by Paul Marshman
The inscription above the main exit of the Parish Hall reads ‘1914’ which was, as you expect, when it was built or opened. However, that part known as the Small Hall is somewhat older. Records show that it was built in 1899 as the Institute of Science, Technology and Art, doubling also as a meeting room, allegedly to replace an old railway carriage.
As far back as 1897, the Idsworth Parish Council wanted to take control of classes for Poultry Keeping and Woodwork for men, and Cookery and Nursing for women. Note, the words “boys” and “girls” were not mentioned, which is an indication of the true nature of this building. As early as 1810, Mechanical Institutes, also called Halls of Science, were established in the north of England as a means of self-improvement for adults. This was a result of the fact that the working population of largely uneducated adults could not perform the simple mechanical tasks required by the industrial revolution. Such institutes were replaced by 1903 or so. It is unlikely that our Small Hall was ever a school for village children.
Frank Stubbington, Edward Bastin, Francis Rook and George Rayment were instigators of the plan for the Institute and were its trustees. The site was leased from the Clarke-Jervoise estate at 18s (90p) a year. The plot was 30ft x 40ft when the building is shown on maps of 1911. It is also shown in the back ground of a postcard dated 1904. In 1911 the plot was increased to 100ft X 116ft.
There is no record in the minutes of the Idsworth Parish Council about the reasons for building the new hall. Work began in October 1913 and was completed by April 1914. The builders were Rogers Brothers, to a design by Vernon Inkpen, and cost £900 raised by public subscription. The ground rent was 5s (25p) a year for 5 years before rising to £2.10s.
The 1913 subscription list is on display in the foyer and it states it is the Parish Hall for Idsworth and North Havant. However, the records of North Havant Parish Council show that they met independently in the Reading Room at Durrants until they merged with Idsworth in 1932/3 to form the Parish of Rowlands Castle. In 1919 the trustees, Admiral O’Cal1aghan, Sir Frederick Fitzwygram and Colonel Frank Stubbington paid £65 for the freehold.
A possible reason for the 1913/14 building was an event as early as June 1902 when a villager made a complaint, possibly on legal grounds, that the Council meetings were being held on licensed premises (namely the Railway Hotel, now the Robin Hood) and the Council moved its meetings into the Technical Institute. It is not till 1916 that records state that a Council meeting was taking place in the Parish Hall by name, whether the Small or Large Hall is not known.
The independence of North Havant Parish Council can only be guessed at, but their records show that in April 1911 there was a meeting with Idsworth Council to discuss joint coronation celebrations, which Idsworth Council turned down. In January 1919 however, Idsworth that wrote to North Havant for a joint peace celebration. It is also North Havant that reports that the Small Hall was still in use as a technical room as late as 1910. Contrary to this, Idsworth suggest that by 1906 lessons were running down, and by 1908 had stopped.
The date 1914 did mean that other events took over and it is likely that the first public meetings were in April 1918 and March 1919 to discuss a war memorial for the village.
This is, however, not a complete record of each and every event, even if such a list existed.
In 1920, the Parish Council paid 10s (50p) for the yearly hire of the hall which was for only 6 meetings. In the same year, a shed was built at the rear of the hall for the storing of fire appliances. It was 2.5 x 6.5 x 6 ft and was placed against the rifle range. Built by Mr Pitt to a budget of £10, a rent of l/- (5p) a year was charged, payable by the Parish Hall Management Committee. The budget was increased in April 1921 to £25, but this included the fire appliances themselves. However, by May 1926, questions were asked at a Council meeting. along the line of “what was in the shed?”. Apparently, no one knew.
In later years, the village did have a volunteer fire brigade of its own with a fire engine and premises in the village. There is no record of another shed being planned or built but for certain a lean-to shed was behind the Hall in the 1970’s and a large mower was stored there. It was larger than 2.5 x 6.5 x 6 ft.
In February 1924, there was another public meeting to discuss a recreation ground was held, and a Playing Field Committee was set up. Some years later, in June 1929, there was a fund-raising fete for a hire charge £1.15s. The first mention of a cultural activity was in 1925 when the Rowlands Castle Players presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This group continued until 1934 or so but it appears to be the only time they or any of their successors attempted Shakespeare.
The Vestry and Parochial Church Council held a meeting in January 1926 to discuss the building of a church hall. This was the vestry of St Johns at Redhill of course. You would have thought such a meeting should have been held in the school or the reading room at Durrants, but the Hall was used. The church hall itself was finished on November that year and their future meetings were held there.
Since that event of 1902, Annual Parish Meetings and the Parish Council AGM were held in the Hall, not always with expected results. In 1927, the public attendance was nil – not the only time it happened – and the chairman expressed concern about villagers’ lack of interest.
The first mention of repairs is in 1938, made by CH Pitt at a cost of £56. 17s.6d with Mr Inkpen again the architect. The first AGM of the Football Club was held in September: they decided the team strip was green and black quarters, as it still was in the l950s. The following year, 1939, the rifle range is no longer used as such but is storage space. The rifle range was a long narrow room built into the main hall, in a position which is now on the left facing the stage. A little recorded cadet group is mentioned in the early years of the war.
