World War I Memorial Halls

How many village halls in Dorset are World War One memorials?

by Felicity Hebditch

So many grieved over the dead in the First World War. Photographs in the newspapers show the huge crowds around the Cenotaph; towns and villages set up their own memorials. What else could you do to remember your own young men that could also benefit the living? Memorial halls were one answer.

 

In the 19th century various halls were built for the public good: assembly rooms for music and dancing, mechanics’ institutes, and scientific or literary institutes were set up for self improvement and to share new discoveries. Some landowners set up reading rooms or institutes for their community like Albert Bankes of Wolfeton who built an institute in Charminster, Dorset, or Robert Phelips with one for his village of Montacute in Somerset. There was a great demand for entertainment, and poetry readings, spelling bees and magic lantern shows often took place in the school, which was often too small for the crowd.

 

Memorial halls could be rather grand when wealthy individuals built them in memory of one of their family. Wootton Fitzpaine, Dorset, has a most attractive Arts and Crafts hall designed by F.W.Troup, given in 1906 by Mrs. Capper Pass in memory of her husband. Alfred Capper Pass had made his fortune with a smelting works in Bedminster, Bristol, out of which he endowed the Chair of Chemistry in Bristol University, and also a church in Bedminster. They bought the estate at Wootton Fitzpaine and Mrs. Capper Pass built the hall in the village. Pevsner in Buildings of England eulogises: ‘In a small compass all the Arts and Crafts motifs of that moment, so suggestive of the influence of women. The tile patterns, the leadwork, and the composition of the chimneystack deserve special attention’ – one of the very few references to a village hall in Pevsner!

Wooton Fitzpaine Village Hall

Wootton Fitzpaine Village Hall

 

The tragedy of the First World War was a real spur to build memorial halls. The architectural writer Lawrence Weaver, in his Village Clubs and Halls (published by Country Life in 1920) said of the need for renewal and common meeting places. ‘It takes some of its vigour from the desire to set up worthy memorials to those who gave up their lives. . .Young men coming back to the land will not be content with the old conditions. . .The opportunity of reasonable recreation, of social intercourse, of mental development is as necessary to the rural worker as to the townsman.’ He also makes the point that ‘The foundation of all schemes should be a reliance upon the communal spirit, so that everything which is attempted would not be imposed from the top, but built up from the bottom.’ Here are two examples.

 

There were those who sought the renewal of the countryside in the wake of the War. Briantspuddle hall in Dorset was built by Sir Ernest Debenham from 1919 onwards to try practical measures to provide employment in the country. Ernest was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge; it helped that he was the grandson of the founder of Debenham’s stores, whose fortune backed his enterprise. He was knighted for his services to agriculture. He bought up local farms and pioneered agricultural methods, hoping that increased production would mean more people would be employed on the land. The Central Dairy where the milk from the farms was processed was providing milk for the Cunard liners. Milk was sold in the locality only an hour after being processed. Unfortunately the 1920s slump meant the lowering of prices and the enterprise had to have money put into it by Debenham. He provided excellent housing for his workers with indoor lavatories and bathrooms; a power house supplied electricity and pumped water. Debenham also commissioned a First World War memorial by Eric Gill. He built the village as well as its village hall.

Briantspuddple Village Hall

Briantspuddle Village Hall

 

Iwerne Minster in Dorset was another experiment in model villages. In 1908 the estate was bought by James Ismay (whose father founded the White Star Line and built the Titanic). He organised food production in the village during the First World War (when food supplies in the country became very low) and displayed the latest news of the war in a little structure known as the War Office, still used to display public notices. He dressed the girls in red hooded cloaks and set up painted signs for the shops. Iwerne Minster keeps up the tradition of pride in the village and often wins the Best Kept Village awards. Ismay had a village club built – ‘the Homestead, by Baillie Scott and Beresford, built as a village club, the gift of James Ismay in 1921. Coyly complicated, with a half-timber porch and a big tiled projection nudging your shoulder as you walk up the hill’ (Pevsner). It is now a private house and the village has a larger hall in the former Baptist Chapel.

 

The pattern is repeated across the country. The provision of village halls is, in fact, a huge enterprise. According to ACRE – Action with Communities in Rural England (www.acre.org.uk), 80,000 volunteers now own and manage village halls worth an estimated £2 billion. Let’s add some more to this SDNQ website.

Please send details of other village halls that are World War I memorials (in both counties) to: editors@sdnq.org.uk

WWI MEMORIAL HALLS IN DORSET WWI MEMORIAL HALLS IN SOMERSET                            
Piddletrenthide Memorial Hall was built in memory of the men of the village who lost their lives in World War One and as a ‘thank-offering for the safe return of their comrades’. The hall opened in March 1923. War Memorial Hall, Draycott, Somerset. In 1926 a pre-Victorian chapel was given to the community, in perpetuity, as a memorial to those who fell in World War One. A new hall was opened in 2000 and is a memorial to the fallen of both world wars.
West Moors Memorial Hall was opened on 7 June 1929 and is built on land given by Sir Frederic Fryer in 1914. The hall is dedicated to the memory of those who fell in World War One.  

Mudford Memorial Hall, built in 1847, was originally the village school, which closed after World War Two. The school building was bought in 1951 to serve as a village hall in memory of the fallen of both world wars. The hall serves the villages of Mudford, Chilton Cantelo and Ashington. These villages have no other memorials to those who were killed in World War One.

 In 1920 a wooden hut from Blandford Camp was re-erected in Bloxworth, on land provided by the Lane family, and stood as a memorial to the sons of Mr and Mrs F. G. A. Lane, who had died fighting during World War One. The Hall was used for a variety of activities including concerts, dances and whist drives. It was used, primarily, as a reading room for male inhabitants of the village aged 15 years and above. The hall ‘remained the centre of village life’ until 1960, when the Village Club was established. The old building was dismantled in 1992. Frome Memorial Theatre opened as a memorial hall in 1925. During the 1930s seating was installed and the theatre is now the focal point for remembering the fallen of both world wars and other conflicts. A remembrance service is held in the theatre every November.
  Dunster Memorial Hall was given to the village by Alexander Luttrell and opened in 1921. The hall was given in remembrance ‘of those from the village who served and those who died in the First World War’. The hall now houses the Dunster museum and doll collection.