description of the building of Yarcombe Jubilee Hall
is transcribed from an article by BBC reporter A.W.
published in the April 1946 issue of The Village,
the magazine of The National Council of Social
Service, following a broadcast on the B.B.C. Home
There is a great deal
of interest in village halls just now.
For one thing, people are thinking about war
memorials and a village hall is something permanent
– or can be – and something useful. It
was because of this interest that we recently
decided to broadcast a programme in the West of
England Home Service about the Village Hall at
Yarcombe in Devon, which was put up before the war,
most of the work being done by the villager people
themselves. I went along and talked with
some of them and in this account much of the story
is given in the actual words used in the broadcast.
In the hall I met
some of the people who had planned and built it,
including Tom Wyatt, a local farmer and Chairman of
the Hall Committee and George Phillips, carpenter,
wheel-wright and Secretary of the Committee.
I asked George Phillips what made them decide to
build a hall in Yarcombe. “Well,” he
said, “I was a lad here in the village and always
wanted to see a hall built here. Of
course, we could sometimes have dances and meeting
in the school but often we had nowhere to go and we
used to hang around the church gateway.
The fund to build a hall started with a surplus from
our Jubilee Fund. We had to have a
parish meeting, you see, to decide what we should do
with what was left over and, as a result of that
meeting, we decided to start a fund for a village
hall. Then we began to hold whist drives
and dances to raise more money.
Tom Wyatt then
described how, when the money started to come in,
they went off to scout around to see what other
villages had done. “We went and looked
at another Hall in the neighbourhood, the kind of
Hall that we thought would be ideal for Yarcombe.
It was built of corrugated iron with a wooden
structure and had cost something in the
neighbourhood of £400 to £500. In the
meantime we had been very kindly offered a site for
a Hall by Lady Seaton. We gladly
accepted it and it is the site on which this Hall is
But Lady Seaton had
made a condition; the building must be a permanent
one of stone or brick. When the
Committee approached the National Council of Social
Services to seek a grant or fund, they found that
the same condition held good and, in addition, that
the plans had to be properly drawn up by an
architect and approved. Well, they got a
grant for £165 and a loan of £330 to be paid back
over five years. A lot more money
therefore had to be raised, instead of the original
figure of £400; it looked as though nearly £1,000
would be needed. I asked George Phillips
how people felt about that.
“Well,” he said, “they
felt a bit critical, some did, but the ones that
were in it thought they must go ahead. A
bit of criticism just bucked them up to get on with
The committee had one
stroke of luck. Living in the village was an
architect, Gordon Hake, who had always been
interested in Yarcombe affairs; he did the work on
the plans. “Well, of course, I was
only too delighted to help in any way I could,” he
said “as I’ve known the village for many years.
My first job was to crystallise the ideas of the
committee by getting out a skeleton design, so we
could see what could be done on the site for the
money available. I thought it advisable
to take a long view, and so to plan that any future
improvements could be added without interfering with
the structure. There was for example no
proper water service to the site when we began
building, so we had to put in chemical closets.
The connection to the drain was built in so that the
permanent fittings could be connected, without any
further building trouble, to the water-carried
drainage system when that was eventually installed.
Indeed that has now happened. We’ve just
put in flush closets and a sink to the kitchen”.
I asked him what method
he had in mind for doing the actual building of the
Hall. “We had two chief alternatives,” he replied.
“One was to put the building out to tender, that is
to say, to get estimates and have a proper contract.
The other was to work by direct labour.
I was keen on the direct labour policy which was
ultimately adopted. It meant that George
Phillips our carpenter and George Pavey, our mason,
both volunteered to do the work at labour cost plus
material cost, taking no profit. That
saved an enormous amount on the actual building,
particularly as the job was taken on expeditiously.
I am sure we scored by adopting that method
“In the meantime, working
drawings had to be prepared and the site itself for
building. It wasn’t any to solid a site
in wet weather. The approaches had to be made good
before materials could be bought to the site.
That, and the building of the Hall was all done
voluntarily by Yarcombe people. In fact,
on the foundation stone we have these words:
“This Hall was built by public subscription and by
local men, none profiting, to commemorate the
Jubilee of King George V.”
One of the first jobs was
to fence in the site and Tom Wyatt sportingly
offered to provide the oak for the fencing.
“All out on my own farm,” he said. “It’s
some of the best oak obtainable. I cut
‘em myself, split ‘em into four, and they’ll last
There’s no doubt he was
right for Yarcombe oak is famous. Seven
or eight hundred years ago the oak for the belfry of
Exeter cathedral was felled in Yarcombe parish.