During the war (1939-45) the Parish Council continued to hold their meetings in the Hall, and it was a place used for war-related displays and lectures, including one presented to the Rural District Council on air raid sirens and their location.
As is widely known, the village was a centre of activity at that time with allied troops everywhere. The Hall was in great demand to provide entertainment, especially in the months leading up to D-Day. There were many dances (hire-charge 3/6d (18p) but an additional 2/6 if the piano was used). Even after D-Day, those dances and entertainment continued, for in 1945 the Hall was booked 219 times. Regular usage continued however by a popular Badminton Club, the WI, the British Legion, the Choral Society and many others.
The most memorable use was by the Battersea boys evacuated from London. They arrived in September 1939 and stayed until June 1945. The boys were not boarders but lodged locally. However, they were taught by their own staff who provided an education probably better than village children were getting (according to village boys who also attended).
After the war, the stage was improved in 1949 – no details – but since 1925 drama had been a regular part of the Hall’s history. The Drama Circle (a group within the Conservative Association) performed in the 1950s and the Rowlands Castle Amateur Dramatic Society was formed in 1978. They provided entertainment, often 2 plays and a pantomime, for 30 years and made improvements to the stage and lighting.
The Parish Hall was approached in 1953-4 to provide a school room for St Johns as the village school was filled to overflowing. The Council could not agree, quoting a 1923 agreement that the Small Hall, formerly called the Technical Room (their words) could only be used for educational purposes of a technical nature. The County Council was not pleased, claiming they had made a grant of £50 toward the original building fund in 1913/14. The Parish Council’s adversary seemed to be the Parish Hall Management Committee, consisting of Councillors and two elected members, one of whom didn’t go to the meeting and one who was dead. The dispute was settled by 1957 when the Hall was used by St Johns for infant classes when building work at St Johns school made this necessary. An interesting side-line to the 1953/4 dispute was that Stansted College was considered as an alternative temporary classroom.
The Hall was used as a tea-room by the Cricket Club for many years, until the new pavilion of 1976, and as a dressing room for the football team in that one year also. Teas were and still are a popular part of the summer game, and it is perhaps a unique event that in the 1960s teas at Rowlands Castle were provided by two schoolboys.
Every summer, since anyone can remember, the Parish Hall plays host to the Brownies, five or six packs a year come and “camp” there, taking walks in the area and using the recreation around.
Meetings, both regular and open, are a feature of the Hall’s activities. The Rowlands Castle Association (RCA) first met in 1972, and in 1975, villagers were asked if they wanted to form a tennis club. Good Companions and the Playgroup were regulars as later were the WRVS Luncheon Club and the Camera Club.
There were dances in the l970s and in 1973, a youth club was formed, it met twice weekly until the early 1980’s. Dances were popular earlier in fact, in the 1950s/60s they were a regular event, attracting young people from the area on a sort of return basis, one week here, then Clanfield, Westbourne etc. In the days before teenage car-owners, transportation was by private coach.
A public meeting to discuss the proposed building of the Triangle estate (Charles Church etc.) was held in 1980. There followed other public meetings, usually on planning applications.
A Dog Show (albeit in the garden) was held in 1982 and for some years after, and there were now two badminton clubs. Carpets and double-glazing exhibitions started about now. In 1987, the Nursery School began, it was a very good and welcome source of income, as well as a good village asset.
Film shows, with support from EHDC came, Crocodile Dundee being perhaps the most popular (1988).
A regular chiropody clinic was held in the rooms behind the stage.
A new youth club was formed in 1988 (for 14-19-year olds) but did not last long.
A short-mat bowling club and also the Historical Society were now holding regular meetings (1990) and in the 1990s, the Hall was a starting point for cycling races.
The Catholics and the Golf Club used the Hall as a temporary home. A youth club is not mentioned again until 2006; it was always hindered by disputes and did not last.
The craft market began again in 2007 and in 2011 the ‘Rollies’ were 25 years old. The Montessori school came to the Parish Hall in 2011.
In 1974 the Hall first began to show its age, for despite a management report suggesting it was used almost to capacity, rising maintenance and running costs were causing concern. Another management committee was formed, and a structural survey found problems, including a leaning wall. Volunteers were called for and a working party formed but not till September 1975, to clean and paint. By 1975 more improvements were thought necessary, such as new kitchen, extra store rooms and new toilets, but there was no money.
A buy-a-brick scheme was launched in 1980 to aid fund-raising. However, there were delays in organising the work as the Manpower Services Commission used youth labour, the hall was re-opened in July 4th 1981 at a cost £15,000. This included £200 from the trustees, £2000 parish council grant, £1000 from EHDC and the rest by fund raising to cover the bank loan.
