Norfolk's vibrant village halls
PUBLISHED: 10:45 03 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:45 03 October 2017
Village halls are at the heart of community life, their key-holders, caretakers, treasurers and bookings secretaries keeping village life flowing
An English village hall is a magnificent institution. With easy-stack chairs pushed to the edge of polished parquet, a hatch through to a kitchen brimming with coffee morning crockery, notice-boards announcing jumble sales and fitness classes, a curtained-off stage for am-dram and speeches, black-out blinds for cinema nights, it is the focus of the gatherings and gossipings of the village.
Village halls are home to playgroups and hobby groups, youth clubs and sports clubs, ballot boxes and ballet classes, family parties and community dramas. From cradle to grave, or toddler groups to funeral wakes, these unassuming buildings accompany villagers through everyday events, through the seasonal cycle of village meetings and celebrations and through family and national occasions and anniversaries.
Here in Norfolk we have halls which have been part of village life for centuries, and halls which are younger than this century.
One of the newest is at Thornham, near Hunstanton. When villagers were wondering who should open it they agreed to invite a neighbour to do the honours – and so Her Majesty the Queen declared the fine new building open.
Another new hall, at Filby, near Yarmouth, is used by groups ranging literally from a-z, or archery to zumba, via computing, gardening and theatre.
The oldest might well be at Bressingham, near Diss, where the village hall is housed in a 17th century barn. The hall at Baconsthorpe, near Holt, in the old village school, celebrated its 200th anniversary last year and at Langham, near Blakeney, the village hall has been at the heart of village life for more than 150 years. Recently renovated, following intensive fundraising, it remains an attractive hub hosting regular art classes, coffee mornings, parish council meetings, craft fairs, fundraisers and church and school activities.
At Marham, near Swaffham, today’s village hall was built as a school in the late 1800s. Converted into a hall in 1970 it is used by groups ranging from pre-school to handbell ringers. Another village hall originally built as a school in North Creake, near Fakenham, is on land given to the village by Earl Spencer. In 1933 the school was converted into a hall, identical to the one in his estate village at Althorp in Northamptonshire. Its constitution stated it was to be used for, ‘physical and mental recreation plus social, moral and intellectual development for the benefit of the inhabitants of the parish of North Creake.’ Still benefitting the inhabitants of the parish, and further afield, it has hosted The Creakes Drama Group, whose members include several with professional theatre experience and which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Village halls are often the focus of anniversary celebrations ranging from golden wedding parties to royal jubilees. They have their own anniversaries too, with Yaxham village hall marking 30 years at the heart of the community and villagers at Mileham, near Dereham, celebrating two village hall anniversaries. Whist drives and dances were the main fundraisers for the first Mileham Village Hall, which opened 60 years ago on land given to the village by the owner of the adjoining Burwood Hall. A prefabricated building was bought, foundations were prepared by volunteers and 100 folding chairs installed. After decades of service, the original building was damaged by fire and, after yet more fundraising, the rebuilt hall opened in 1997.
Fund-raising is vital to many of our village halls. At Newton Flotman, near Norwich, the village hall is more vital to community spirit and events than ever, as there is no longer a shop or pub. Lottery cash helped pay for new audio visual equipment with cinema evenings starting this summer. Village screenings have become increasingly popular across the county in recent years but the village hall in Geldeston, near Bungay, was built back in the 1920s to show films – and still fulfils that original purpose, as well as being the focal point for many more activities.
Across Norfolk, every village hall has its stories, of the people who have used and cared for them and of the buildings themselves. At Ranworth, near Norwich, the village hall is thatched and particularly pretty. The three villages of Weston Longville, Morton-on-the-Hill and Attlebridge share the thriving Hall for All.
And at Binham, near Holt, and Fincham, near King’s Lynn, the halls are memorials. The people of Fincham celebrated the 60th anniversary of Fincham Memorial Village Hall this year. It was built with money raised in gratitude for the end of the Second World War.
In Binham a new hall honours villagers who gave their lives in two world wars. Inside are the photographs of the Binham men killed in the First World War. They originally hung in the village school, which later became the hall. The portraits, and the name, moved to the fine new Binham Village Memorial Hall, the memory of the men preserved as new generations of villagers are free to enjoy preschool, football, fetes, pilates and painting.