Village Hall
for Bracon Ash & Hethel

The Old Village Hall

From the programme for the Official Opening of Bracon Ash and Hethel Village Hall on Wednesday 6th may 1970 [with some additional material from Gladys Watling's memoirs]:

The original building was built by the Berney family in 1846 to provide a school for Bracon Ash children.The building, 25 ft x 16 ft, was of clay lump roofed with tiles. It continued to be used as a school until the County Primary School was opened in 1879, after which it became the village library [Reading Room] housing books given by the moneyed families of Bracon Ash but the books could not be taken away and had to be read in the building. In 1883 it was also used as a Sunday School, according to White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, published in that year.

Gladys Watling remembered: 'A short distance away on the other side of the road [from Watling's shop] was a building known as the Reading Room - this is where the Village Hall now stands. A certain use was made of this room as a recreation place for the men of the village. The chief thing that I remember was that they had a variety of newspapers which were brought by carrier's cart on a Friday night and were purchased from our shop.
Another use for the room was on a Monday afternoon when the then Rector's wife, Mrs. Robinson, held what she called a 'Mothers' Meeting'- this was at the turn of the century. A cheery fire was lighted and some coco-matting put on the floor to try and make it comfortable and I imagine the meeting eventually became like the Mothers' Union of the present day.
On a Sunday morning the Church Sunday School was held here and consisted of about four classes each with a lady from the village in charge. There was a harmonium in the room and so the proceedings started and finished with hymn singing and prayers. The church bell was always rung at half past ten to notify the time and the children were taken to the church for the eleven o'clock service.'

By a Conveyance dated the 11th April 1939, the "Reading Room" was given by Augustus Berney and Dora Lavinia Berney to the Trustees of the Village Hall and was registered with the Charity Commission as a Charitable Trust. Income from the Village Hall was very small and there was no money available to maintain the building particularly during the war years. Consequently, the state of the building deteriorated until it became unsafe.

Ted Moore remembers the old Village Hall and its demise well - his mother was the caretaker: 'There were lots of activities in the Reading Room: weddings; the Lads' Club; Miss Watling held her Red Cross classes in there..... Most of the special celebrations (for royal weddings or Jubilees) they happened in the village in the Church Barn, next to Bracon Ash Church. It was bigger than the Reading Room so there was more room.
I always remember the night in the 1950s, when John Betts' grandfather was Chair of the Reading Room. He said to Mr Rice to put notices up in church and everywhere to say the Reading Room was going to be closed. They called a meeting and it got to the state where so many people came you couldn't get everyone in. It got as if no one was interested in the Reading Room until it was going to be knocked down. When the day came in 1969 to pull it down, I remember John, John's father and Brian (John's brother) came and they put the ropes around the old Reading Room to pull it down and they just snapped! It was a big old clay lump building. People were saying that the old Reading Room was going to fall down but it took 5 tractors to move it. Whist Drives and the Women's Institute all went to Mulbarton at the time of the rebuild and the WI was the only group not to come back after the year when the new Village Hall was opened.'
Billiards was popular, too - and Bracon Ash had a billiards team under Mr White, the farmer.

Proposals for a New Hall

A Parish meeting was called in December 1967 when a working committee was appointed to investigate the possibility of rebuilding the village hall on the existing site. The Working Committee, under the Chairmanship of Mr T B Betts appointed Mr T A Cross ARIBA to design a suitable building. Application was made to the Department of Education and Science through the Norfolk Education Committee for a grant towards the cost and on 12th December 1968 provisional approval was received, confirmation being given on 10th November 1969 that a sum of £2,505 would be available in the form of a grant. The delay was due to considerable investigation, the completion of new documents, the appointment of a Management Committee and considerable correspondence.

The old village hall was closed in June 1969 and eventually demolished by voluntary labour in August 1969. From Gladys Watling's memoirs:
There was a hollow grassy space between the main road and the Reading Room which was spoken of by the older folk of the village as the Pound Pit - I had been given to understand that it was originally a public enclosure for lost or straying animals and a place for storing goods held in official custody. Incidentally, when the old Reading Room was demolished the rubble was put in the Pound Pit- this served two purposes as the ground was levelled without having to fetch material to do so and the rubble was disposed of without the expense of carting it away.

It was found that the land held by the Village Hall Trustees was not large enough for the new Hall and by a Conveyance dated 26th August 1969, Mr R T Berney gifted all the remainder of the land on which the Village Hall stood, including that surrounding the War Memorial, to the Trustees. A new Trust Deed was completed on 22nd September 1969. This stated that the Hall was for the use of the inhabitants of Bracon Ash and the neighbourhood without distinction of political, religious or other opinions, including use for meetings, lectures and classes and for other forms of recreation and leisure-time occupation with the object of improving the conditions of life for the said inhabitants.

