Written by Mic Coleman on the occasion of the Village Hall Centenary 1902-2002 and with an addendum that brings the story up to the 2020s.
Villages all over the country had been building for various communal activities at the turn of the century and Hambledon’s chance came when several of the more benevolent members of the village banded together to erect the Hambledon institute.
Land was given by the Mellersh family, Frederick James and Mary Jane and subscriptions for the building came from Robert Henry Mellersh, John Eastwood, George Pinchard, Arthur and Sydney Gladstone, Miss Bonham-Carter, Col. Shakerley and the Rev. R. Phillips. The treasurer was B. Franklin Adams and the secretary Reginald Mellersh.
The building of the Institute started in 1902 and was completed at the beginning of 1903. No mention is made in the records of the architect or builder but whoever they were they designed and erected a worthy building.
From its inception the Institute’s function was to provide for the educational, recreational and leisure pursuits of the men of Hambledon and neighbourhood – it took 20 years before the ladies were welcomed!
The people who gave the money and the land – no grants then – formed the Trustees, meeting once or twice a year and the day-to-day running was left to the Executive Committee formed from the paying members.
From the start Hambledon Institute as it was known, had a very comprehensive set of rules. Some examples:
Members had to be elected and pay a monthly subscription (9 pence) in advance and then seven shillings and sixpence for a year. Male friends could be introduced on payment of 1 d No intoxicating drinks, gambling or bad language (fine Id for each such offence). No sitting on tables (fine Id). • No religious or political classes.
Ladies used the hall by special bookings though there is no mention in the minutes of them using the evening facilities as members. In 1917 Mrs Eric Parker invited a Mrs Watt, one of the original Canadian founders of the Women’s Institute, to give a talk and so started the Hambledon W.!. By 1923 their membership totalled 177 and they helped to bring the hall into the 20th century by requesting adequate toilets, a kitchen and better use of side rooms. The Hall Committee agreed but said no funds were available at the moment.
A rule change in 1938 stated that “The Institute shall be available for political parties for not more than three meetings in each year, for each party, but shall not be available at the time of an election”!! It took three years of argument to get the amendment.
In 1941 the hall was designated a Refugee Centre if required. Entertainment and social gathering were held in the evening – especially fund raising for the forces such as ‘Salute the Soldier Week’ and the W.I. ‘Pie Making’ sales. In 1944 the Surrey Education Committee gave up using the hall for the education of evacuees. 1946 saw the beginning of fundamental change and the Institute was renamed Hambledon Village Hall The post-war period saw many changes in organisation, use and building. The trustees gave over the running of the hall to a much more plebeian committee, rules were much changed and there was no membership. In the fifties problems arose with the hall finances – very few functions were taking place. This led to a confrontation between the chairman and the committee over alcohol. The Rector, Alan Bortlwick, (the Chair for years had been with rectors) was against the granting of licences for beers at functions, the committee thought that more use would be made of the hall if alcohol could be sold The possibility of alcohol did not revive the hall and by 1957 it had hardly any lettings and was very low on funds. The question arose as to whether it was needed at all and a Village Meeting was called for November 12th and surprisingly to the committee 70 people attended. Many suggestions for use and finance were advanced and 29 of the 70 volunteered to serve on any sub-committees that might be formed. The meeting could well have been acrimonious as at the next meeting all the committee members resigned. Another public meeting was called for December 10th 1957 and 40 people attended, a new committee was formed. New people, new rules but the hall was looking rather old.
It is important to realise that the hall was in great need at the end of the fifties. The roof and valleys, gutters and outer walls required urgent repair. The interior walls had not then been plastered but the whole hall needed decorating. The floor of disintegrating boards still needed a monthly scrub, chairs needed replacing as well as new curtains for windows and stage. Some form of modem heating was also required. It was estimated that all this would cost £256! In those days the hall’s revenue income and outgoing balanced at around £35 per annum.
