Felbridge Village halls
This document traces the history and development of the two village halls that have been erected in Felbridge, the reasons behind their construction and the local clubs and societies associated with them. It does not cover the history of the Recreation Ground in which the current Village Hall stands which will form part of a future paper on the Recreational Grounds of Felbridge. This document has been compiled with the use of newspaper cuttings, the minute books of the Felbridge Parish Council, contemporary correspondence and the memories of Felbridge residents, past and present.
Until 1911, Felbridge had been a gentlemans estate, and anyone who lived in Felbridge was only here because they worked on the estate. The estimated population for Felbridge had been constant at about 315 since at least the mid 19th century. Any large scale social events were organised by either the Gatty family of Felbridge Park or the church of St John the Divine and in both cases provision of the area in which to gather was supplied by the organiser, generally in the grounds of the vicarage. However, with the death of Charles Henry Gatty in 1903, the Felbridge estate was left to two male cousins who, although they did not reside there, kept the estate intact until 1910 before they sold it to Emma Harvey, the wife of property developer Percy Portway Harvey [for further information see Handout, 1911 Sale of the Felbridge Estate, SJC 01/11].
In March 1911 a large portion of the Felbridge estate was auctioned for development thus beginning the break-up and sale of the estate and a growth in the population of Felbridge. The initial increase in population was disrupted by the First World War, even so, by 1918 part of Rowplatt Lane had already been developed as private housing and in the 1920s houses began to appear along Crawley Down Road and Copthorne Road, as well as along Woodcock Hill and the Wiremill area.
It is from the memories of Dora Wheeler (a former resident of Felbridge whose family had been in the area since 1823) that the first reference to the need for a hall for the growing community of Felbridge can be found. Dora compiled a Scrap Book on Felbridge and she writes: 1920, Felbridge had no Village Hall so an army hut was purchased, but as no site had been found to erect it, it deteriorated. After raising monies by Whist Drives, Fetes and donations, a portion of Harts Hall land was bought and the St Johns (Felbridge) Institute was opened by Lady Elvedon in March 1924.
Other sources suggest that the land for the St Johns (Felbridge) Institute was secured by Ivan Margary of Yew Lodge, Felcourt, a benefactor of Felbridge and patron of St Johns Church. What is known is that collections to build up a Village Hall Fund were started in 1922. Another former resident, Minnie Back [for further information see John Vestey in Handout, Three More Biographies for the Churchyard of St John the Divine, SJC 09/10] recalled that the Felbridge community had an enormous job to get the money for the building but we got there in the end and that before the building was opened they used the school for social gatherings. Eventually the money was raised but then there was some difficulty in acquiring a suitable site. However, after several failed attempts, part of the grounds of Harts Hall was purchased from Mr P Morgan on 23rd September 1923, with further land made available for purchase in 1928.
St Johns (Felbridge) Institute
A Board of Trustees was set up (registered in 1960 under the Charities Act as L.110761-11), with Ivan Margary as its President, and an Executive Committee, headed by Cecil Courtney Chorley of Retford, North End, Felbridge, was also formed to progress the construction of the Institute. Cecil Chorley had moved to the Felbridge area in 1919 after his purchase and establishment of Felbridge Nurseries Ltd. with the Hon. Rupert Guinness and Percy Machin [for further information see Handout, Little Gibbshaven, SJC 07/08]. The chosen architect was Harry C R Nightingale of The Jungle, Baldwins Hill, and the builders were Messrs. T and G Smith of East Grinstead. Unfortunately it has not been possible to determine the cost of the construction of the Institute, which was situated on the south side of Copthorne Road until its demolition to make way for the development of Mulberry Gate in 2009. However, it was opened by Lady Elvedon on 19th March 1924, and in the opening speeches, Cecil Chorley said he hoped the people of Felbridge would support the Institute as it belonged to them. He also said that although the building was not strictly speaking a War Memorial, he urged the public not to forget in their gladness, the men who left Felbridge and never returned.
It should be remembered that at the time, the events of the First World War were still very fresh in peoples memories and a few facts and figures can help show the impact suffered by the community of Felbridge. In 1913, Felbridge had a population of 293 and during the war years lost at least seventeen young men, with a possible two others unaccounted for, so on this basis Felbridge lost 6% of its total population during the First World War and, presuming that about half of the population were males, Felbridge lost 12% of its male population. Considering the average life expectancy in Felbridge in the early 1900s was 60 (from burial data) and the age for conscripted service was 18 to 50 by the end of the War, Felbridge had lost 2 in every 9 males who were eligible for war service [for further information see Handout, War Memorials of St John the Divine, SJC 07/02v]. So it would seem fitting to dedicate the new Institute to their memory.
There are no surviving plans of the Institute but by using a combination of old interior photographs and exterior photographs taken just before its demolition together with the memories of local residents who used the building it is possible to build up a description. The building was rectangular in design, built of red brick under a roof of large square grey flat tiles set at a 45 degree angle, with two large and two smaller Crittall-type windows set with cottage-style panes in both the front and back walls. There is evidence to suggest that the main entrance was originally through a central door under a small gabled porch in the front wall. From map evidence and later newspaper articles there was a small kitchen attached to the rear of the Institute but from a photograph taken in 2008 there was a small platform of red brick (the same as the main building) adjoining the back wall. There were only three courses surviving of the old brick-work with new brick-work above suggesting that when the Institute was extended in 1958 the original kitchen walls were demolished and re-built in the same brick as the rest of the extension.
