that show the date of construction. The first “minute book” dates back to March 9, 1937, in which it is noted that steps had been taken to purchase the Drill Hall and outlines plans for funding. A sub-committee was consequently set up to negotiate the purchase of the hall with the War Office and to investigate ways to raise funds. Later in March 1937 a total of 61 pounds and 6 shillings had been raised, with promises of a further 5 pounds.
An initial offer of £250 was rejected (£1,000 was thought more realistic by the TA) and a counter offer of a lease to the “General Village Committee” of £20 per annum, with the committee funding all upkeep and repairs – this too was deemed unacceptable. By April of 1937 promised funds had reached £130 with pledges for a further £150. The committee went back to the TA with a final offer of £350, which too was rejected, and another counter offer made of a 3-year full repair lease at £20 per annum, with the option to buy at the end of this period if the hall was still available.
The committee now considered how to best fund this offer. It was decided to ballot the residents regarding a local levee of 2/6 pa or 1/- pa. The results were:-
2/6pa – 147 votes
1/- per pa – 5 votes
Refused to contribute – 54
This was felt to be good enough to proceed with the offer and it was thought additional funds could be raised by making the hall available to hire.
The lease was duly signed in late October of 1937 and then followed the problems of making the hall suitable for hire by installing electricity and other amenities, as well as arranging for adequate insurance. At this point there was no heating, no stage and the corrugated iron roof needed painting. The WI made an offer to loan the hall 24 chairs, a piano and china for free use of the hall, but the committee decided to hire the items for 2 guineas per annum and charge the WI a fee for their meetings.
Hiring generally appears to have commenced in March 1938 and there is mention of first aid lectures and Conservative Party meetings as well as boxing bouts (as remembered by Reg Simons). Soon after this a call was made to install a portable stage to further facilitate meetings and events and a sub-committee was duly empowered to spend up to £10 to get the project started.
In 1939 Britain declared war on Germany and a “General Meeting” was called in October of that year to discuss the implications for the hall. It was felt that restrictions on travel would make the hall even more important to village life, but it would be necessary to have the windows blacked out as a precaution against night time bombing raids. With voluntary help this work would cost £3 but there was only £7 in the bank and a half year’s rent of £10 was due. It is not recorded how this lack of funds was reconciled! In December 1943 the lease was terminated as the hall was requisitioned by both Dunmow District Council and the War Department for use by the Home Guard.
The committee was, however, able to negotiate being able to hire the Drill Hall on evenings when it was not in use so that some clubs and functions could continue despite the war. In July 1945, with the war over, a public meeting was held to discuss the future of the hall. There had been protracted discussions between the TA and the committee, which was being asked to contribute towards the cost of dilapidation during the previous years.
In the end a total of £121.10 was agreed upon, with £58.18 being passed on to Dunmow DC, which who had originally requisitioned the hall, leaving the hall committee to settle the remaining balance of £62.12d. With the hall funds standing at £94.19d, this would leave them with only £32.07d in the kitty to enter the post-war era.
When the opportunity to purchase the hall came up in November 1945 the committee was not able to raise the necessary funds to complete the sale and a new lease of 3 years, at £30 per year, with the option of first refusal if the hall came up for sale during the period of the lease, was offered.
However, the committee decided that not enough funds could be raised from hire of the hall to meet the costs of repair and maintenance and instead opted to continue hiring the hall from the TA, when required, for clubs and events, as before. A sub-committee was set up at this meeting to organise entertainments to raise funds for the eventual building of a new hall and was named as the “Hatfield Broad Oak Village Hall Fund” – a name that continues to this day.
During 1949 the minutes show a more optimistic note as regards purchasing the hall and funds were said to be in good order. Obviously the hiring of the hall was beginning to accumulate funds. Consequently, in January 1950, an offer was again made to purchase the hall – and was again refused! Instead, it was decided to continue growing a fund, with the hope of building a new hall sometime in the future – at this time the fund stood at £813.11.8d.
In the AGM of 1951 it was noted that a plot of land, which was part of Bury Close, and had been sold to the Parish Council in1921, would make an excellent site for the proposed new village hall. A request was now made to the Parish Council to “earmark” the site, for possible future development of the village hall, and subsequently a Mrs McTier of “Great Chalks” offered half of the field adjoining Bury Close as a site for the VH as well as part of a meadow for a recreation ground.
The parish council gave its consent and in July 1952 site dimensions were given to architects, who drew up plans and costs for the new VH. Initial costs were estimated at between £3,360 and £4,000 and local approval was given to develop the site. After several months of discussions with the architects the plans were revised and the costs reduced to £3,000.
