A Brief History of Little Wolford Village Hall

At the Meeting of the Wolford Parochial Church Council in February 1932 the raising of money for a Church Hall was to be considered. Nothing seems to have come from this intention but it is interesting that the Little Wolford Village Hall came into being just afterwards. Cooperation or competition? Unfortunately there is no evidence either way.

The first Meeting of the Village Hall Trustees was held on the 19th June,1934. In July, a Trust Deed was signed selling to the Trustees, for £100 given by Mrs Warriner, "a building now used as a barn situate at Little Wolford ...... together with the right of way, etc". Hitherto, Little Wolford Manor had served as the Village Hall but was soon to be sold. The new Hall was to be "for the Purposes of a Women's Institute and for the purposes of Physical and mental recreation and social moral and intellectual development through the medium of reading and recreation room, library, lectures, classes, recreations and entertainments ...... as may be found expedient for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish of Little Wolford ...... and its immediate vicinity without distinction of sex or of political or other opinions".

The Minute Book records thirty eight Meetings of the Trustees of which twenty five were prewar, three wartime and ten only since 1945. The infrequent postwar Meetings are explained by the creation of a Management Committee in 1953 which took over the day to day running of the Hall, which it still does. However, this book is the sole written source of pre-war activities.

The first action of the Trustees was the conversion of the barn to a suitable Hall. In August 1934 the Trustees accepted an estimate of £272-18s from Mr Ward of Shipston on Stour. In January 1935 a further estimate of £15-2s for lavatories was accepted. The average weekly earnings of a farm labourer at this time was less than £2 . The proposed expenditure thus amounted to almost three years earning of anyone working in the predominant employment in the Village! The converted Hall was finally opened by Mrs Warriner in February 1935. As far as I am aware no photographs or details exist of the barn before conversion nor of the result of the original conversion The final payment to Mr Ward was agreed in April 1936 but this was possible only after an interest free loan of £100, repayable over four years, had been obtained by Mr Haines from a Mr Pye of Moreton in Marsh, with Haines a fellow Congregationalist. This latter loan was presumably paid off just before the war.

The development of the Hall facilities before the War are obscure. There was probably no electricity or water laid on. In March 1945, the Trustees discussed various requirements and repairs to the Hall and "decided to ask the Electric Co. to install 10 light, 3 fires, a boiler and heater" but in 1950 the question of coal fires was discussed as electric fires were thought too expensive! I suspect that by then electricity was supplied and at least the lighting was electrical.

In November 1957, "Mr Hart layed water to the Hall" In February, 1958 there was discussion of further improvements, particularly of equipment. The Carnegie Trust gave £116 to pay two-thirds of the intended expenditure. Canvas chairs, whist tables, electric fires, trestle table, a fire extinguisher, 8 dozen white china cups, saucers and tea plates and large enamel teapots were among the acquisitions.

In 1960 the W.I. Minutes read "Our offer to paint the entrance to the Village Hall was appreciatedly accepted by the Village Hall Committee. They thought that, funds permitting, they would contribute to the painting material" By 1961 the desirability of flush toilets was first raised. Six years later, in January 1967, a joint Meeting of the Trustees and Management Committee recorded after much discussion:

(1)Any future development such as car park facilities, flush toilets, etc were going to involve major expense for such a small Hall but it was felt that every effort should be made to increase its usefulness & such projects should be investigated. (2) The possibility of interesting Great Wolford in the Hall and its future should be explored".

In May 1969 the modernisation of the toilets and the provision of a Car Park were still under discussion! Finally, in 1970-1, plans were available and the estimated cost was £3,310 excluding a Car park. Grants which would meet two-thirds of the expenditure were forthcoming from the Department of Education and the Warwickshire County Council. Work, expected to last 10 weeks, commenced on 20th March,1972 and the Hall was formally re-opened in November 1972.

The Car Park, on land given by Colonel Warriner was finally completed in early 1973 having been first mooted in January 1967! This venture proved problematical and prone to flooding. It was finally resolved in 1979 at a coast of £840. In 1974 the overhaul of the electrical wiring and the provision of a storage shed were the subjects under discussion. The former was to be given priority.at a cost of £120. By 1975 the timber section storage shed, purchased for £170, has been erected by Mr Hart The present intentions to modernize toilets and kitchen, to provide disabled access and to integrate storage facilities are, therefore, simply a continuation of past efforts to improve the Village Hall facilities.