The front and back walls of the Institute had projecting brick piers symmetrically placed to give enough strength for the single skin brick wall to support the roof. Along the ridge of the roof, and dividing the length roughly in thirds, were what appear to be two chimney stacks. These may have had some connection with an early heating system, possibly two free standing coal/coke boilers, or may have been for ventilation. The Institute appears to have been designed to blend in with the existing building to the west that had originally been part of the stables and coaching complex that belonged to Harts Hall [for further information see Handout, Harts Hall, SJC 07/05], with its red brick walls, cottage style window and grey roof, although that building had a grey slate roof.
A description of the Institute comes from the memory of Tony Jones, a former member of the Institute Executive Committee who was associated with the building from the l940s until its closure in 1965:
The Institute was fairly basic in design and rectangular in shape about 25 feet [7.7m] wide by about 60 feet [18.5m] long running east/west and parallel to, but set slightly back from, the Copthorne Road. There was a small kitchen about 10 feet x 6 feet [3m x 1.8m] attached to the rear at the west end. Adjacent to the front wall was a space between the Institute and the public footpath in which users of the hall could leave their bicycles but as time went on and cars became affordable they parked along the roadside. The main entrance into the building was from a door at the west end of the building, flanked by the ladies toilet to the left and the gents to the right, with a storage shelf above. Two further doorways/fire exits were located in the front wall, the original main entrance and one to the east of it (adjacent to the wings of the stage), with another fire exit in the back wall just before the passage leading to the kitchen.
Inside there was a wooden planked floor with a raised stage at the east end of the hall that was 10 feet [3m] deep and 20 feet [6m] wide, with a 3 feet [1m] extension that could be added to its front, with steps leading up to the stage from the kitchen area and from front stage right. Changing facilities were cramped, the ladies using the kitchen whilst the men had a small area stage right at the top of the steps. Later I made a set of free standing steps for the front stage centre. Stage lighting was operated from the storage area above the entrance at the east end. There was a piano but this was kept on the stage and had to be lifted down into the hall area when the stage was in use. There was a passage way either side of the stage, one leading to exit onto the Copthorne Road and the other to the kitchen area.
The interior decoration consisted of a dado rail about 3 feet [1m] off the ground with dark paint below and white or light paint above, straight onto the brick I think. Heating had originally been free standing gas-fired radiators that left a lot to be desired; later six hanging gas heaters resembling up-turned flying saucers were fitted to the ceiling, three on each side of the hall. I dont know what the original lighting was but in its later life the hall area was fitted with fluorescent tubes. There was also a picture of Ivan Margary that hung on the wall to the left of the central fire exit in the front wall. The kitchen was very basic with just a cooker and a sink and drainer situated under a window in its east wall next to a door leading out to the rear of the building and later to the new extension.
From photographs taken in the 1950s the stage appears to be flanked by large wooden panels that screen the passages mentioned above and do not look in keeping with the original build suggesting that perhaps the stage was a later addition to the hall. Also, below the dado rail the walls appear to be panelled, with vertical dark stripes about every 2 feet (70cm), and curtains hang at all the windows.
Cecil Chorley neednt have worried about the community support as the Institute became a popular venue for Dances, Whist Drives and Social Evenings according to the memories of Dora Wheeler, and in November 1924 the Felbridge branch of the Womens Institute was founded who used the new Institute as their monthly venue. Dora Wheeler continues: Girls Clubs were started and in about 1943 Mr Hooper, with a committee, started Evening Classes under the Surrey County Council Education Department that operated for six years with seven classes. He also started a Youth Club which flourished for a period of time before giving way to drama and from that the Lake View Drama and Social Club started in 1948 [for further information see Handout, Lake View Drama Club, SJC 01/02]. They have been a wonderful team of young people who have put on some very enjoyable shows and are one and all a credit to the village. During the Second World War, a weekly market was held at the Institute where local residents could sell any excess produce as part of the Felbridge Village Produce Association, out of which grew the Felbridge and District Horticultural Society, founded in 1951 [for further information see Handout, Felbridge and District Horticultural Society, SJC 09/11]. In 1950 the 1st Felbridge (St Johns) Guides and Brownies were formed and they too held their weekly meetings at the Institute. Three years later the newly formed Felbridge Parish Council held its first meeting at the Institute in May 1953 and on 5th October of the same year, the Darby and Joan Club held their first meeting there.
According the Dora Wheelers memories, the Coronation Rooms came about after a public meeting was held to decide what to do with the excess money raised for the Felbridge Coronation celebrations of 1953 and the decision was made to put the money towards extending the Institute with the addition of a kitchen and committee room on the south side. Her husband, Charles Wheeler (one of the pioneers of the Institute and trustee since 1929), helped with the collection of money from the village towards the construction of these rooms. From an article in The EG Observer, Charles Wheeler was quoted as saying: At a public meeting in November 1953, under the chairmanship of Mr. Haynes, I was handed £149 6s 2d (the surplus from the Coronation Fund) and it was given with the request that we should collect money to build a Coronation Room. We accepted the challenge and apart from the £149, we collected £542 11s 5d by various functions. We invested that money and received interest of £31 14s 3d.
Plans were drawn up (the name of the architect has not yet been established but his fees were £26) and planning consent sort, which proved a challenge as the proposed extension was to be built over the county boundary. However, consent was eventually granted and work got under way. Entry into the extension was gained by knocking a doorway through the rear of the Institute, creating a new kitchen area leading to the proposed committee room, the extension being finally opened for use on Saturday 31st May 1958. An article from the local newspaper dated 6th June 1958, records:
Coronation Rooms opened
The two new rooms adjoining the Felbridge Institute were officially opened on Saturday by Mrs. [Minnie] Back, the wife of Mr. R. H. Back, chairman of Felbridge Parish Council. The rooms, to mark the Coronation, are the first additions to the building since it was erected 34 years ago.
