1950 – The Beginning
Mrs. Griffiths had worked for 3 years to get this hall in place. She negotiated with the Rural Community Council and secured funding. The building itself was a Uni-Seco American type building, a post war prefab building, which came from Troston, today’s RAF Honington. The contract for erecting the building was won by Mr. S. C. Farthing of Kirton and it cost £1541. This included levelling the site, drainage and cesspool, roofing, internal partitions, the addition of a committee room, kitchen and cloakrooms, flooring, 2 stoves and Elsan closets and sinks, as well as the painting inside and out, wiring, and the building of a stage. There were extra expenses in purchasing a cycle shed, engine shed, fences, furnishings such as chairs, card tables, plates, spoons, jugs, a kettle and games equipment, namely a table tennis table, dart boards, 20 packs of cards, and a piano. All this made a grand total of £1834. (Equivalent to about £50,000 at today’s prices). At the opening event on the 5th August 1950 Mr. Reid of the Rural Community Council addressed the guests indicating that he was proud to have been involved and that he considered it the best of all similar buildings having a remarkably good finish, incorporating a number of remarkable improvements, such as the stage. He urged the community to make full use of the new facilities and could not see a reason why the hall should not be used every day of the week. He was also very taken with the enormous floral display. The Rural Council was indeed so proud of the hall that they sent in a picture of it to the N.C.S.S. to be included in a competition and it was published in a magazine called ‘The Village’. They won a 3 year free subscription of that magazine. However, the hall was considered just a temporary measure and expected to last about 12 years. It was rented from the N.C.S.S. thus leaving the main funds free for the erection of a permanent brick building when the economical position of the country permits.
Mr. Malcolm Fiske
Initially, Mr. Fiske who was a great benefactor of the hall. He owned Willisham Hall, Offton Castle, and Mount Pleasant and did a lot for the village in general. He paid the £13 for the 1st year’s rent of the hall and, I believe, for subsequent years, too. When the hall was purchased from the N.C.S.S. in 1963 for a mere £80 (instead of its value of £200) Mr. Fiske gave £50 towards that, too, despite having moved to Felixstowe by then. He was kept fully informed of all local matters and was invited to meetings and events. On those occasions he always came early to have a wander around the villages. Fiske Pightle in Willisham owes its name to this great man. He died in 1970.
By the mid-1950s Mr. Paul Chapman literally stepped in Mr. Fiske’s footsteps. The Chapman family bought Willisham Farm and Offton Castle Farm and the two brothers farmed the surrounding lands. Paul soon got involved with the parish council and on Mr. Fiske’s suggestion also became a district councillor, a post he held for many, many years.Paul also became a member of the village hall management committee and took part in all the activities. A great success in the early days of the hall were the ballroom dances where Mr. & Mrs. Freeman who lived in ‘The Mutton’ were the envy of everyone. They danced beautifully and often gave the youngsters dance lessons. But there was also a lady who had a waltz around the hall on her 90th birthday. This was Mrs. Spring who lived in Channel Cottage, Offton and lived to be 104. The bands playing at these dances came from Ipswich and charged £6 10shillings, but if someone could pick up one of the band members they only charged £5. When the bands became more expensive the committee asked Paul if he could play the music on his radiogram, which he did. So it was Mr. Paul Chapman who held the 1st Disco at the hall.
Many others dedicated their time to the hall over the years. Maurice Holder, for instance,was treasurer for many years. He introduced Bingo to the village. Together with Freddy Dickerson he raised many funds in that way. Mrs. Ellis was also one of the early members probably responsible for the flower decorations of the hall at the opening event. Mrs. Eva Thorpe spent hours and hours at the hall cleaning it and stoking the old stoves. Mr. Michael Tollemache moved into the village in the early ’70s and immediately offered his help in running the hall. Several village hall fetes were held in his beautiful garden and furrow draws on Willisham Hall land were also organised by him. When Betty Green retired as post mistress Mrs. Tollemache presented her with gifts from the villagers at the village hall. In 1975 the new St. Mary’s Close brought an influx of inhabitants and new people came forward to help. Eddy Green and Richard Hawes, Ian Dickson, Sue Tricker and Lin & David Scofield, Marita & John Clarke, Charlie Peace and Chris Jones and lots more, like Miss Upton, Cathy Stafford, Steve Martin, Colin & Silke Pinson-Roxburgh, and Tony Webber. By the ’80s there was a great community spirit.
