History of Woodford Memorial Hall

hall history home pageUnfortunately Sir John Roberts does not seem to have made a full enough recovery to continue his involvement at the meetings of the Trustees and there is no further reference to his attending at meetings until an entry in 1918 when there is a request for a note of condolence to be sent to the family of Sir Roberts further to his death in 1917. Even in death Sir John Roberts continued to support the Hall and in his Will he left £4,000 for its maintenance and upkeep.

hall history home pageIn 1920 shortly after conclusion of the War, the Hall which had continued to serve the community throughout the war years, was used for a Royal Investiture to present OBE’s to men who had remained at home during the War as firemen etc and had committed acts of outstanding courage.

During the 1920s the Trustees also purchased land adjoining the Hall and in 1929 discussions took place about wiring the Hall so that electric lighting could be installed. In February it was agreed that County of London Electric Supply Company’s offer of £100 for the wiring of the main Hall would be accepted and the Hall eventually converted over to electricity in 1930. During the same period the tennis courts at the premises were extended by 20ft.

In March 1929 Mr Robert Billings who had been on the Committee since 1902 and who had worked throughout this period with Sir John Roberts died.

On June 1929 there was a complaint from a Mr L Parkinson of Chelmsford Road about the “disorderly behavior of a number of persons who attended a dance held at the Hall on the 17th and reported the damage done to the Hall and the disgusting condition in which the premises were left. Despite pursuing Mr Budd, who had arranged the dance, for several months in an attempt to recover the money for the damage Mr Budd never did respond.

The 1930s were relatively calm years though there were some thefts from the cloakroom in 1931.  In 1932 £100 worth of war stocks were purchased and £4516.50 was invested in War loan stock, further the Trustees of the Hall purchased Lindal at 2 Chelmsford Road which was located right next to the Hall and was let for £120 per annum

However at the start of WW2 there was an almost immediate impact on the Hall and Lindal as can be seen from a letter sent in September 1939 to the Trustees by a Miss Lee. Miss Lee, who ran a school from Lindal, announced that “owing to the war” she was going to transfer her school to Devon under the Evacuation Orders and was therefore unable to keep up her payments for rent and taxes and was asking to be relieved of the rent during the period of the war. On the 14th June 1940 the Minutes inform us that the Borough Council had applied for the rental of Lindal for the use of the Food Control Offices. On the 1st October 1940 the Committee had to consider the state of the Hall due to damage caused by a landmine in Stanley Road, and the Honorary Secretary arranged for the sky light to be covered with rubber to keep out the rain. Arrangements had to be made for the roof and gutter to be repaired. On the 10th April 1941 a letter was read out from Essex County Council informing the Committee that if the Hall was to continue to be used for entertainment, it would be necessary to comply with the Home Office conditions to include having all external windows and doors protected on the inside with wire netting or wall boards…

hall history home pageOn the 12th August 1941 Wanstead and Woodford Council took possession of the Hall under the Defence Regulations 1939 for the purpose of installing a British Restaurant. This was eventually opened by Clementine Churchill. By 21st April 1942 the Hall was reserved by Essex County Council as a rest centre for homeless persons. It is clear from the Minutes that by 12th March 1943 not only the Hall but also Lindal sustained damage during the war as there is reference to repairs due to War Damage at a cost of £97.12.10 being recovered from the War Damage Commission. The Food Control Office moved out of Lindal in 1943 and was immediately rented out to the Air Training Cadet Corp. During this period the Hall also invested £500 in War Loans in response to the “Wings for Victory” week and as can be seen we still have some of those stocks, though they are not worth anything.

On the 31st January 1947 the Committee was informed that the British Restaurant at the Hall’s premises was to be deregulated and this occurred in July 1947. A letter from Mr J Tillett of the Divisional Education Office of the EEC was sent to the Committee in November 1947 asking if part of the Hall could be used by Churchfields School. The response was no as the Hall was “not in a fit condition for that purpose due to extensive repairs and redecoration that were necessary due to War damage and dilapidations. Unfortunately there were ongoing problems in getting repairs undertaken and the electricity reinstated in both the Hall and Lindal. The delay was due to the amount of damage and the process for recovering monies resulting from war damage which was protracted. In 1947 the outstanding estimate for the repair from the war office was £1560.9.1 however the Government Assessors were only willing to pay £1005.10s.10d and this was eventually agreed in 1948. Without the work being undertaken and the Ministry of Works providing a Licence of Fitness it was difficult to let rooms and this situation was further exacerbated by the radiators bursting in March 1948 due to a severe frost.

To add to the headaches of the Trustees the caretaker at that time was proving to be a less than satisfactory employee and was eventually dismissed. It was not until the following November that a Mr Pouritt was eventually found and offered the job. At this time The Council were also asking the Trustees when they would be removing the air raid shelter adjacent to the West end of Lindal as it was partly built on Chelmsford Road.

