Sunningdale Village Hall

In 1897 the Parish Council decided to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee by building a Village Hall. They approached St John's College Cambridge - who owned Broomhall Farm and the allotments (which at that time spread across the present school playing field) - about a possible site and the College thought it would be an ideal way to use the plot of land next to the school which they had originally earmarked for a tobacconist's shop.

However, the College was unwilling to pay for the construction, and in the absence of a wealthy sponsor the Parish Council didn't have sufficient funds. Ten years later the Parish Council tried again and in January 1908 local architect T Leonard Roberts presented detailed plans for a hall with an attached parish room (now the toilets and kitchen). The proposed hall had a wood block floor with a stage right across the southern end, and a main entrance from Church Road.

Later that year a wealthy local stockbroker, Henry Alexander Trotter, offered to fund it as the Trotter Memorial Hall in memory of his late father who had been a benefactor of Holy Trinity church and one of the original trustees of Sunningdale Golf Club.

In April 1909 the Windsor and Eton Express reported "On a site near the school ... a building is about to be erected by Mr H A Trotter of King's Beeches, for parish purposes in memory of his father... It is to contain two rooms, a large one provided with platform for parochial entertainments, and capable of accommodating 250 people, and a smaller one for mothers' meetings, religious classes and objects connected with the Parish Church ... Tenders for erection have been invited, and the work is expected soon to be put in hand."

The architect's watercolour of the proposed Hall in 1908

Work proceeded apace as on 4th December 1909 the same paper reported: "The fortnightly meeting of the Debating Society took place on Thursday evening last week, and was held in the new Parish Hall, not yet formally opened."

At the time the country was gripped by a bitter General Election after the House of Lords had controversially rejected the Budget of the then Liberal Government, which sought higher taxes from the wealthy to fund the new idea of state pensions. Both main parties held large election meetings in the new Hall before Christmas. The Liberals praised the "fine" new hall. A week later the chairman of the Conservative meeting said how grateful they were to Mr Harry Trotter for the gift of the "beautiful hall".

In January 1910 the newspaper reported the Hall's first acoustic test with a concert by Sunningdale Choral and Orchestral Society, and concluded: "The result proved eminently satisfactory, and the lighting and heating arrangements were everything that could be desired."

There is no mention of a formal opening ceremony but by the end of January, the newspaper was carrying weekly reports of a variety of events in the Hall: political debates, religious talks, lantern lectures, concerts including black and white minstrel shows, whist drives, and chidren's events.

Trotter gave the Hall to the parish, and in assigning the remainder of the 99 year lease for the site and building from St John's College to the vicar and other local Trustees, he agreed that the hall should be called The Parish Rooms rather than The Trotter Memorial Hall as originally suggested.

A view of the new Village Hall in 1909 taken from corner of Church Road with Station Road

The Hall continued to do good business and in 1938 the original wood block floor in the main hall was replaced with a "sprung" dance-floor - solid maple boards on battens - which is still going strong today.

After World War II the Hall experienced many difficulties, and the committee minutes from 1944-85 show a constant struggle to maintain and improve the premises, and a poor level of bookings largely due to the decrepit state of the building.

Two block bookings kept the Hall going during this time. Holy Trinity School used it for lessons until 1958 and school dinners until 1979, and a commercial entertainment promoter used it for twice weekly dances throughout the 60s and early 70s (although these caused a huge nuisance in the village with noise, parking problems and drunken behaviour). In 1961 the trustees considered various options - they ruled out selling the building as it would no longer be a community facility and could attract an even worse clientele than the dances had. They entered into discussions with the Parish Council about the Council running the Hall and they also offered it to the school. These plans came to nothing and in 1969 the Trustees asked the Parish Council to put the future of the Hall to the public. The general view was that the funds must be raised to keep the Hall as an amenity for the village. Some improvements were carried out, but in 1977 the Trustees, facing urgent repairs and realising a huge amount needed to be spent to make the Hall viable, drew up a £16,000 programme of works and set up a fund raising committee. Some of the work was completed, including a new roof. But in April 1983 the financial situation was again very worrying with a drop in bookings, not helped by the state of the Hall and unfinished improvements. The Hall was in danger of becoming a liability in the community and the electrics and parts of the rear floor were in a dangerous state and something had to be done.

A new 'secular' Management Committee was elected in December 1985. The Committee set about an ambitious fund raising programme, including a balloon race, barbeque and barn dance. Over the years they raised £75,000; built a new rear hall, laid an asphalt car park, replaced the main kitchen and built a second kitchen with toilets, and carried out a running programme of repairs.

This transformed the Hall and led to an increase in bookings. The Pre-School permanently booked the new rear hall during the week daytimes, and helped with improvements to the premises and grounds. Many local organisations with activities as far ranging as badminton, healing, keep fit, karate and ballet made block bookings. The Art Society took over the whole building for their weekend long art exhibitions twice a year and National Blood used it monthly for blood donors. There were also countless one off hirings for parties and events and at elections the Hall became a polling station.

In 1989 the Hall acquired a new landlord. St John's College got planning permission to build three houses on the front acre of the allotments adjoining Church Road. In return for giving up its lease on those allotments the Parish Council was granted the freehold of the rest of the allotment site and the Village Hall and car park - provided that it remained a community Village Hall. Then in 2008 the 99 year lease expired, leading to lengthy discussions about the future of the Hall.

Eventually it was decided that the team running the CMI, which had been restored and relaunched as a community facility by the Church following the demise of the Working Men's Club, would take over the day-to-day running of the Hall in conjunction with the Hall Committee and the Parish Council. So now there is one administration co-ordinating two different village venues, providing affordable facilities for the community hopefully long into its second century.

With many thanks to Peter O'Kill who provided the historical details and to John End and Peter O'Kill for the photographs, which may not be reproduced without their permission.


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