After she had declared the rooms open Mrs. Back was presented with a bouquet of flowers by 11 year old Hazel Redman, a member of the village Girl Guide Company.
It was Mr. C. Wheeler, senior trustee of the Institute, who provided the packed audience with details of the fund.
Altogether the sum of £542 had been accumulated through village collections, an additional £149 came from the old Coronation Fund to make a total of £723.
A further grant, comprising one-third the total cost of the whole project, came from the Ministry of Education, said Mr. Wheeler. This increased the fund by £400.
The grand total of £1,173 just £50 short of the complete cost of the building. Mr. Wheeler told the meeting that it had always been his dearest wish to see the bill paid off before the work was completed.
Unfortunately this has not been possible, he said.
Where helpers were concerned Mr. Wheeler said that they were so numerous it would be impossible to mention everybody individually. He hoped they would all accept his deepest appreciation on behalf of the Institute Committee whatever part they played in the realisation of the new amenities.
The Vicar of Felbridge, the Rev. R. E. Theobald, referred to the completion of the new rooms as a great achievement for both villagers and the Institute Committee. Both had worked hard in their different spheres since the idea was first mooted by the committee in 1953, he told those present.
The additions to the Felbridge Institute include a new committee room with changing room, with considerable improvements to the adjoining kitchen. The latter has been modernised and refitted as an auxiliary part of the old building, linking it to the new.
After the opening ceremony a variety concert was held in which local organisations provided material for a series of sketches and dancing acts. This was organised by Mr. Tony Jones.
Those who took part were Lake View Drama Club, Felbridge Darby and Joan Club, the Parochial Church Council and the Womens Institute.
Asked it there were any other alterations or building additions planned for the future Mr. Wheeler displayed a plaintive smile and said: Not really, but we have been trying to get a car park at the Institute for some time.
Despite the halls increased size it is still not served by an adequate car park. Those who visit functions at the Institute in transport of their own must park their vehicles alongside the kerb with lights showing.
But it need not be our major problem, interrupted Mr. Wheeler. On the opposite side of the Felbridge Institute a grass verge, about 20 feet in width, runs alongside the road. Mr. Wheeler explained that representation has been made to the County Council to develop this ground as a car park, but it has been refused.
It would be a good thing if the County Council would send someone down to see just what it is like.
When people drifted away from the Institute at the end of the evening the 15 cars parked outside caused a temporary traffic jumble.
.. Mr. Wheeler just shrugged his shoulders; there was little he could do!
June 6, 1958
By 1960, time and usage had taken its toll on the older part of the Institute and Charles Wheeler, the out going chairman, reported in May at the annual meeting of the Institute Executive Committee that schemes had been discussed by the committee to improve the flooring. However, no practical solution had been found. The present floor would not stand another sanding and the cost of renewal was prohibitive. Mr Back, another member of the committee suggested that the floor should not have first priority and that money should be spent to improve the toilets. However, the major concern the Charles Wheeler still had was the lack of parking facilities at the Institute as in his opinion it was dangerous to have a long line of cars parked along one side of the road when the Institute was in use. His suggestion of using the grass verge opposite had been flatly turned down by the County Council as in their opinion vehicles coming off the verges on to the road would be more of a danger than a line of cars parked along the road.
From a newspaper article on the meeting it is obvious that the original Institute building was in need of improvement and re-decoration after forty years in use;
Discussion took place about the general condition of the hall and Mrs. C. Bardwell proposed that a meeting be called to enlist the support of organisations using the Institute to clean and re-decorate it. It was decided that this should be discussed at the next committee meeting.
Mrs. N. McIver, the newly elected chairman, said: People dont threat a public place as they would their own home. There is lack of community spirit in this respect in Felbridge.
Attention was also drawn to the problem of chairs damaged by the Institute users.
Miss Patricia Cliff presented the accounts. There was a balance in hand of £103 compared with £88 last year. The Lake View Drama Club and the Imberhorne Residents Association were the organisations using the hall most. Cleaning expenses at £59 were the largest on the payments side of the £278 account.
Tributes were recorded to the work of Mr. Wheeler, as chairman and Miss Cliff, who was re-elected treasurer.
Other elections were: president, Mr. I. D. Margary; secretary, Mr. F Wheeler; booking secretary, Mr. W. Bax; committee; Messers. A. Jones, R. Acason, A. Wenham, A. Adgerton, A. Cliff, Wing Comand. J. Phillips, Mesdames J. Pentecost, C. Bardwell and D. Martin.
May 6, 1960
In October 1960, Nancy McIver, chairman of the Institute Executive Committee, made the first moves towards building a new village hall by approaching the SCPFA (Surrey County Playing Fields Association) to see if they would be able to obtain a grant from them towards the cost of building a new hall. Felbridge had an ideal piece of ground three and a half acres of former meadow (now the site and grounds of the Felbridge Village Hall) that had been taken over in 1955 by GRDC (Godstone Rural District Council) at cost price from the previous owner on the condition that it be used as a recreational open space for the village. At the time of purchase, GRDC gave an assurance that should the need arise, a site for a new hall would be provided on it. To back up her case to the ACPFA for a new hall, Nancy McIver wrote:
Our present Hall, put up 40 years ago is very badly planned and lacking in any storage facilities. It is very noisy and very difficult to keep clean as it stands parallel to and only 12 feet from the busy highway. The site is very shallow and constricted and we can, with difficulty, park a maximum of seven cars off the road. There is no possibility of increasing this. The road is narrow and congested as a queue frequently forms outside of traffic waiting to get on to the A22 junction with the A22 (London-Eastbourne Rd) about 150 yards away.