Things were difficult all round and there is a reference during this period of an attempted theft of coal from a lady who lived at 20 Churchfields. Upon being caught trying to steal coal from the grounds of the Hall she was asked to leave the premises and threatened with prosecution. It is interesting to note that Miss Heath had continued to act as Assistant Secretary during this period and was still in post at this time.

Unfortunately by June of 1948 the Hall had still not received the Licence for Work from the Council and a letter was forwarded to Winston Churchill with the request that he would use his influence to secure the issue of a Licence for Work to the value of at least £1,000 towards the reinstatement and repairs of the Memorial Hall. An interim letter was received dated the 24th June 1948 intimating that Churchill had communicated with the Ministry of Works on the matter. On the 6th July 1948 a letter was received from Churchill’s secretary that stated that following Mr Churchill’s representations, the Minister or Works (Mr Charles W Kay) had agreed to the grant of a Licence for £1,000 to enable the Memorial Hall to be brought back into use and in fact the amount received when the Licence was finally agreed was actually for £1400. Eventually repairs commenced to the Hall in December 1948! Works were not completed until approximately two years later.

One of the prospective tenants applying to use the rooms in 1949 was the Communist Party, their application was not accepted!

In the early 1950s the Hall obtained charitable status. Mr Pourrit the caretaker had left and been replaced by Mr Dot who was very popular but unfortunately suffered with ill health and in 1951 he was given his notice and George Bunyan was appointed as the new Hall Keeper. Mr Bunyan and his wife Ivy stayed in post until 1980 and during that time he was very popular as can be seen from various tributes to him referred to in the Minutes. During the early 1950s the Hall having been repaired was used extensively by members of the Community from ballet schools to Youth for Christ meetings, though there is a rather amusing entry in the minutes dated 1.5.1953 referring to the Hypnotism Act 1962 and the Council stating “that as of the 1st April 1953 the licensee should not without consent of the Licensing of Places of Public Entertainment give or permit any person to give an exhibition, demonstration or performance of hypnotism at any entertainment held at the premises.”

Unfortunately during this period the relationship between the Rector of the Church, Reverend Wansey and the Hall’s Trustee’s had begun to deteriorate due to various concerns of Reverend Wansey as to how funds were being managed. At the Trustees Committee of Management meeting on the 4th March 1955 the breakdown in the relationship came to a head and all the Trustees of the Hall walked out on 7th May 1955.

Reverend Wansey immediately formed a new Committee of Trustees and Phillip Swallow who had just returned from his honeymoon and was attending the meeting as an interested party was asked by Reverend Wansey to become the Temporary Honorary Secretary for just a week or two and remained in post for the next 50 years.

From 1950 to 1980 the Hall continued to serve the community and during the 1960s and mid 1970s bands regularly attended at the hall which was affectionately called “the Mem” or “the Memo” by many of the youth of Woodford and the surrounding area who regularly attended to dance and listen to the various bands to include Small Faces, Van Morrison and Them, the Who, Two of Each and the Equals to name but a few.

In 1969 St Mary’s Church was burnt down and the Memorial Hall was used in place of the Church until St Mary’s was rebuilt and some residents of Woodford had their babies christened at the Hall.

hall history home page

In 1972 the Memorial Hall served as a court for 18 months and there is still a piece of graffiti which was written by one of the prisoners who was sentenced at the Hall.

Unfortunately due to lack of funds the building itself became more and more dilapidated and by the 1980s though still in use by the Community it was not such a popular place to hold events as it had once been and was in dire need of restoration.   Barbara Slaney who eventually became the Hall Manager, her husband Frank and Phillip Swallow worked tirelessly with the assistance of the Community to raise the necessary monies and undertake the various restorative work that the Hall needed. This included the restoration of the Fleche in 2006 which was restored with the help of community donations. The Hall has been in full use again for many years due to many peoples’ efforts including the Trustees who have worked quietly in the background dealing with the many issues that arise in respect of maintenance and care of the Hall. The Hall even appeared in the film of Margaret Thatcher’s life “the Iron Lady” in 2011.

woodford hall new floorBarry Mingay, Bob Pamplin, John O’Shea, Jean Louisy and Tamsen Mann the Hall Manager work together as a remarkable team to ensure that the Hall remains at its best. Ian Tarrant the current Rector has been instrumental in obtaining funding for the replacement of the floor after 113 years and further the upgrading of the facilities. We have been privileged to receive assistance from the following grant providers:

  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Grange Farm Trust
  • Pilgrim Trust
  • London Over the Border Fund
  • Garfield Weston Foundation
  • Foyle Foundation
  • Bernard Sunley Foundation
  • Beatrice Laing Trust
  • All Churches Trust
  • Charles S French Trust
  • City Bridge Trust

It goes without saying that once again the people of Woodford also helped to raise funds to assist in keeping the Hall a thriving, living building.