Satisfactory plans were prepared and the contract was given to Messrs Ashby & Quantrill of Wymondham at a cost of £3,966.6s.8d for the rebuilding of the Village Hall. The Car Park was estimated to cost £900 with Architects fees of approximately £365.

Various activities were organised to raise the Village share of the rebuilding costs and the Committee wish to express their thanks and sincere appreciation of the people who have helped to organise functions in private houses, given prizes for raffles and tombolas and for the very generous donations which have been received from people and organisation in the Village and also from people residing outside Bracon Ash and Hethel. A contribution from the Parish rate has also been added to the rebuilding fund and the Whist Drive Committee has continued to function in a room at the Worlds End, Mulbarton, adding more money to the fund.

The Committee is pleased to state that with the functions arranged in the near future, the Village Hall funds will meet all expenses incurred in the rebuilding of the Hall and provision of a car park. Funds will be required to provide furniture, crockery, cutlery and kitchen equipment and it is the intention of the Committee to continue to raise funds until all requirements have been obtained. Consideration is also being given to making application for a registered club in the Hall, thus providing a Social Centre in the Village.

From Gladys Watling's memoirs: 'In about 1967 there came a general feeling that we could do with a more up to date room for village affairs and that started the idea of a new village hall. A committee was formed and plans being talked about. The first fund raising effort was in a small way when Mrs. White and I arranged what we called a 'Social Afternoon' - coffee mornings and wine and cheese parties hadn't taken off like in these days. We held this in the old Reading Room and each had an assortment of coloured photographic slides to show and, as it was in the fairly early days of these, they could be interesting to people. We had the usual efforts to raise money: a bring-and-buy, a raffle and tea. We didn't charge admission and those who attended patronised us well as we raised the sum of £7. Inflation was not known then! There followed many more elaborate methods of raising money starting off by Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Bond organising a cheese and wine party. The necessary sum of money was raised and the new Village Hall and car park completed. In May 1970 the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Sir Edmund Bacon, officially performed the opening ceremony.'

The New Village Hall

The new hall was opened by the late Sir Edmund Bacon, the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, and dedicated by the Rev. David Main who was the then Rector of Bracon Ash and Hethel, on Wednesday 6th May 1970 at 7.30 pm. Guests were welcomed by the Chairman of the Management Committee, Mr T B Betts; VIPs were introduced by Colonel John H Jewson, and the vote of thanks proposed by Mr J E Bond, Vice-Chairman of the Management Committee.

Since then the hall has been extended. The first extension was a bar which was opened by the late Mr J E Bond on 13th December 1972 (above, with Greene King rep). At that time, we were the first Village Hall in this area to be granted a licence. In 1976 the hall was extended a further 15 feet to provide a Committee Room and a storeroom at the same time as a bar store was added to the existing bar. Due to the success of the hall, a further extension was added at the beginning of 1982 which improved the toilet and cloakroom facilities, enlarged the kitchen and doubled the size of the bar. All these projects have been paid for with the help of the local authority, Social Club, the generosity of local people and a considerable amount of hard work by the appointed committee.

Stanley Goodrum & Laurence Bailey at the bar
Stanley Goodrum & Laurence Bailey at the bar

Ted Moore's wife, Jessie, was caretaker until 2015: 'Jessie used to go over every morning and draw the curtains and draw them again at night. She went over whenever there was an activity as there was only one key at that time. I was working at William Ashby's in the day, but I used to help her over there in the evenings. In those days, if the Village Hall needed decorating you only had to mention it around the village and there would be an army of people there to do it voluntary, but life changes. That was about 20 years ago. Now times have changed. I understand why - people have big mortgages and they have to work 6 days a week nowadays and have one day for themselves. That's how I look at it.
In later years the village hall has been used for so many things. Parties every Saturday night, mainly private parties. In fact the money we used to refurbish the village hall after the flood (2013) came from those good days. There had been a thriving Gardening Club since 1975 started by myself. It was my brain wave! Mr Rice thought it was a good idea. He had a brother who was a very good gardener who lived in Thorpe and he did showing and we got a lot of information out of him.... The Gardening Club has the shows throughout the year. We have had meetings and speakers giving talks on how to show. There is a lot more we could do if people had the time.'

TODAY the Bracon Ash & Hethel Village Hall remains an important social hub for both villages and has recently been refurbished. There is also a registered Social Club which operates from the Village Hall three times a week.