All this took some time – approximately 4½ years – and it was just as events were really gathering pace, in1955, that the possibility of purchasing the Drill Hall once again came up. After many correspondences had passed between the committee and the TA it was eventually agreed that a purchase price of £1,000, plus legal fees, would be acceptable.
As with most transactions of this type there were considerable hurdles to overcome, such as grant forms applied for and permissions being sought etc. However, the committee prevailed and the purchase was completed in 1956, and on February 28 of that year Grace Gunn was appointed as the first caretaker of the village hall. A £100 deposit was paid in October 1956 and the purchase was completed and the keys handed over in January 1957. The AGM of February 1957 reported that the total purchase price for the village hall had been £1,029.10.0d.
Now began a period of feverish activity as the committee and the villagers set about improving the facilities and raising money to buy equipment. Some 80 metal framed chairs (only recently replaced) were purchased, a large mound of earth was removed, by volunteers, from in front of the hall and stage lighting was funded and installed by the “Players”. The hall was officially opened by Lord Rhydderch on February 28, 1958 and the “HBO Village Hall Fund” was registered as a charity and the Declaration of Trust signed on November 27, 1959. In the following years oil stoves replaced the coke ones, a false ceiling was installed, along with lights, as well as various other improvements.
During this time the hall still owned the land at Bury Yard, which was where the new hall had been planned, and it was being used for outside events including a Fair and the Flower and Veg show. In September 1963 Essex County Council approached the village hall committee with a view to purchasing the land for a possible extension and improvements to the village school.
A letter from the then chairman, Jack Carter, written to a previous trustee, Edric Fox, commented: “This will be quite a windfall for the village hall, which we never expected. I can't tell you what price we are likely to receive for the land but people are talking in the region of £800-£1,000. This, or part of it, would probably be used for improvements to the hall – new heating, new floor, enlarging the kitchen, improving the cloakroom and lavatory accommodation, etc.” Quite an impressive list!
There were various problems during the following two years – not least the clause about a new hall being built on the aforementioned land within 15 years of it being given. The village hall trustees had to ask the parish council if it would waive a clause regarding the 15 years to enable the land to be sold. There were, of course, objections and many meetings and bits of paper going back and forth between solicitors, the village hall, the parish council and Essex CC.
The parish council did waive the clause in the end, but wanted to include a stipulation in the conveyancing deed that the land should be used only for a school. This had the effect of possibly decreasing the value of the land because the valuation had previously been agreed as if the land were to be developed for, say, two houses.
The parish council finally agreed not to impose any such clause. The Village Hall Committee still had to obtain permission from the Department Of Education and the Charity Commissioners to sell, but someone had forgotten to tell the latter that the land had been given in the first place – more delay! The Charity Commissioners stipulated that all, or most, of the money raised from the sale, must be invested in appropriate funds.
All obstacles were finally overcome and the hall trustees received the then princely sum of £2,900 on July 21, 1965, but this was immediately invested in Treasury Stock by the Charity Commission – more of which later; so the committee had none of this to spend! It appears from later correspondence that the hall trustees did manage to improve the hall heating by replacing the coke stoves with two oil burning stoves for a sum of approximately £500 (the new school building was built quite quickly after this and was certainly being used when I moved to the village in May 1968).
I now jump to the early 70s, when the committee felt that the present hall needed a lot of refurbishment and investigations were made to establish if the village would like a new hall (on the same site). After public consultation, architects were employed and the usual sub-committees set up to investigate grants and ways of raising funds.
To cut a long story short, several years passed with the architects (who were from somewhere in Suffolk/Norfolk) letting us down on several occasions – not having plans ready on time – missing deadlines for grants etc., so that their services were dispensed with and Sid Peachment, who had not long come to the village, came to our rescue in1975-76. The plans he produced (£21,000 for building costs) are in the records and formed the basis of the hall we have today.
Instead of completely rebuilding the hall, he added all the services as an extension and kept the original main hall. The design was such that if a new main hall was needed in the future, the extension would become the front of the hall and a new meeting hall could be added at the rear. The bar, kitchen, cloakroom etc could all be reversed; the front car park would be the only car park, but considerably enlarged.
During the 1970s inflation was very high and money tight and when this enterprise was first started, grants of up to 75% were available, but by the time the final plans were done, a grant was obtained, but had been reduced to 50% – 12.5%Uttlesford and 12.5% PC – so we therefore had a considerable shortfall. After much soul searching, commercial fundraisers were employed – with quite a bit of opposition from the public!