We have a Darby and Joan Club meeting weekly, also Youth Club (about 35), Guides, Womens Institute and a Dram Club. Population of Parish is 1,400 1,500 and product of 1d rate £90 approx. We cannot provide adequate facilities for either young or old in our present hall.
The people here have always been held up as an example to other villages by the Godstone Rural District Council because they have always been willing and able to put in work to help themselves in any project of common interest
Unfortunately, the SCPFA replied that they were unable to give a grant towards the cost of a building as it only gave grants for outdoor recreational facilities and not indoor sports or for Village Halls.
In November 1960 Charles Wheeler, a founding member of the Institute Executive Committee and the chairman between 1934 and May 1960, resigned his position through ill health, although he still retained his position as a trustee which he had held since 1929. He had been one of the pioneers of the Institute and between sixty and seventy people attended his farewell event held at the Institute with entertainment provided by the Lake View Drama Club and members of the Company of Ten.
With an ever growing population in Felbridge and the lack of parking space available at the Institute, the need for a new Village Hall for the community was first publically mooted in March 1961, when the vicar, Rev. R Theobald broached the subject with the Felbridge Parish Council citing that the only parking space at the Institute was the pavement, and that in his opinion this situation was dangerous for pedestrians who were forced to pass on the busy road. A proposal that the Parish Council should look into the matter was moved by Mr W Kirk and seconded by the vicar. Voting was twenty five for the proposal of building a new hall and four against, which included Wing Com. John Phillips and Mr A C Wenham. Mr J F Laker asked about the future of the Institute and whether the profit from its sale could go into a fund for the new building. Charles Wheeler replied that it was a matter for the Institute trustees and would be discussed at the Institute annual meeting in May.
In December 1961 the Parish Council were in a position to report back to the Felbridge community about the proposition of a new village hall, although not all residents were in favour of the idea as the following newspaper article from The EG Courier clearly shows:
New village hall may cost £10,000
FELBRIDGE MEETING DISCUSSES PROJECT
A TOTAL of £10,000 might have to be raised if Felbridge wants a village hall. Mr. Richard Back, chairman of the parish council told over 50 people who attended the public meeting on Thursday to discuss the possibility of building a new hall. That sum, he added, would be needed to build a suitable modern community centre for the village.
The meeting in the village Institute was called by the parish council following a resolution at the annual parish meeting in March which stated that the possibility of a new hall should be investigated.
Mr. Back explained that the primary object of the proposal was to overcome the parking problem at the Institute.
He recalled that when plans were passed for the recreation ground, provision was made for the possibility of a new hall and a site marked for the building and a car park to accommodate 25-30 vehicles.
A suggested plan of the new hall included an entrance hall, toilets and storeroom, a kitchen with serving hatch to the hall, a stage with steps leading to ladies and gentlemens dressing rooms and toilets and a committee room.
Referring to the money question. Mr. Back said there were four ways of raising the necessary sum: (1) the parish council could raise a loan and the interest and expenses would be paid out of the rates; (2) the money could be collected by means of interest free loans; (3) collections could be made by subscribers on a share basis; (4) the amount could be raised purely by donations.
The parish council would be empowered to make a donation in each of the last three cases.
He said the question of control would have to be considered seriously. If collections were made privately then presumably the building would be run by trustees as in the case of the Institute, but if the council raised a laon then they would have control.
On the maintenance question the council could make a donation every year but they could not by law enter into an agreement to pay a required annual subscription.
Mr. Back estimated that the building could cost anything from £7,000 to £10,000.
He suggested that if it was decided that anew hall was needed a committee should be elected to investigate plans, tenders, methods of raising money etc., and report back to the next years annual parish meeting on March 22.
He suggested that money should be raised privately, as repayment of capital would have to come out of the rates and so would the cost of a financial deal, which might mean a stamp duty of anything up to £100.
Secretary of the Institute executive committee, Mr. R. G. Sheffield, asked Mr. Back if it was true that, if a new hall was run privately, the Minister of Education would be prepared to provide a grant of one-third of the cost of the building and equipment.
Mr. Back replied that this was so, but it was entirely dependent on the type of hall, the cost and who would run it.
Could money from the sale of the Institute be used for a new one, Mr. R. G. Sheffield asked, and he was told that probably the trustees would be willing to sell it and as the money really belonged to the village presumably it could be used.
I cannot see why we want a new hall, commented another resident. Surely it is just a car park we want.
Dont think I am reactionary, but this hall seems to me to be sufficient for a small community, said Mr. Harman.
One advantage, Mr. Back pointed out, would be an improved stage.
Mr. T. Scorer considered that in ten or 20 years time the Institute would be in a very poor way. How long did Mr. Harman expect it to last, he asked.
Mr. Bax, who is a member of the Institute committee, said that the hall was always fully booked and complains were continually received about the kitchen.
The thing that worried Mr. H. H. Ford was maintenance costs. A former treasurer of the Institute, he said that the committee was made almost bankrupt by having to pay a caretaker £2 a week.
