The preparations for the end of the project celebrations were a frenzy of activity. Barry, Bob Kay and Anthea all worked hard to create a fabulous Edwardian cut out seaside scene. Anita, coached the Church’s childrens’ choir. Tamsen blew up balloons and John and Clare helped me set up the stands and exhibition and Melanie from Churchfields School coached members of the school choir to perform at the opening Concert. I ran around like a thing possessed as I picked up Edwardian costumes, sorted out pressed flowers, sourced Edwardian style toys, booked the uni-cyclist and the Punch and Judy man and collected coconuts from Spitalfields at 1.00am in the morning etc. All this because
I was determined to re-create a fete that Sir John Roberts held at Salway House in 1905 to raise money for the Hall, sadly no fireworks and I couldn’t find anyone to supply a donkey for donkey rides!!!.
The day dawned and having set up the majority of things outside (you should have seen me moving a 10ft by 6ft wire partition at 7a.m). you can imagine my relief and gratitude when Martyn and Harry arrived bang on time and calmly began putting tables and chairs outside and moving pianos.
Suddenly the hall was full with children and parents. Wendy Thomas the Head of Churchfields and two other parents had turned up early and were in the kitchen buttering and jamming scones. Rector Ian Tarrant was a stalwart when the projector AND CD player decided to go on strike just before the concert rehearsal. In his normal quiet, kind, no-nonsense fashion he sorted it all out and then became the sound engineer for the morning!!.
I rehearsed the children, who were singing among other things “Pack up your troubles in your old Kit Bag” and “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, reflecting music that would have been played at the hall in the early 1900s in remembrance of John Heath the Assistant Secretary at the Hall who signed up in 1916 to fight in WW1. The children were drilled on getting on and off stage and bowing. My singing students Jackie and Valerie had a whole 10 minutes rehearsal and then the Concert began.
Ian from the church choir opened proceedings by singing the old 100th Hymn, the first piece of music that was ever performed at the Hall in 1902, he sounded great. Anita and the children looking amazing in their Edwardian costumes sang that top of the pops number from 1902 “Daisy Daisy give me your answer true”, and Anthea accompanied them, then Valerie sang “How beautiful are the feet” from Handel’s Messiah which was sung at the Hall in front of John Roberts on 22nd January 1904 and Solveig’s Song which was sung as part of a Concert at the Hall on the 30th March 1923, she sounded amazing. Jackie sang Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered which would have been very popular in the 1930s and then Anita beautifully played two pieces by Mendelsohn as a reminder of the historical event of Henry Wood’s orchestra which had been formed in 1938 to give concerts in the Epping Forest Area playing their first concert at the Memorial Hall on the 18th March 1938.
Then the children of Churchfields’ choir sang “Food Glorious Food” they sounded great and of course this was a nod to the Hall’s history of being the first British Restaurant to be opened by Clementine Churchill in 1940. Tilly’s 1950’s dance “Let’s all do the hop” was a sensation, and reminded us that Reverend Wansey had managed to get the Trustees in the 1950s to hop off due to his considering that they were not looking after the hall in an appropriate manner.
I had hoped to screen a video of “the Who” as they played at the hall in the 1960s, however, instead and totally unrehearsed I informed the children of Churchfields that we would give a demonstration of head banging and shadow guitar playing to reflect the period of the hall’s history when bands, such as the Who, Small Faces the Equals and Growth played at the hall. As you can imagine the audience collapsed with laughter.
I had been going to get the audience to sing “Bob the Builder” to reflect the 30 year period in the Hall’s history when substantial refurbishment works were undertaken but they were spared this experience. My favourite moment was at the end of the concert when the audience all joined in singing “We’re Community, I have all my neighbours with me” sung to the music of Sister Sledge’s “We are family”, it was brilliant and the best bit was when some of the parents came up to me and said that though the drove past the hall every day they hadn’t realised the hall’s history but had just taken the hall for granted and hadn’t realised how special it was.
Then it was croquet on the lawn and the wonderful Louie, Audrey and Vanessa serving tea and cakes, many of which were prepared from Edwardian recipes and were totally delicious, Everyone loved the Lavender and Lemon cake.
Diane helped the children to make pressed flower collages Edwardian style, Sally and Kerry gave a wonderful demonstration of Edwardian Hair and Makeup and informed us that Edwardian ladies did not wash their hair very regularly!!. The Woodford Wheezards played early Jazz whilst one gorgeous little boy showed me with enormous pride the coconut he had won. Rhubarb the Clown entertained children and babies alike and just as written in the description of John Robert’s fete in 1905 he entertained us with some trick cycling.
Then there was the Punch and Judy show and the hall was packed with adults and children all engaged with the Punch being naughty, sausages going missing and crocodile trying to eat babies. Before I knew it, it was over, everyone began clearing up in time for the Magic Show in the evening. I went to sort out the costumes, before I began to take down the exhibition I was only gone about 15 minutes but when I came back Megan had taken down half the exhibits and was persuading people to assist with the other half. Rector Ian Tarrant was washing up. Dave was setting up the sound system. Martyn and Harry were bringing in tables chairs and moving the piano back into place and before I knew it everything was clear and Bob and friends were performing table top magic. It was a great day.
There was more to come though and the piece de resistance has been Sally, the great great great great niece of John Roberts, contacting me 3 weeks ago and visiting the hall. She and Barry got on like a house on fire and it was lovely showing her all the different sections of the Hall. There was this wonderful moment when she said “Was my Great great great great grandfather (Jack Isitt) actually here at the opening ceremony of the Hall” and of course I could confirm that he was. We then spent the day swapping photos and documents about John and Thomas Roberts. Unfortunately she contacted me too late to include all the extra information she has given me in the book which has now been published but it has all gone on the Website.
Written by Deborah Aloba- 23/7/2016
If you would like a copy of the book It is £4.50 and can be collected from the Hall.