Another early job was to
lay foundations. Gifts of 100 tons of
quarry stone were made by local people and the Hall
Committee was allowed to take 100 tons of gravel
from the river for making concrete. “It
was rather a job,” said George Phillips, “but we had
a strong committee, and they got in touch with
different people who volunteered to come along and
help load this gravel on to a lorry. Of
course, we had to keep going when we had the lorry
as we had to pay a pretty stiff price for it.
On Saturday afternoons – and sometimes in the
evenings - we used to get a lorry-load of young
chaps and we’d go down to the river.
Then as many as could would buckle to and get the
lorry loaded up and ride back on the lorry and
unload it at the site; the remainder would stay down
at the river-side and just watch the trout, and
perhaps, have a bit of bread and cheese and a drop
of cider- real Devon, very good cider too - all
free. Then the party that had waited
would load up the lorry, when he came back, while
the others were having their bit of bread and cheese
and cider. Then we’d change over again
and so on. Yes, we kept the lorry going
as hard as we could while we had it there and we
soon got up over a hundred tons. Then,
of course, came the mixing of the concrete for the
foundations. We marked out the site with
the help of Mr. Hake and then George Pavey, our
mason, got the trenches ready.
Volunteers would come along and mix up a huge heap
of gravel with cement and make concrete, and they
would wheel it around and Mr. Pavey would supervise
all this being put in”.
“When things got going,
and people began to see that the bottoms were going
in and there really was going to be a hall, it
created interest. Everybody was popping
in to have a look. Then we got on to the
laying of the foundation stone which was done by
Mrs. Meyrick – she was the wife of the Lord of the
Manor, Captain Meyrick. On that day we
held a fete. To raise more money they
sold bricks at the fete and let people lay them.
“Some of them we had to
re-lay,” said George Pavey, “but the youngsters were
so anxious to pay sixpence to put a brick down that
we got a lot of money that way. There’s
no doubt that when the walls really started going
up, people got more interested.”
“Oh yes” said Tom Wyatt,
“Do you remember the skittles week on the Vicarage
lawn when we played skittles every night till dark?
Then, to finish up on the Saturday night, we put on
the car lights. In fact I put mine on
till twelve o’clock and I think if it hadn’t been
Sunday next day we should have been playing till
I asked them about the
inside of the Hall, particularly about the very fine
maple floor. “ Oh yes, we’ve a very nice
floor,” said George Phillips, “It’s made of Canadian
maple. Mr. Hake, the architect,
suggested we should have a hardwood floor, instead
of putting in a deal floor. It cost a
great deal more, of course, but we just saw how our
finances were going and decided that we could afford
it. Compared with a deal floor, of
course, it’s infinitely better.”
They told me how rough
the old school floor had been yet how, even with
Home Guard parades, and drills, and rifle butts, and
hobnailed boots, the maple had stood up to it.
I certainly couldn’t notice any wear, it was a
beautiful hard surface.
“And they liked dancing
on a floor of that sort,” said George Phillips.
“We’ve probably made up the extra cost by the number
of people attracted to dances here. They
came from quite a wide area. You gain in
the long run, you’re bound to.”
I asked the ladies about
the decorations, especially the curtains on the
stage and at all the windows. “Well,” said
Mrs. Phillips, “the committee got together and had
patterns sent from different places.
Then we bought yards of material, it was cut in
different sizes and made up into curtains by the
ladies committee; we had quite a busy time.”
“I don’t know what we
should have really done with the Hall, if it hadn’t
been for the ladies committee!” chipped in one of
the men. “They certainly stood up to all
the work; they’ve done everything. The
Hall has been used as an A.R.P. post, for Red Cross
working parties, troops, as a Reception Centre for
evacuees, and later as a school, as well as being
the centre of the social life of the village.”
Before I left I asked one
or two of the young people of Yarcombe, what the
Hall meant to them.
“Before we had the Hall,”
said one, “we had no place where young people could
meet. But when the Hall was opened we
started a social club for all people over 14 and now
we get together once a week. We had a
membership from the start of about 40 regular
members. Then we have visitors besides.”
“Somehow we seem to know
each other better now,” said another.
“And having a dance occasionally people aren’t so
afraid to dance and open out. It’s different
altogether now. In the old days people
used to stand in the corners. Now they
all join together and it’s more like a