A report in 1982 says that bookings were on the increase again and the debt was reduced; fund-raising continued, and the Brownies and the Luncheon Club approved of the new kitchen. But there was still little heating. Other donations however included a fridge and curtains. More problems arose when it was suggested the hall was not fit enough to get an Entertainments Licence, especially as EHDC were willing to sponsor some shows.
The Parish Council gave the Trustees £2000 in 1983, some of it towards re- wiring.
Vandalism caused problems in 1984 but thankfully has not been repeated.
Hire charges were increased in 1985, the first time for 2 years the managers proudly announced, but donations were still asked for as the hall was £2,250 in debt.
A children’s concert (‘Hall Together Now’) was a whole village concern involving 140 children and adults spread over 3 evenings which raised some £500.
In 1985, a Parish Hall Management Committee was formed (but not for the first time). The ideas behind having this Committee were many, but one was to get people involved and interested and another to relieve the Parish Clerk of some work. The duties of this committee were solely to run the Parish Hall.
The outside was painted again in 1986 and the roof of the porch repaired. In 1987, the main roof was re-tiled with a grant from the Parish Council of £2,750, and the dressing rooms re-furbished for the first time since 1914.
A plan for a major extension or an enlargement of the main hall was put forward in 1988. The hall had been successful in obtaining a Public Entertainment License and a Theatre Licence, so a larger space was desirable. A new buy-a-brick (name-a-brick) scheme was started and this raised some £2000 towards the estimated cost of £60,000 (Boards showing the name-a- brickers are still on display, but strangely no mention anywhere of the 1980 scheme).
This major extension involved the incorporation of the old rifle range-cum-storerooms into the body of the main hall and the new corridor and offices beyond. Optimistic reports suggest the hall was used more than ever. The new hall was opened on 4th October1990 but by then had cost £72,000 There was still little or no heating.
Some, maybe minor, problems included woodworm and more re-wiring but in 1993 the stage was provided with new curtains.
It is interesting to note that despite all efforts, the committee acknowledge that over the years, Jumble Sales are the best fund-raisers 1994).
The hall was invaded by damp in 1997, the claim being it had sunk 15″ since 1914 and the damp proof course was below ground level, something photographs did not support, unless the problem was at the golf club end. The following year indeed the changing rooms were improved, along with the kitchen which had to be brought up to Health and Safety standards. The cost of these latest improvements was over £40,000 but that included the raising of the roof level at the stage, the new room above and more storage space. (The room above, supposedly a meeting room, could not be used however for there was no fire escape). And, at last, central heating was extended to all areas.
Some real financial concern was shown in 2003 which was made worse in 2004 when the Nursery School left. They had been paying some £3,500 a year in hire charges and a local paper suggested the hall would close. A second problem was a huge increase in insurance, from £750 a year in 2001 to £2800 a year in 2004/5. The hall was losing £3000 a year, it was estimated it needed an income of £3,000 to survive.
A concerned villager living opposite, came up with the Hall Saver Scheme. Based on the National Lottery Bonus Ball, it raised £25 a week and then £50 a week when a second scheme was launched. The hall was not being used as much as possible however, and the Committee made great efforts to attract outside acts and entertainment. By 2006. the lottery scheme had raised £2,400, the Parish Council made a donation of £2,600 from the rates and they agreed to pay more for their office space.
In 2006, the cupola was found to be heavily corroded and plans were made to remove it completely (it was part of the original ventilation system), however good sense prevailed, and it was replaced by a locally made replica.
The Management Committee and the Parish Council had a period of disagreement from 2007 onwards. and an extra group, a working party, was set up. Whatever the ins and outs, improvements continued. Structural problems were discovered in 2009; the east wall was thought to be moving. The whole hall had to be redecorated but the dispute did mean that the Parish Council vacated its office in 2011, maybe because of the rent increases from £2,548 in 2009 to £3,632 in 2011. The new Management Committee took over the office space itself. In 2010, the Hall was operating at a profit again.
In recent years, there has been more re-decorating (it is a general observation and opinion that the Hall has never looked better); there have been new chairs, new tables and a new floor; fire doors have been installed, and the flat roof has been repaired. The hall is well used and in profit by 2014. The money promised to the Parish Hall from the development at Oaklands is awaited.
Anything missed out? Of course! But there is a plan, dated 1977, entitled Rowlands Castle Community Centre Feasibility Study, which shows a new parish hall on the same site: a huge structure, two stories high., involving hall and stage and dressing rooms much as now, but another hall, two squash courts, a lounge with bar, committee rooms and more. No other information is known.
There is a rumour some 10 years later, that one of the developers involved with the Triangle building applications, offered the village a new Parish Hall, if we behaved ourselves!
Not so long ago there was also was another proposal considered: to demolish the hall and build another on the recreation around. But this idea was not popular at all.
This article is taken from the booklet written by Paul Marshman entitled ‘Rowlands Castle Parish Hall 1914-2014’ for which he retains the copyright. It was first put onto the website in April 2019.