Mr. Back replied that the parish council was empowered to levy up to a 4d. rate and if it was decided to maintain the hall by trustees the council would willingly make a contribution every year which could be a 2d. rate (about £200).
Do you think there are any prospects of raising 10,000 privately? asked Mr. B. T. Foss. I dont.
Mrs. N. W. McIver, chairman of the Institute committee, said accommodation was difficult at the Institute, there was no storage room and there were kitchen difficulties. Nowadays, she said, one must look ahead a long way.
A villager commented that it was all very well to talk about the young people but they were not the ones who would foot the bill or pay the rates.
Mr. A. J. Edgerton said he thought there was going to be a very serious accident outside the Institute at any moment owing to the parking difficulties.
It was unanimously agreed to appoint a committee and the following were elected: Mrs. N. W. McIver, Mr. R. G. Sheffield, Mr. T. Scorer, Miss P. Quilley, Mr. W. G. Bax, Mr. Beale, M. R. Atkin, Mr. A. R. Kirke.
Mr. Back was thanked by Mr. Harman.
December 1, 1961
As a post script, Nancy McIver wrote in her Press Cuttings book: We never asked for or received any money from the rates.
Extracts from the Minute Book of the Felbridge Parish Council detail that on Thursday 23rd November 1961, fifty six Felbridge residents attended a meeting to discuss the possibility of building a new Village Hall. Following an introductory address by Richard Back, the chairman of the Parish Council, the matter was opened for discussion. It was finally decided to elect a committee to Investigate Plans and Type of Hall and Prospect of Financial ways and means and Report at the Annual Parish Meeting. The elected committee consisted of; Mrs N W McIver, Mr R G Sheffield, Mr T Scorer, Miss P Quilley, Mr W C Bax, Mr R Atkin and Mr A R Kirk. The committee reported back to the Annual Parish Meeting held on Thursday 15th March 1962, attended by seventy-five Felbridge residents. The report was introduced by Ralph Sheffield on behalf of the committee, and with the aid of plans and charts, Mr T Atkin described the suggested design and lay out of the proposed Hall together with its estimated cost in the region of £12,000. This presentation was followed by a full discussion in which Charles Wheeler and Mr Harman expressed their opinion that it would cost much less to make the existing Institute adequate to meet requirements. Eventually the proposal That the Committee should proceed to implement the matter and do such acts and things as may be necessary to procure a New Village Hall, the motion being carried with just five against.
From Dora Wheelers Scrap Book, the St Johns (Felbridge) Institute that had been built with public money in 1924 was eventually sold in June 1965 for £4,000, the money going towards the construction of the new Village Hall, therefore on this basis the Institute trustees must have been in favour of putting the money raised from the sale of the old Institute into the fund for the new Felbridge Village Hall. As for the old Institute, it was sold for use as a warehouse, as permission to build houses on the site had been refused by the East Grinstead Urban District Council. It then spent much of its remaining life as Southways House, a storage unit for the Southways Presentation Print company until the site (along with Strath Cottage adjoining the rear of the Institute grounds) was purchased by property developers, being replaced by a gated development of six houses known as Mulberry Gate in 2009.
Felbridge Village Hall
By the end of 1962 the project to build the new Felbridge Village Hall had begun in earnest and the site was secured on the three and a half acre recreational ground off Crawley Down Road. By 15th November 1962 plans for the new hall had been drawn up by Frank Senior, ARIBA, of Lowfield Heath, Crawley, Sussex, and in true Felbridge fashion fund raising began. Once again the community supported various fund raising events including the annual Summer Fete, which was the traditional way in Felbridge to raise money for large projects (later used to subsidise the hire charge for hall users).
The original plans placed the new hall with its longest side parallel with the eastern boundary but in the final version the hall was rotated by 90 degrees, with the front entrance on the longest side running parallel to the Crawley Down Road. When designing the new hall, consideration had to be taken into account of the already existing clubs and associations that used the old Institute as well as potential new users of the hall. Therefore it was designed with a stage and suitable changing rooms and with a capacity for a 226 seated audience that was ideal for the Lake View Drama Club and large enough to accommodate a badminton court for the Felbridge Badminton Club. There were large doors at the rear to allow for easy access of props and scenery, with storage under the stage once in the building. Room 2 (Committee Room) situated off a corridor behind the stage allowed space for changing, with a proposed folding partition to separate men from women (although this never materialised and a curtain hung on a pole sufficed when the Lake View Drama Club was active). Storage cupboards, missing at the old Institute, were incorporated into the design, one allocated to each club and association that regularly used the premises. A substantial kitchen with serving hatches to two areas, Room 1 (Ante Room, Bar or Supper Room) and the hall was also incorporated, ideal for the Over 60s Lunch Club or any other group requiring catering facilities, and with hatches to the two rooms this would accommodate large or small functions.
The west end wall of the hall, clad in cedar, was designed to allow for a two-storey extension should it be found necessary at a later date. This proposed future extension measured 10ft 6ins/3.2m by 32ft/9.8m, large enough to accommodate an extra 64 seated audience. What is now the toilet for the disabled was originally designed as the mens lavatory that at a later date could be moved to what was the mens cloak room (the current mens toilets) providing a space to turn into a shower room for any future sports activities to be held within the grounds, which in 1962 was proposed as tennis courts.
