History of the Village Hall

The original hall
South Woodham Ferrers Original Village Hall
People outside the original hall
People walking past the original South Woodham Ferrers Village Hall
The rebuilt hall
Village Hall Car Park

The Village Hall has a long and proud history; originally erected as the Smallholders Hall, under the auspices of the South Woodham Smallholders and Social Society, it was opened in February 1929. The present Village Hall replaced the original Hall in 1973, and the porch was rebuilt to a new design in 2018.

Here are some recollections of the Village Hall, by Dennis Emmett:

My earliest recollections are of being taken by my parents and grandfather to the annual flower and vegetable show as a young teenager. (Circa 1936/7). At that age I was more interested in kicking a ball around on the playing field than in the show in the Hall, which as I remember was predominately a flower and vegetable debating society for the oldies.

With the intervention of the war in 1939 visits to my grand parents became more intermittent. However, an unforgettable incident occurred in September 1940, when my friend Albert Allen and I were standing behind the Village Hall gazing up at masses of vapour trails and tails of ominous black smoke in the sky above. This was at the height of the Battle of Britain and as we watched, an aircraft emerged low and from the Battlesbridge direction, heading toward the high ground around Edwins Hall and as we gazed with innocent fascination, it struck the ground in front of the hall, setting light to the trees. Much later I discovered it to have been a German Messerschmitt BF110 Fighter/Bomber returning from a raid on Marconi’s at Chelmsford.

My next association with the Village Hall started in the mid 50’s when I joined the Management Committee and commenced many years of involvement, along with my old friend John Berryman. In those days, committee membership meant that members had to apply their DIY skills to actual repairs, maintenance and decorating of the hall and its furnishings, borrowing and scrounging for materials, new and second-hand, with may of the ladies carrying out the making, repairing and laundering of the curtains and soft furnishings, plus the never ending window cleaning.

Monthly Saturday night dances were run and although there was no licensed bar, the teas, coffee, soft drinks and cakes were always in great demand. Prepared, dispensed, washed up and cleared away by committee members and their wives or husbands. Attendances at these dances were interesting in that the regular attenders age groups varied from, teenagers through middle age mums and dads and more than a few elderly pensioners and ‘local characters’, all at the same time. The other regular attender at these dances was the village policeman, who would look in about halfway through the evening, and then again just before the end when he would enjoy a cup of tea before ensuring that everyone left the hall and cleared the premises in a fairly quiet but orderly fashion. Viability was a word not used very often in those days, but it was certainly very orderly and civilised, and I don’t recollect anyone feeling threatened or intimidated.

Around this time the hall was also used on a regular basis by a Badminton Club, a Whist Club, Elderly peoples Club, and by the late 50’s SWF first Youth Club. Among the less frequent users were many local newly weds with their families and friends, for their post nuptial celebrations and believe me some of these events, were ‘Wild’.

Another occasional use was for party political canvassing, prior to elections and I remember well, receiving one such application, while Chairing a Management Committee meeting, from the Communist Party. In those days we had two well-known and respected residents who were card holding members and as we had already agreed applications from the two major party candidates, I could see no reason why we should not consider theirs. But this turned out to be a grave mistake on my part, and on presentation of the application the meeting erupted with screams of anguish and dissent from a voluble, albeit minority of my ‘true blue members’. My protestations, that this application was from a legal and recognised party, and couldn’t reasonably be refused, did little to diffuse the situation and although I did manage to get a fine majority approval, I then had a very divided committee, with several of them quite convinced that I was hell bent on selling out to ‘the other side’. In the event the candidate himself solved the situation for me by polling so few votes that the dissenters fell about laughing and were able to satisfy themselves that it was all a big joke, and eventually honour was preserved all round, and fortunately for me the matter was soon forgotten.

Around this time another interesting character emerged, who among his many and varied activities became the Village Hall caretaker, he had previously been a Sgt Major in the Army and looked every inch the part and woe betide anyone who stepped out of line or broke the rules in and around, ‘His Hall’. However and in addition he served with distinction as our Parish Clerk, and eventually became a Justice of the Peace. But as far as I remember Fred never deserted the Village Hall.

The Youth Club originally met in the old Hall, and was the brainchild of the Vicar, John Stone. However, John quite apart from his ecclesiastical skills was also a master delegator, whereby a very few weeks after its inception, when I had occasion to remind him that the Hall had to have an adult present at all times when being used by the Youth Club. He then managed to persuade me that I would be much more suitable to run the club than he, with his many and varied commitments around the Parish, and so it came to pass, that South Woodham Youth Club continued for the next seven years in the care of my wife and myself. During which time we became registered with the then fairly new County Youth Service, and then on our succession it was carried on by one of our original young members Rodney Sprake, who also then went on to become a Parish Councillor.

Times and fortunes change and with the arrival of the New Town Development and the building of the New Village Hall, planned and nurtured along with many others, by my old friend Maurice Redman, who most definitely fell into the category of a South Woodham ‘character’. I then turned to other interests which occupied me for many years, and now although well beyond my allotted three score and ten, the wheel has turned full circle and here I am again serving I hope usefully, on the Village Hall Management Committee once again and for anyone who is perhaps contemplating devoting some time to the running or our/your Village Hall, I can only say that for me it has really all been worth while, so why not try it yourself?

We hope that this is the first of many memories to be included on this website, if you have memories of 'Old Woodham' and the Village Hall in particular, then please email us for inclusion on this page by clicking here.

Historical pictures taken from John Frankland's 1992 book "South Woodham Ferrers - A Pictorial History"