History of Woodford Memorial Hall

Woodford Parish Church Hall – Building Committee Meeting – Minutes From 1902

Below are the actual minutes from the building committee meetings in 1902 to discuss the proposal for the building of the hall. Click on each one for a larger image and expanded view for easier reading.

The History of Woodford Memorial Hall

Woodford Memorial Hall was built on the grounds of Woodford Hall, a substantial Georgian Mansion set back from thehttp://www.wmgallery.org.uk/ High Road which had been built in 1771.  The Hall had been the home to several rich and influential people to include William Morris who lived there as a child between 1840 and 1847.  Prior to the hall  being pulled down in the late 1800s it was used as a Convalescent home for women and children and was supported by Catherine Gladstone the wife of the then Prime Minster William Gladstone who had been instrumental in raising the money to purchased the house in 1869 for this purpose.

Woodford Memorial Hall was built in 1902 with the majority of the money being donated by John Roberts. hall history home pageIt was built in memory of his brother Thomas Roberts. John Roberts was a well known philanthropist within the Woodford Community. From the very beginning of his involvement in the project he was determined that the Hall would be built with the purpose of serving the community and it can be seen from the Minutes of the Trustees meeting dated 7th February 1900 that the people of Woodford also assisted to raise funds for the building which was to be for their benefit. hall history home page

After discussion with the proposed Architects, Messrs J Kingwell Cole and Kenneth Wood, it was agreed that the initial cost of the first part of the Hall would be just under £4,000. The Hall still holds the original plates of the plan of the Hall as can be seen from the below photos.

The building itself was built in the style of Arts and Craft Architecture which was an influential movement of the late 19th century which attempted to re-establish the skills of craftsmanship which was threatened by mass production and industrialisation. In that funny way in which situations and life can merge into each other the Arts and Craft movement had as its leader William Morris who had lived at Woodford Manor (which is part of the site that the hall stands on) as a child between the ages of 7 and 14 and whose father is buried in the church grounds of St Mary’s Church which is situated right next to the Hall

hall history home pagehall history home page

The movement arose as a protest against the monotony of factory production housing and the deskilling of the individual worker and Morris believed that Architecture should be reformed through traditional building crafts, the use of local materials, and be free of any imposed style. His by word in respect of buildings was function, need and simplicity (without spurious ornament). hall history home pagehall history home pageThe movement declined after 1900 and the Memorial Hall is a later example of the architecture built during this period. As can be seen from the pictures above the Hall has all the elements of a building of this period to include clarity of form and structure, variety of materials, symmetry, traditional construction and craftsmanship. We are lucky that we not only have the original plates of the of the original plans of the Hall but there are still some original features from when the building was constructed to include the original fire hose and buckets and original gas lamps. No sooner had the first part of the Hall been built and opened (for full details of the opening ceremony please go to Sir John R Roberts) than John Roberts began pressing for the back of the Hall to be built.

hall history home pagehall history home pagehall extension press cuttingInitially there were concerns about the funding of the extension of the back of the Hall but John Roberts was quite determined and a bank loan was obtained. John Roberts and members of the community threw themselves wholeheartedly into fundraising funds to ensure that the second part of his dream could be fulfilled. On the 7th June 1904 the Trustees agreed that the Messrs F Osborne & Son’s tender should be accepted in respect of building the extension to the Hall. The Hall still has the original Contract, which informs us that the cost of building the extension was £2725.1.2. An overdraft was agreed with Parrs Bank Ltd in Woodford in the sum of £1,500 to pay for the balance of the costs of the building works and the basic works were finalised and the laying of the foundation stone took place in July 1904 by Sir Joseph C Dimsdale. On this occasion Mr J R Roberts was able to be present. At the time of the laying of the foundation stone for the building subscriptions in the sum of £1240 had been collected.

After the extension was built members of the community continued to engage in many different functions to raise funds to repay the loan. Amongst many other Fund Raising events in 1907 there was a Bazaar of all Nations and luckily one of the original programme from that Bazaar has been retained.

hall history home pagehall history home page

There are various references in the Minutes of contributions from members of the community two of which are as follows:-

14th November 1904

The secretary reported that he had received a present of 50 packs of playing cards from Mr Glanfield for the use of the new club that may be established…

On the 12th December 1904 the Minutes inform us :-

“Letters were read from Mr J Kingwell Cole asking the acceptance by the Committee of Scenery for the Stage and from Mrs Dennison sending half a dozen knives for use at Entertainments

hall history home page

John Roberts continued to support the Hall in many ways by providing a billiard table and curtains, paying for rooms to be painted and ventilation shafts to be built.

In the Minutes dated 3rd July 1904 it was confirmed that the new Billiard Room would be opened and we still have a copy of the original Billiard Room Regulations

It is clear that the Hall was an important part of the Community from the beginning and in 1910 a meeting was held at the Hall to decide what and where the Memorial for Edward VII should be. At the same time the Hall was applying for a licence to show inflammable films, the newest and most modern form of entertainment at the time.

hall history home page
Click to enlarge
hall history home page
Click to enlarge

In 1911 only 9 years after the Hall had been built it is clear that there were problems with subsidence and a surveyor’s report had to be obtained in this regard.

hall history home pagehall history home page

hall history home pageThroughout this period it is clear Mr J R Roberts attended regular meetings and was very involved with all decisions about the Hall up until around 1912 when it is clear from the minutes that he became ill.

The Hall served the community by providing rooms for the use of the Church, Public Meetings, a billiard room, a Series of Lectures which still take place today, use of the stage for Drama Groups, a concert venue, the Church Lad’s Parade, The Boy’s Club, a Gymnasium Club, Tennis Courts, Badminton Dance Clubs, Whist and Music Festivals , there were even enquiries from roller skating clubs. Today 114 years later there is very little difference in the Hall’s use, with the exception of a permanent Playgroup, namely, Woodford Pre School Playgroup that has been here for almost 50 years and Tae Kwando, Karate and Mediation Classes.

Amongst the references of the ongoing costs and need for the Hall’s maintenance there are wonderful nuggets of information about the behavior of the Hall Keeper, problems with the boiler, disagreements with insurers and misbehavior in the billiard room

In 1916 during World War I the Hall almost had to close due to lack of funds but as can be seen from the newspaper cutting even after only 14 years of existence the Hall was already regarded as filling an important place within the Community. During this period the Minutes refer to references regarding need to obtain Air Raid Insurance, the blackening of the skylights and windows and the use of the Hall by Captain Gadstone for drilling the Cadet Corps.   There is also a poignant letter from the Trustees where they write a letter to Mr Heath their Assistant Secretary as follows:-

Dear Mr Heath

I enclose cheque for petty cash for £4-10-0. The Committee decided to appoint your sister temporarily acting Assistant Secretary at a monthly remuneration of sixteen shillings and eight pence, as agreed between us on the phone; they would like her to attend at the next meeting.

I am requested to convey to you the best wishes of the Committee on your joining the Colours, and their sincere hope that you may return at no very distant date safe and sound, may I join with them in their good wishes.

Yours sincerely

This letter not only informs us of Mr Heath’s decision to sign up as a soldier to fight in WW1 but it also gives a glimpse of how women’s positions in the workplace began to change as a result of the war, as it is unlikely that if there had been a man available to take on the duties of the Assistant Secretary that Mr Heath’s sister would have been offered this position.