Work started on 1st October 1964, but it was not an uneventful build as the Management Committee was soon to find out. Once work had begun it was soon discovered that what had been built during the day was knocked down over night and materials would also disappear from site. The solution was that about six Felbridge men took it in turns to guard the site at night and slowly the building took shape providing Felbridge with a new hall with more space, equipped with a decent kitchen, excellent stage facilities (with a lighting console), storage and, most importantly of all a car park with space for about thirty cars. With work nearing completion the Felbridge Village Hall Trust was set up to manage the hall for the future, registered on 16th July 1965 (Charity no. 305040) with the objectives to manage and make Provision of a village hall for the use of the inhabitants of Felbridge and the neighbourhood, providing a building/facilities/open space for arts/culture/sport/recreation, for the general public including children/young people and elderly/old people.
The hall was officially opened on 2nd October 1965 by the president of the Felbridge Village Hall Management Committee Ivan Margary, supported by committee members including Nancy McIver (chairman), Ralph Sheffield (secretary) and Pat Quilley (treasurer), representatives of clubs and associations who were going to use the facilities, the vicar Rev. L E W Walters, as well as other local dignitaries including Bill Bax (chairman of the Felbridge Parish Council), Vaughan Morgan (local MP) and Godfrey Forward (District Councillor).
The first users of the new hall were the already established Felbridge clubs and associations including the Womens Institute, Lake View Drama Club, Darby and Joan Club, Over 60s Lunch Club, the Felbridge Guides and Brownies, Felbridge and District Horticultural Society [for further information see Handout, Felbridge and District Horticultural Society, SJC 11/11] and the Felbridge Parish Council [for further information see Handout, Civil Parish of Felbridge, SJC 03/03]. These obviously gave a guaranteed income but to increase this income it was suggested that the Roshe School of Dancing, who had recently relocated from Claygate in Surrey to the Parish Halls in East Grinstead, may like to move their school to the new hall [for further information see Handout, Roshe School, SJC 11/04]. This offer was accepted and the Roshe Performing Arts School has made the hall its home for the last forty-seven years. To this list of established hirers came the Felbridge Badminton Club formed in 1966, shortly after the opening of the new hall.
Two years after opening, a report in the local newspaper outlined what had been achieved and how the Village Hall Management Committee hoped to expand the use of the new hall:
FAMILY SOCIAL CLUB PLANNED FOR HALL
Plans to extend the used of Felbridges new village hall were outlined last Thursday at the second annual meeting.
One suggestion was for a family social club giving residents an opportunity to enjoy their hobbies within the community. Putting forward the idea, Mr. J. C. Walker, booking secretary, said membership could be individual or family and would enable people to take part in group activities of their own choice for which it was not practical to forma a separate club in the village.
He gave music, bridge, photography and debating as examples.
The chairman, Mrs. N. McIver, reported the hall was now regularly booked every weekday night except Monday, and it was hoped that this evening might be set aside for a youth club. She also told the meeting that the committee room was not being put to as much use as it could and she said it was possible that a post-natal clinic would be opened there, using the ladies room and the ante-room as well.
This would obviate mothers going to Lingfield and East Grinstead, which they have had to do for many years, she said.
Mrs. McIver said the Management Committee had met four times during the year and much of its time had been spent forming rules and a set of charges. This has not been easy, as we do not know how much the hall will be used, she said.
In additions to the regular bookings, the hall had been used for dinner-dances, film shows and similar functions.
Mr. Ralph Sheffield, secretary, said that the badminton club was to start a junior section and would like to hear from anyone interested in Saturday morning instruction sessions for young people between 12 and 16.
On the subject of financing the hall, Mr. Sheffield said the final cost had been fixed at £16,850 16s 2d., not including expenses such as architects fees and furniture.
He reminded the meeting there was still a debt of £2,000 to the National Council of Social Service to be paid and he said more general funds were needed to keep the hall running.
Three schemes had been devised to raise funds: covenant and patron systems and what Mr. Sheffield described as a 200 club. This would consist of 200 members each holding a ticket worth £1 a month, yielding £2,400 every year. There would be a draw at the end of each 12 months with two prizes of a mini-car.
In addition there would be a monthly draw for a prize of £10 worth of premium bonds and each member would be entitled to a dinner and dance ticket at a London hotel. The final profit of £430 would go towards paying off the debt.
A report by the treasurer, Miss Par Quilley, showed a balance in hand on the annual accounts of £415 14s 5d.
Part of Mrs. McIvers report referred to the gifts made to the hall, which included a pair of stage curtains from the Lake View Drama group, £25 from the Womens Voluntary Service and Darby and Joan Lunch Club, and other anonymous donations.
Both Mrs. McIver and Mr. Sheffield said they would be retiring as chairman and secretary, and new officers are to be elected at the next Management Committee meeting. Mr. I. D. Margary was unanimously re-elected president.
Mr. Sheffield said that it in the future it might be possible to employ a secretary.
The re-elected Management Committee is: Mr. W. G. Bax (vice-chairman), Miss P. Quilley (treasurer), Mr. J. C. Walker (booking secretary), Mrs. S. G. G. Richardson (assistant secretary), Mr. A. J. Cliff (superintendent), Mrs. J. W. Pentecost, Mrs. N. Mackenzie, Mrs. A. Simone, Mrs. A. Cripps, Mr. D. Whittington, Mr. e. Ankers, Mr. D. E. Beale, Mr. I. G. Gibbs, Mr. F. L. Stevenson, Mr. W. E. Gale, Mr. G. E. Forward and Mr. J. W. Pentecost.
