Over the years when I have reminisced about the Village Hall I have remarked to myself and others that it was bordering on a ‘near miracle’ how we achieved it. Call it Divine Providence or a lot of luck if you like but these elements ran through many years of effort and endeavour.
On looking back over old records, I am surprised to find it was 1944 (not 1945) when the idea of a village hall was first mooted, and I now quote from a booklet, “A Report on the History of Plumley Village Hall Fund”, published and sent to every parishioner in 1953. More about this later, but to quote:
“Let us go back to 1944 which was our beginning. You will remember the SAVINGS WEEKS, the ARP, the Home Guard, the spirit of co-operation and unity at home to help the Boys at the Front to win the War. Out of this spirit the idea of a Village Hall was born. It was felt by two or three parishioners that when the SAVINGS WEEKS were ended we could still continue our activities for some ideal which would benefit all of us. Hence the Village Hall Fund“.
Senior citizens will remember that 1944 was the turning point in World War II. The invasion of Europe by the Western Allies on ‘D’ Day – 6 June 1944 – had succeeded. Hitler and the German Armies were being pushed back in the West and the Russians were winning and advancing on Berlin from the East. The years of darkness over Europe were lifting.
Suddenly the new idea was born – at the inspiration of two or three parishioners. The Parish Council in those days was remote and almost unknown as regards ‘parochial’ events and there were no associations whatever in the village to sponsor the idea as groups.
I remember vividly a Bring and Buy Sale of produce or anything else, laid out on the field at the side of the Post Office and Shop. We had an opening ceremony. Cecil Hodgkinson was a real country character – small, compact, a ‘Wee Georgie Wood’ type, always out for a ‘lark’. He was the auctioneer and arrived in State in a little donkey cart pulled by Joe Shore’s donkey. It was an impressive sight to see Cecil attired (or adorned) in near white breaches, long tails, and a tall shiner. Needless to say, the bidding was brisk and £180 was raised in no time.
Then followed a dance at the Smoker Inn which was another success and raised £200. So the originators of the Village Hall project were becoming embarrassed with the money made in so short a time, and a parish Meeting was called on 30 November 1944. Did we want a Village Hall? The vote was unanimous. “Yes”.
In May 1945 – V.E. Day – the War in Europe came to an end and Cecil Hodgkinson with fellow farmers set about having an agricultural Show and Pony Gymkhana. This was doing things in a very big way and eyebrows were raised but none of us knew it would be held on V.J. Day (Victory over the Japanese) which took place in August 1945. Glorious weather and a great crowd (2,000-3,000) came to celebrate the final end of World War II. The expenses of the show where heavy but a handsome profit of £254 was made. The first Show became the forerunner of a Plumley Gymkhana and Flower Show held annually on August Monday for nearly 20 years.
For 10 years from 1944 to 1954 the Village Hall project was a dream and a target for many efforts in the village, mainly the Gymkhana and Flower Shows. These were mostly held on three fields – due to crop rotation- on John Williamson’s land at the Crossways – Pinfold Lane corner. And what marvellous luck or providence we had during the 19 years I was Hon. Treasurer. We never made a financial loss.
I remember in 1956 a tremendous thunderstorm on the morning of the Show and people said “That’s it”, but the sun shone brightly in the afternoon and the Show field was peat ground and porous. On other occasions steady rain developed in the late evening ‘when the cash was in the bag’ and other shows in Cheshire had been washed out. The popularity of the Show was increased year by year. Charlie Casson, our Station-Master and Chairman for many years of the Show, kept statistics which were very illuminating.
Immediately after the War petrol was strictly rationed and if you had a ration it was not for pleasure. Consequently, at our first Shows, there would be only 20 cars or less bringing invalids entitled to a special ration. In contrast to this, we had 400 or more cycles in the cycle park and the trains from Knutsford and Northwich and beyond were packed. Plumley Moor Road was Piccadilly for one day a year. With the lapse of years the cycle and car statistics were reversed. 500 cars and 50 cycles. All this is very interesting to show the social changes in our way of living.
As I have said, all the Shows in my time made a profit. On several occasions £500 or £600 was the handsome result and quite soon the Trustees of the Fund had £3,000 which was frozen or untouchable until the Hall was built.
During the years that the Fund was increasing the Village Hall Committee got in touch with Mr Cottam, Secretary at Chester of the Cheshire Rural Community Council, and we were given all the wisdom culled from the building of village halls in other parts of the County – many of these were built before the War at fantastically low prices. We were given the Model Rules and Regulation (called a ‘Trust Deed’) for Village Hall Committees, drawn up by the National Council of Social Service. When the Trust Deed was executed it had to be approved by the Minister of Education for the simple reason that, under the Education Act of 1944, he was empowered to make grants of money for the social and cultural development of Adult education.
For 9 years (1944/53) the Village Hall project was the mainspring of all social events in the parish and, as I have said, £3,000 was accumulated. This was a vast sum in those days when one could buy a decent house for £1,000/£1,500. It represented £1 each day made during the long wait for the Hall to be built. Eventually, at the Annual Parish Meeting of the Fund, impatience and criticism were expressed and this was made more so by the Government and National crises of 1949 and 1951. Grants and licences to build were temporarily stopped.
The frustration increased. Why couldn’t we have a ‘wooden hut’ built without a grant? The committee were steadfast against this idea and decided to send a booklet, “The History of the Village Hall Fund”, to every household in the parish – particularly for the benefit of those people who did not come to the Annual Meeting. It was sent out in 1953 and signed by Ken McDougall, the Chairman of the Main Committee for many years – asking parishioners to be patient and a Hall worthy of all the effort would soon be built.
In the early years we (the Committee) had been looking for a site. Even the small field between the railway and the Golden Pheasant had been considered but what a disaster this would have been if the Hall had been built there. The present site is ideal and how lucky (or provident) we were to get it. Mr Thomas Moore, who lived in South Drive, below the station bridge, owned the farmland where Yew Tree Road (Archer’s Estate) and Moorcroft are now in being. He offered us the actual site of the Hall for a peppercorn rent and lease of £1 a year. He didn’t give us the land in case the project fell through. Eventually Mr Moore died and his widow offered us the Hall site for a commuted sum of £20 and, where the tennis courts are now for £180. Consider this generous and give-away offer – and what the land would be worth later as building plots for housing. The site is also beneficial as a car park for the Hall and the Methodist Church.
The building of the Hall was completed in 1954 without a grant and, from memory, I think it cost £5,500. I know that £2,500 was guaranteed by the Committee and this latter sum was paid off in less than 6 years from the Show profits. The Hall was opened in November 1954 by Lady Leese, formerly Miss Margaret Leicester-Warren of Tabley.
I could write much more about the all-embracing social activities which the Hall makes possible. Many parishioners live a peaceful retired life in our midst and do not use the Hall – but, to the rest of us, it is an extra room to our house. Certainly outsiders appreciate the Hall to judge by the many bookings and events. The Hall is the ‘hub’ of the Village and an unqualified success.