The mid-sixties saw more fundamental changes particularly in the running of the hall. A new Trust Deed was formulated and the Trustees and Standing Committee merged. A new constitution gave detailed aims and obligations for the hall, now a registered charity.
The improvements made in the previous four years saw the Hall win the Best Kept Village Hall plaque in 1964. In 1965 a new charitable trust deed was completed. In 1967 a public meeting called to discuss the restarting of the Youth Club (defunct for several years) was very poorly attended and it was decided that there were not enough young people in the parish to warrant such a club. A pointer, surely, to the predominant age group in the village at that time. In 1969 a Girl Guide company was formed , but this group only lasted a few years before it was disbanded due to the lack of girls living in Hambledon.
In 1987 a start was made on a series of works that are evident to-day. An extension was built over the yard between the kitchen and toilets, a new store was added at the back, a maple strip floor was laid, complete rewiring and redecoration took place, and new chairs and tables were obtained. New external lanterns were made and a Hambledon Village Hall sign fixed to the outer wall. Over £35,000 was required for these improvements, with Surrey County Council and Waverley Borough Council each providing £11,000. When all was done a well-attended opening was officially celebrated with Karen Vickery cutting the ribbon in July 1989.
In conclusion it is worth looking forward and stating that the Village Hall is still one of the centres of the Community and is likely to be so; but it is also to be remembered that the Hall ” is for the use of the village and it is also the responsibility of the villagers, through the Management Committee – your support is always required.
HAMBLEDON VILLAGE HALL – THE 21ST CENTURY
By 2000 strict health, safety and environmental standards had been introduced which necessitated yet more up-grades to the Village Hall. Major refurbishments were carried out to the toilets, the kitchen and the entrance, where the doorway had to be widened and a ramp installed to allow wheel chair access. Costs were met by grants and a wide range of fund-raising activities, organised throughout 2002 to celebrate the Hall’s centenary and which included a musical evening hosted by Ion and Muriel Campbell in the garden at Feathercombe.
With the introduction of new licensing regulations, a premises licence was obtained in 2007; but hirers of the Hall who wished to serve alcohol remained responsible for obtaining their own liquor licences.
Income from lettings had always fluctuated and the bottom line is maximum footfall. The Hall has to remain a competitive and attractive venue – for commercial groups or individuals to hire for their activities, including private parties;, and for villagers who would otherwise go further afield for their entertainment.
Remaining competitive means constant attention to up-grades. Cue to the Management Committee whose members have recently come up with some brand new and innovative ideas.
The Hall signed up to Easyfundraising whereby online shoppers could collect free donations to the Hall from over 3,000 subscribing retailers. In 2018 fifty new chairs were sponsored by villagers; a grant from the Hambledon Community Foundation covered the cost of new stage curtains; and these and a raft of other improvements, including repainting of the hall inside and out, new storage heaters and loft insulation, were celebrated at a tea party hosted by the Management Committee in December of that year to thank villagers for their input.
Other than a period of closure due to Covid-19, the hall has become busier and busier with bookings for both regular groups and private events and also with an increase in the variety and frequency of our own events which bring the village together and raise funds to continue with upkeep and improvements. Generous regular donations from the Parish Council and the Hambledon Festival Committee also contribute to these funds.
In 2021, thanks to the Local Authority Discretionary Grants COVID scheme, the LADD grant, a grant from the Hambledon Community Fund and very generous donations form villagers, we were able to replace all of the windows with double-glazed windows which have considerably helped with heating the hall.
With a cinema system installed, the hall now hosts regular cinema nights and theatrical productions as well as quizzes, fashion shows, our annual professional art fair, musical evenings, table tennis and more. As always, it is at the centre of village life hosting the annual Parish Assembly, the Heritage Society AGM and lecture and the annual Village Show.
Over a hundred and twenty years since the opening of the hall, it continues to serve the local community and remains true to it’s original intentions.