These fundraisers also let us down but were successful in helping us raise over £8,000. We also went cap in hand to the Charity Commission, which was in charge of all our investments at that time, and asked it to release the £2,900 Treasury Bonds mentioned earlier to fund the difference. After many months they allowed us £2,400, with the remaining £500 being withheld to be re-invested, by the Commission, in an accumulating bond which would re-instate the full sum within 40 years!
The “new” part of the hall was finally built in August 1977 and the official opening night was in September, with all those who had donated, covenanted their money or helped in some practical way, invited to a cheese and wine type event.
In Feb 1978 the hall obtained the licence to sell alcohol etc., and with the help of Roger Simons, who had been brought onto the committee as treasurer, the inside of the hall was sand-blasted and he personally prepared the rear ground for the car park to be laid. This brought the cost down to around £2,000.
During the 1980s the roof developed several leaks – corrugated material is not easily patched – and the estimated cost was in the region of £8,000.The committee once again embarked on another fundraising exercise using techniques they had learnt from the official fundraising company, such as soliciting loans, new covenants or donations.
Several events were held to raise the funds and the first was at a CPRE meeting here with a model of the hall (made by Des Brandham), where people were invited to buy a tile for the roof at 50p a go. Their name was then symbolically stuck onto a tile on the model. There was a free draw attached with a prize of a portable black and white TV! In 1982 the roof was replaced with tiles at a cost of £8,236 and all the buckets were put away!
Some years later, in 1989-1990, the front car park was also laid, which involved first of all piping a ditch – which ran along in front of Town Farm Cottages and the front of the hall – and this was done by volunteers from the committee. The main hall floor was tiled to match the newer extension. A new bar store was built in 1991 from block work and boarded to match the rest of the hall and attached to the rear of the hall at a cost of £5,500, providing secure storage for stock and equipment.
Apart from these two large projects, during most of the 1990s the committee really concentrated on maintaining and improving the inside of the hall, while some of its equipment was updated. More plastic chairs were purchased, together with some more stacking tables. The hall floors were re-tiled in places, decorating inside and outside was done and the kitchen equipment was increased.
Sadly, we lost Grace, who had been the caretaker for 40 years, in 1996. We did not think we could find as good a replacement and then along came Alex Mitchell and his success is history – he of course was sadly missed, having died in April 2009. Once again we thought that we would struggle to find a replacement when along came Grahame and Jan to the rescue. Although they relinquished the role in 2014 they decided to return to us in 2019. We very much appreciate all that they do for the hall and therefore the community.
In the first decade of the 21st Century we had mains gas connected to the hall and were able to dispose of the calor gas arrangement; and when the kitchen was upgraded in 2002, the floor was redone and followed into the bar area. This cost £7,435, for which we received help from the parish council, so you could say the PC owned one side of the kitchen!
We added 150 new chairs (£5,500) 2005, Once again we decorated the outside of the hall (Alec Mitchell & Ken Redmond £2,400), upgraded the heating by replacing the oil boiler (£3,755) and a new oil tank (2,500) in 2006. The whole hall was deep cleaned and the floor scrubbed and re-polished early in 2008, when we also purchased some new tables and replaced the gas cooker in the kitchen for a sturdier model. The total amount spent on these exercises since 2000 has been approximately £25,000.
For some of these projects we have been able to secure small grants or help with the cost, but these probably reduced the total by only about £6,000. There are, of course, many things that still need doing, but the present committee decided that, while still maintaining the hall, other capital spending would be reined in until the present economic situation improves. The one exception has been the upgrading of the toilets in December 2010 and we embarked on DIY repainting in the main hall in April 2011 to freshen it up.
During the hall’s history, the village appears to have been able to produce good hearted volunteers with many skills and it is a tribute to all those, past and present on the Village Hall Committee that the hall is still here and being very well used, 70 years after these records began and more than 40 years since purchasing the premises.
The keeping of detailed and accurate records has been invaluable to me in relating this story and I hope that future generations of volunteers will continue to do so. The amount of paperwork is enormous for each task I have mentioned, and many, many hours have obviously been put in by several generations. I do hope this will continue and, as I think I have shown, given all the effort put in by so many people in the past, I am fairly confident it will.
Maureen Geddes has been a member of the Village Hall Committee since May 1971. She has held various positions: Minutes Secretary, Booking Secretary, Vice-Chairman, Chairman, Licensee and Premises Supervisor.