Members who will be representing village organisations on the committee are: Mrs. J. R. Weaver (Guides), Mr. A. Webster (Scouts), Mrs. R. E. Bingham (Brownies), Mr. C. R. L. Harrison (St John Ambulance), Mr. J. C. Beresford (Conservatives), Mr. R. N. Whimshurst (Darby and Joan, W.V.S., Over 60s Lunch Club), Mr. F. H. Pye (badminton club), Mrs. F. Warner (W.I), Mr. G. Pollard (Lake View), Mr. C. E. Newton (horticultural society), Miss M. G. E. Bailey (P.C.C.) and Mr. W. W. Steer (bowling club).
Local newspaper article, 1967
As a side note, the first set of stage curtains were gold velvet and had come from the old White Hall cinema in East Grinstead that had been bombed during the Second World War. They were altered to fit by members of the Lake View Drama Club, but try as they may they could not remove all the evidence of the bombing and a browned blood stain, although hidden from the audience, could be seen on one of the flyers by those who knew.
In 1967 a new club began to use the facilities at the Village Hall, the Felbridge Youth Club run by Malcolm Taylor, his assistant Ian Martin and management team that included Mr and Mrs John Yeates, and Mrs Joan Footman. Within two years the club had a thriving junior section involving thirty Felbridge people but had found that a distinct shortage of teenagers in the community meant they had to attract them from further afield. Activities offered included table-tennis, battington (mini badminton), nine-pin bowling and boxing. Outdoor activities included football and archery. A new venture to attract seniors was mooted in 1969 with the introduction of a disco once a month and live local band on the alternate fortnights.
By the late 1960s the hall was not only widely used by many village organisations but also by the wider public who held private functions there in one of the acclaimed best-kept village halls in Surrey. This statement was confirmed in 1970 when the hall won the Best Kept Surrey Village Hall competition, the plaque proudly mounted of the wall.
By 1972 enough money had been raised to install a state-of-the-art lighting system that would benefit any users of the stage, in particular the Lake View Drama Club who put on a pantomime every year together with regular variety and entertainment evenings [for further information see Handout, Lake View Dram Club, SJC 01/02]. Reporting on the achievement one of the local newspapers wrote:
There was an evenings entertainment in the Felbridge Village Hall on Thursday to display its newly acquired sophisticated lighting system.
Mr. Phillip Prior was master of ceremonies, his last official engagement as chairman of the Village Hall Committee before handing over to Mr. Bill Bax. In his introduction to the entertainment, Mr. Prior said: We now have the best stage lighting available in village halls in this country.
He mentioned the prizes the hall had won in the best kept village hall competitions, and stressed that it was the committees responsibility to make facilities available to the total area of benefit in and around Felbridge.
The entertainment included contributions from the Lake View Drama Club, the Roshe School of Dancing and an attractive collection of camp-fire songs from the First Felbridge St. Johns Guides and Brownies.
Mr. Tony Weaver, who operated the lights from the back of the hall, demonstrated the effective settings the system can produce.
The lights are the product of three years fund-raising and contributions from friends and users of the hall. The cost was nearly £500, but the value nearer £2,000.
June, 22, 1972
By the early 1970s the popularity of the hall had grown to such an extent that it was suggested that perhaps the committee should look into the feasibility of an extension. The result was the construction of the Gold Room (now known as the Club Room) adjoining the rear of the hall accessed off the end of the corridor that ran behind the stage, as well as through doors leading from the main hall. This arrangement would then allow the room to be used as an over-flow from the hall or, with the doors closed, a separate room detached from the hall. The plans for this new room were drawn up by Ken Housman of K Housman & Co. Ltd, whose building firm also completed the building work. It was paid for by a loan from Tony Jones, the total cost being £9,027. Once again the Felbridge community rallied round and raised the money to pay back the loan.
In the late 1970s it was suggested that perhaps Felbridge could do with a Residents Club and a feasibility study was carried out by a sub-committee headed by Ralph Sheffield. The reason for the study stemmed from the fact that the hall was heavily booked and that there was some demand, in particular that expressed at the Jubilee Ball , for a place where residents of the area could meet on a casual and informal basis, as and when they felt like it, with or without the need for a special effort of planning and organisation. It had therefore been suggested that a custom-built Club would be the ideal solution.
At some point along the way, outline planning consent was obtained from Tandridge District Council (TDC) but it has not yet been possible to determine who applied for it. For the application to be considered, TDC required some indication of the nature, purpose and benefit of the Club. It was felt by the committee that the Club would need to have resident supervision and thus the building would need stewards accommodation. Taking all aspects into account plans for a two-storey extension to the west side of the building were drawn up, incorporating the space originally envisaged for an extension. However, the proposed extension was quite a bit larger than originally envisaged adding 11.5m/38ft 4ins to the length of the hall, the new build being 19.5m/65ft deep.
However, many Felbridge residents were not in favour of the idea and several contemporary local newspaper reports show a growing opposition to the plan with over 400 signatures collected in protest against it, but perhaps the over-riding reason that the Club extension did not go a head was that it would have been at some considerable expense, and this time the people living in Felbridge, many new to the area, were not behind it.
The Felbridge Village Hall is a charitable organisation, administered by a Committee of Management as required by the Trust Deed governing the charity. The Committee, which is elected annually, consists of members who have been nominated by the Appointing Organisations scheduled in the Trust Deed to be their representatives and of members who because of their interest have offered their individual services.
The premises in trust and controlled by the Committee consists of the hall, the car park and the land immediately adjacent to the hall. The land which they cover is leased from TDC. The land to the north and west of the hall, which is outside the leased area, is the recreation ground which is the direct responsibility of the Council.