Percy Thorpe and the Village Hall
Percy’s mother Eva came to Offton in 1935 with her seven children. She cleaned for the vicar and naturally also volunteered to aid the village hall. She cleaned and kept the coal stoves in the middle of the hall stoked up at events. However the stoves were very temperamental, puffing out smoke, and Eva cursed them on many occasions.
With his mother involved it was no wonder that Percy soon got involved by helping Tom Griffith with running the youth club. Percy told us that the original lights in the hall were tilly lamps that hung from long hooks in the ceiling and later a generator supplied electricity. He also recalled the time when he was almost nicked by the local bobby. He had gone to the hall late one evening to empty the buckets (no such thing as flush toilets then) and had taken a torch rather then put the lights on. He heard footsteps there was a tap on the shoulder and then: “Hello, hello, what have we here?” And Percy was caught with the evidence in his hands!
The progress of the hall was one of constant worry over repairs. Right from the start there were drainage problems, because in order to keep the costs down they had omitted to fit gutters. Then the roof needed attention and the floor was damp. Hence at intervals more grants were applied for. In 1963 the NCSS were eager to dispose of their stock and the villagers were given the option to purchase the hall. Up to that point they had been paying an annual rent. They could obtain it for £80 which was just 40% of its value and Mr.Fiske paid £50 towards it. In 1969 the piers needed to be rebuilt and yet again Mr.Fiske contributed £50. He really was a great benefactor. In 1975 flush toilets were added and the troublesome stoves were replaced with a better heating system. The bank was dug out to help with the problem of the damp floor and this was done mostly through self help. Ray Roxburgh was an experienced digger driver and made short work of a difficult job, and the others watched shovel in hand
The New Hall
In the 1980s it became apparent that the building would need to be updated; repairs were no longer an option. Plans for a new hall were set in motion. It was in connection with a new development in the village that the opportunity for a new village hall plot and building became reality and agreements were made. However in the intervening time a recession set in and it was not until 2000 that the new houses were sold. The agreement for a village hall plot remained, but the funds needed to build the hall had escalated to an extent that the cash payment made years earlier was not sufficient to build a hall.
By 2010 enough grant funding had been procured to erect a new building and Suffolk Sheds had been commissioned to do the work. They prefabricated a wooden building as designed by the committee and the architect and put it up on the site.
A diary of the build progress
- 19 June 2009: Exploratory work on the site
- 19 November 2009: Diggers start to clear the site
- 30 November 2009: the site is levelled and a drive is created
- 20 December 2009: Snow covers the new site
- 13 January 2010: Drainage is installed
- 25 January 2010: A rough car park is laid down
- 09 April 2010: A concrete road is made for access to the site
- 15 June 2010: the foundations of the hall building were laid
- 18 September 2010: Electricity lines need to be put under ground on site
- 27 November 2010 External cladding is started
- 25 December 2010 The hall is standing, very cold temperatures and snow impede progress
- 12 February 2011 The cladding and roof are completed; work continues indoors
2011 – OfFicial Opening
Official Opening of the New Hall -15 October 2011
The opening event was a very successful day. All villagers were invited to this afternoon when the committee welcomed all benefactors, contractors, supporters, and helpers who have contributed to the successful building of this wonderful new facility in the village. The afternoon was celebrated with dignitaries making speeches and the guests being able to see the completed building. There were refreshments and toast made to the hall and also to Percy Thorpe who had cut the ribbon and declared the hall officially open.Lots of villagers came to see the hall on this special day. In the evening a jolly time was had dancing to ‘Spit and Polish’ who ably conducted a barn dance.