THE HISTORY OF A SURREY VILLAGE
The Village Hall
by Brian Monk
Blackheath Village Hall was built in 1897 by one of the benefactor developers of the village, Mr. Henry Warner Prescott, who lived at Brantingshay and latterly Cheshunt.
The Hall was built on land donated by the Cowley Lamberts of Little Tangley Manor who owned a lot of the land in the area at this time.
The original building was designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, and consisted of a main hall (the Village Room), front/ side entrance lobby, and a small meeting room at the rear and outside toilets.
The hall was given to the village as a non-political, non-sectarian meeting place for villagers. Three Custodial Trustees were appointed to ensure that the hall remained with the village, and to be responsible for upkeep and good running of the hall.
The Trustees formed a committee to help them look after the hall, and gradually the committee became more formalised into a Management Committee, which, on behalf of the Trustees and villagers, maintains the buildings and land to a good standard, arranges lettings, raises funds, makes improvements when possible and encourages the use and enjoyment of the Hall.
The Hall became a Registered Charity sometime in the 1960s.
The meeting room was later extended to form a stage, and again further reconstructed to form the present stage. A covered lobby between the rear toilets and the hall was provided.
In 1965 the main building roof was re-tiled, and extensions made on the side to provide a kitchen and separate ladies and men’s toilets.
In 1974, under the initiative of the then chairman Col. Shipp, and with funds donated by Mr. Bernard Williams of St. Martin’s Corner, the main hall was made suitable for badminton and table tennis. The central folding partition was removed and a new lower ceiling, with new lighting was installed, together with electric storage heating. Extra land on the South West side was made available by Commander John Varley, which enabled the building of the store.
In the mid 1980s, with the hall in good use by villagers and badminton clubs, the stage, main hall floor and all other timber floors were found to be weakened by much rot, and closure was a real threat. However the committee kept the Hall functioning by a great deal of DIY work and the help of local builder Roger Voller.
It took on the running of three Village Fairs, which, with the enthusiastic support of villagers, hall users and other supporters, were expanded and raised the funds to reconstruct the floors and stage. So the Hall was saved. There is a capsule under the hall floor recording those mainly responsible. Roger Voller carried out most of the work with great care and economy.
In the 1990s new suitable double glazed windows and gas central heating were installed, and soon afterwards the hall ceiling was re-panelled, the electrical installation renewed and fire exit ways improved.
The hall has seen many uses. Originally there was a men’s club in the evenings, and, in the day, there was a small local school and various activities for ladies (often “educational"!).
During World War II, the hall was used as a school for evacuees, then as a canteen/social centre for troops (mostly Canadians) during the build up to D-Day.
After the war the hall was progressively under-used by local organisations, and hall income was low. Only the care of Charlie Hockley kept the hall in a usable condition. In 1974, the alterations mentioned previously, and a new wave of enthusiasm to do active things, saw extensive use by sports clubs and lots of social events. Thus income was increased for some 30 years. The enthusiasm for such high activity has waned, but the current Committee have found ways of finding new lettings.
Currently the hall is used for village meetings, village social/ fund raising events, short mat bowls, badminton, table tennis, yoga, amateur dramatics, weddings, children’s parties, receptions, etc., as well as being the "hub" for the annual May Day Fair now run by the Village Society.