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YARCOMBE JUBILEE HALL - HOW IT ALL BEGAN

This description of the building of Yarcombe Jubilee Hall is transcribed from an article by BBC reporter A.W. (Bill) Coysh, 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 Service.

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 standing today

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 job

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 for years.”

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 next morning.”

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 ‘ring-o-roses’ spirit.”

Bill Coysh

 

That was the story - in brief - of the building of Yarcombe Village Hall before the Second World War. The Hall became a Charity in 1975 in which it states:

“The object of the Charity shall be the provision and maintenance of a village hall for the use of the inhabitants of the Parish of Yarcombe 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 inhabitants.”

Since those days there have been many changes, but because of the clear thinking that went into the planning of the Hall in the first place, these have been largely to upgrade the facilities.   The improvements have come about mainly through new ideas generated from the Hall Committee and from villagers, assisted by the introduction of new materials and equipment while also reflecting the needs and expectations of a changing society.   We have run many events to raise money for the improvements and to keep the Hall going from year to year.

The high standard of facilities now in the Hall have been brought about by the same team efforts, as in the past, through enthusiastic, hardworking Yarcombe people, particularly the ladies, who have used the Hall and raised the necessary funds; assisted by private donations and grants from authorities.

The Hall Committee currently consists of around twenty-three members who represent the main users of the Hall. The Hall is managed by a Caretaker/Booking Clerk.

In the last ten years the Committee has overseen a major upgrading of facilities.   This has included the replacement of the old permanent stage with a flexible one, giving more room to the body of the Hall and its side extension.   The kitchen has been completely revamped with excellent equipment and dishwashing facilities and the toilets upgraded with disabled and baby changing facilities.   A large storage room has been added providing the opportunity to remove all equipment from the Hall.   The floors have recently been sanded, re-varnished and the carpet areas renewed; an amplification system with a hearing loop is in place.

The Hall roof tiling and insulation has been completely renewed and the Hall painted inside and out.   The car park has been repaired and there is plenty of space at the front and rear for vehicles.

Being close to the village Church there has been a strong relationship and consequently hiring opportunities for the hall, convenient for wedding and funeral receptions.

Yarcombe lies in a big rural area with good access and the Hall is used by a variety of people and organisations of all ages from children to Young Farmers and the elderly.   There is a regular Short Mat Bowls group, Hand Bell Ringers, Craft Club, etc.   The Hall holds a Village Market on the second Saturday of every month and there are regular Community Lunches with speakers.   The Hall is hired privately and by groups for many social occasions and events during the year and because of the excellent facilities that we now have this is expanding as the general public realise how reasonable and convenient village halls are to hire for family and group events.

John Carter