Over the years, Abberley villagers have met in a succession of different huts and halls – St George’s Hall, the Village Hall, the Hut, the Methodist Chapel, the Men’s Club, to name but a few. We were all getting rather confused so Jen Guest has been tracking down one of the earlier venues: the Hut, which features in the background of ‘that photo’ with Lady Brooke…
The Hut, the focal point for much of Abberley’s social life in the first half of the twentieth century began its life in 1923. It was a joint venture between the WI and the Cricket Club, both of whose members maintained it throughout its existence. It cost £130 to build, the WI contributing £60, the Cricket Club £45 and Lady Brooke £25. Lord and Lady Brooke also provided the bricks and cement for the foundations and members of the Cricket Club voluntarily provided most of the labour for the erection of the building itself. The ground on which it was built was not purchased, merely rented, which led to problems later; this ground, incidentally, is the same as that on which our current village hall now stands .
The committee running the Hut consisted of six members of each organisation chaired by Sir Richard Brooke. The secretary, treasurer and booking agent throughout was Mr George Billingham from the Village Stores. At the first committee meeting in June 1923 the rules for letting were drawn up ; it should not be let for any political meetings, it should not be kept open after 12 midnight on Saturday and that no intoxicating drink should be brought into the Hut.
At this same meeting the WI voted £10 for lamps and at the next in August £50 for furnishings. There was as yet no water supply for at the first AGM the secretary was to seek the cost of a supply from the tank in the school meadow. Obviously this was not viable as by the next AGM he was to investigate the costs of a tank on wheels. I have to assume this was the solution as no further mention is made of the water supply.
By 1925, long night-time dances and whist drives were being held and a caretaker was appointed at the rate of £5-4s-0d per annum. Only now was permission given for private parties to be held and then only provided the rules were adhered to. The secretary was instructed not to let the Hut to the ‘Super Six’- sadly no reasons for their unsuitability are given. Also in 1925 it was decided to erect ‘offices’ at the rear of the Hut provided that the total cost was no more than £14.
The letting costs are interesting – meetings were cheaper if no lights or fires were used and people outside the parish had to pay twice the going rate. An exception was made for the Girl Guides whose meetings were fixed at one shilling without fire and lights, normally this would have been 2s-6d.
Bookings from outside the parish were seemingly not encouraged. The secretary was reprimanded for letting the Hut to a Mrs Green from Stourport one day a month at a mutually convenient time from Sept 1928 to February 1929. Heavily edited minutes state that the hut should not be let to anyone outside the parish more than one month in advance.
The committee worked hard on making improvements to the Hut. In 1927 walls were being relined, an oil stove and boiler installed, the roof tarred and more chairs and kitchen utensils were bought. Lady Brooke organised a bazaar for the funding of the chairs. The ceiling and roof were painted in cream and green water paint. A shed was erected for storage of coal and steps fitted to the side door of the hut.
The WI gained a little notoriety when in 1931 a complaint was made by the police about their Christmas party. The problem however was not excessive noise or unsuitable behaviour but the lack of a theatrical licence which the committee soon remedied. The following year a WI member, Miss Gertie Billingham, organised a dance on Boxing Day to raise money for the renewing or dyeing of curtains. She made £5-3s-4d with her efforts which compared with the £18-14s-0d in the hut funds at the time must have been a considerable amount.
In 1932, a new owner, Mrs Neath from Pensax, took over Church Farm, on whose land the hut was sited and from now on much of the committee time is spent on trying to negotiate a lease or buy the land. She was happy to offer a seven year tenancy but with no promise of automatic renewal after this time; nor did she wish to sell the land. The WI felt a lease was essential and would not commit to more financial liability. The status quo was reluctantly accepted but it was minuted that should the farm change hands the hut’s position could be precarious.
Whilst dealing with all these legal matters the committee also had problems with the day to day running of the hut. There were BAD SMELLS emanating from the ladies’ ‘Dressing room’. The offices at the back were to be dealt with more frequently and the WI were to notify the caretaker when this was necessary!
There was also a fire at the hut on 11 Jan 1933 with damage to benches, a partition and the doors of the refreshment room. Fortunately it was put out before any damage to the main structure. With the insurance money chairs were bought to replace the benches and 20 whist tables at 3/- each.
Vehicles were having trouble getting off the field in wet weather so it was decided to terminate an agreement with Mr Austen (who owned the land at the other side of the road) and use the school yard instead. There would not be a problem with the school managers as the majority of them were on the hut committee!
Indeed the managers there and then agreed to let the school yard.
Despite a letter from the Performing Rights Society advising them that that they were liable for infringements of copyright music the committee were reluctant to obtain a licence and then only on the advice of their solicitor Capel Loft and only if it was under 10 shillings. I don’t know what they would have done were it more. In the event it was £2-12s-6d.
By 1935 problems with the lease were coming to a head and the Hut needed a great deal of money to be spent on repairs so the chairman, Sir Richard Brooke, agreed to approach the Squire, Captain Astley Jones, with regard to the purchase of a suitable piece of ground for the Hut.
A letter from Captain Astley Jones offered a site near the Men’s Club for free provided the committee paid for the conveyancing. Each member was asked for an opinion and they agreed to decline Mrs Neath’s latest offer and accept the gift of the site.
A joint meeting of the Hut committee, the WI’s and Cricket Club’s committees was convened which approved the decision to erect a new brick building on the site between the school and the Men’s Club and it was decided to go ahead with plans and estimates. There was a temporary hiccup when the squire offered a different piece of land because of objections to the proposed site but the committee resolved to adhere to the original – the second site was deemed impossible because of the proximity of the school lavatories.
The new building was funded from subscriptions and a local loan of £600 – its trustees the ever-present Lord and Lady Brooke, George Billingham and a new name, Horace Ballard. By 24 November 1937, the ‘Hut’ on its new site was available for business.