On the fly leaf of the Minute Book, the following were noted as the original Trustees: Mrs Mary Butler Cox, Reginald George Haine, Joseph Way Mawle, Thomas Radford Cox, Edward Dean Cox, Sam Hall, Henry Frederick Gardner, George Dyer and the President of the Women's Institute. The original trustees, with the exception of the W.I.President, were all the tenant farmers of the Weston Estate in Little Wolford. At this first Meeting, Mr Haine was appointed Chairman. Mr Haine was succeeded as Chairman by Mr H Warriner in 1974 after 40 years service The Trustees changed over time, particularly in 1974 and 1997 and now are Mr H Warriner, Mr E Alexander, Mr F Bennison, Mr A Hart, Mr C Hobbs, Mr R Mawle and Diana Ward. The Trustees managed all the business of the Hall until 1953 when a Village Hall Management Committee "were quite agreeable to take the responsibility of running the Village Hall" Mr A.Hart was the first Chairman. Subsequent Chairmen were Mr F Bennison (1961-1969) and Mrs Ward (1969 to date) Members of the Committee are much more changeable, the present Committee being reasonably representative of both Great & Little Wolford, men and women!

The repayment of loans and the running expenses of the hall in the 30s were primarily met by a series of "Whist Drives and Dances" which were clearly very popular and raised £3 to £5 per occasion. Fetes yielded more, that in June 1938 raising nearly £31. The other major source of income would have been fees charged to users. Unfortunately no annual accounts are extant but the Minutes list fees at various time. In October 1934, the Trustees decided "to charge Congregational Church £3 for the use of the Hall, the Womens Institute 12/-, 10/- for Whist Drives and Dances with 2/6 to Caretaker and 7/6 for use of Hall until 12 pm." Again, in October 1937, "it was proposed by Mr Mawle and seconded by Mr R Cox that the charges for the hire of the Village Hall are to be 15/- a long night, 12/6 to midnight, 8/6 for meetings and 10/6 for concerts with the use of the piano.

The financial history of the Hall is better known as the Minutes of the Committee from 1957 have survived. Apart from the expense of improvement, the costs of day to day running amounted to £1,500 p.a. (approx). The rents paid by users were relatively insignificant and fund raising was a continuing necessity. Whist drives continued to be popular into the 1980s and Fetes continued, that in 1959 raising £139. Bingo featured as did Auctions from which the Village Hall took a commission. A Christmas Fair commenced in 1978 to which local organisations were invited to rent stalls retaining the profits of their varying enterprises. It continued annually thereafter but seems to have stuttered and is may not celebrate a 25th birthday! More during is the Annual Sponsored Walk. This commenced in 1971 and 2003 will be the thirty third! A veritable Village institution!

The essential characteristic of the Village Hall's survival over the years is that when money has been needed, the village has responded and means found, culminating in the current restoration. The major funding for this has been obtained from the Lottery's Community Fund (£64,000), the Warwickshire County Council (£10,000), the Stratford District Council (£1,500) together with £10,000 from their accumulated reserves. All this has been achieved after much hard work by the current Committee, worthy successors to the earlier pioneers.

The actual users of the Hall in the 30's are less well documented. The W.I and the Congregational Church are explicitly mentioned in fees to be charged. In Oct 1935 there was an intention to form a Mens Club and in December 1938 it was resolved to let the Hall to the Mens Club at 1/6 per night. Unfortunately little contemporary documentary evidence exists concerning the activities of these clubs. The Congregation Church activity in the Wolford has ceased by 1945, there is occasional reference to the Social Club in the postwar WI Minutes. Latterly, the W.I. have continued as regular users. "The Good Companions", a further village institution for the benefit of the older people, has also been a continuous user since its commencement in 1965 Other community activities, for example the Toddlers Club, like the Social Club, have come and gone as the need has disappeared. Private parties are held occasionally, even Wedding Reception. Two sisters actually has a joint reception in 1962!

The Village Hall has provided facilities for the inhabitants of the Wolfords for most of the twentieth century. How many and who were these "inhabitants"? There are perhaps three comments. Firstly, the total population since 1931 has been remarkably stable, 302 in 1921 and 288 in 1991!. Secondly, and very surprising, is Little Wolford's being more populous than its neighbour up to the outbreak of the war whereas, as far as is known, Great Wolford had always previously been the larger. Thirdly, 51% of the 1901 population had forebears residing in the Village before 1812 and 33% of the 1901 surnames were also here before 1812. By comparison, less than 7% of the late 1990's Electoral Register surnames occur in 1901 and few contemporary residents are of the third generation Wolford resident! Fourthly, the major employment was on the land. In 1926, 60 people were recorded as employed in agriculture, excluding the farmers themselves. Given that many would have supported families, it is clear that at least half of the residents would be dependent on agriculture and living near their place of employment. A moment's thought indicates how the "customer body" has changed!

The Trust Deed decreed that the new Hall was to be "for the Purposes of a Women's Institute and for the purposes of Physical and mental recreation and social moral and intellectual development through the medium of reading and recreation room, library, lectures, classes, recreations and entertainments ...... as may be found expedient for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish of Little Wolford ...... and its immediate vicinity without distinction of sex or of political or other opinions". Today, the objective is the same although the uses to which the Hall might be put will change as the population to be served has changed. Nevertheless, the original objectives remain valid.

Lawrie Thompson, March 2003