For the purpose of hire the hall is divided into five units: Main Hall (inclusive of stage, ante-room and kitchen), Club Room, Committee Room, Main Hall and Club Room and Whole building. The Vestibule or Entrance and Cloakroom facilities are used by several and separate hirers of other parts of the hall at all times during a period of hire.
The Felbridge Village Hall has recently had the kitchen re-fitted, has been re-wired, has had the front entrance replaced, along with several windows (with a timetable in place for the replacement of the remainder), and has been re-curtained and re-decorated. Outside the entrance into the car park has been widened to ease congestion and CCTV has been fitted for security of the hall and surrounding grounds. As to recent events, the Village Hall Committee, with a great deal of assistance from the local District Councillor, has successfully negotiated a commensurate annual rental with TDC as the building is a Charitable Trust with TDC as the trustee, they are therefore unable to charge anything other than the reasonable costs they incur during the year.
Over the years the Village Hall, like the St Johns Felbridge Institute in its time, has been the centre of village life seeing a plethora of clubs and associations come and go with just the Felbridge Parish Council, the Felbridge WI, the Felbridge and District Horticultural Society, the Lunch Club, and the Roshe School as the only remaining long standing hirers of the new hall since it opening. The hall still caters for private functions and all age groups and is now home to the clubs and associations associated with the needs of this generation: Fun and Friends Mother and Toddler Group, Stay and Play Pre-School, 1st Hedgecourt Scout Group, an assortment of fitness clubs including Aerobics Club, Exercises for the Older, Ladies Sports Morning and Pilates, the Ryusui-ryu Martial Arts School, and dance clubs including Line Dancing and Old Time Dancing, as well as the long standing hirers mentioned above.
The interior walls bear several plaques like badges of office reflecting the diverse community of Felbridge and regular hirers of the hall, past benefactors like Nancy McIver who regularly gave money for the halls up-keep, or commemorative plaques like Best Kept Surrey Village Hall 1970, and a large six-sided needlecraft picture commissioned by the Felbridge Parish Council and completed by various Felbridge clubs and associations in 2002 in celebration of the Queens Golden Jubilee. There are also various pieces of WI memorabilia around the hall including a needlework picture celebrating the Felbridge branch, a short poem about the Felbridge WI, a bench in the Vestibule celebrating their 70th anniversary and a weather vane on the gable at the east end celebrating their 75th anniversary and the Millennium. Either side of the stage can be found name boards, one showing all the names of the chairmen of the Felbridge Parish Council since its formation and the other the names of the Head Students at Roshe since 1980. There are also two pieces of Scout related memorabilia, a picture of the Queen and a plaque commemorating the visit by the 1st Hedgecourt Scout Troup to the Rheindahlen Garrison in October 1989, the trip organised by the then Scout Leader R Argyle and Captain GW Argyle RAOR.
St Johns (Felbridge) Institute
Parish and People, based on the notes of Ivan Margary, FHA
Handout, 1911 Sale of the Felbridge Estate, SJC 01/11, FHWS
Mrs Wheelers Scrap Book, FHA
Handout, Little Gibbshaven, SJC 07/08, FHWS
Handout, Three More Biographies for the Churchyard of St John the Divine, SJC 09/10, FHWS
Handout, War Memorials of St John the Divine, Felbridge, SJC 07/02v, FHWS
St Johns (Felbridge) Institute, local newspaper article, 19.3.1924, FHA
Felbridge Parish and People, 1976 edition, FHA
Handout, Harts Hall, SJC 07/05, FHWS
O/S map, 1933, FHA
Documented memories of A J W Jones (former member of the Institute Executive Committee), FHA
Served 43 years in gas industry, local newspaper article, 27.7.67, FHA
Handout, Lake View Drama Club, SJC 01/02, FHWS
Handout, Felbridge and District Horticultural Society, SJC 09/11, FHWS
1st Felbridge (St Johns) Guides Golden Jubilee 1950 - 2000
O/S map, 1999, FHA
Vision in 1953 becomes reality in 1958, article from The EGO, 6.6.58, FHA
Coronation Rooms, local newspaper article. 6.6.58, FHA
1922 Pioneer resigns at Felbridge, article from EGC, 6.5.60, FHA
McIver Letters, 1960, FHA
Felbridge people say Thank you, article from EGC, 25.11.60, FHA
Minute Book of the Felbridge Parish Council
Felbridge plans community centre, EGC, 23. 3.61, FHA
Felbridge wants community centre, Surrey Mirror, 25.3.61, FHA
Felbridge Village Hall
Nancy McIvers Press Cuttings Book, FHA
New village hall may cost £10,000, article from EGC, 1.12.61, FHA
Plans of the Village Hall, 1961 and 1964, FHA
Handout, Felbridge and District Horticultural Society, SJC 11/11, FHWS
Handout, Civil Parish of Felbridge, SJC 03/03, FHWS
Handout, Roshe School, SJC 11/04, FHWS
Family social club planned for hall, local newspaper article, 1967, FHA
Club plan Pop to boost membership, local newspaper article, 1967, FHA
Untitled local newspaper article, 22.6.72, FHA
A Village Hall Extension only by public request, article from EGC, 16.11.78, FHA
Opposition to hall extension grows, article from EGC, 8.2.79, FHA
Protest grows at Village Hall plan, article from EGO, 14.3.79, FHA
Feasibility study on a Residents Club, Dec. 1979, FHA
Texts of all Handouts referred to in this document can be found on FHG website: www.felbridge.org.uk