War Memorial Hall celebrates 100 years of serving villagers

The Memorial Hall Skittles team outing to Portsmouth in 1937.

The Memorial Hall Skittles team outing to Portsmouth in 1937. - Credit: Charlie Sparey Collection

A war memorial hall celebrated a centenary of serving a village last month. 

A Remembrance parade outside the war memorial hall in 1967.

A Remembrance parade outside the war memorial hall in 1967. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

Congresbury War Memorial Hall is used as a social club and the headquarters of Congresbury Branch Royal British Legion. 

In the hall are plaques dedicated to those who lost their lives in World War One and World War Two as well as a further plaque dedicated to Lieutenant Tony King who lost his life in Iraq in 2003. 

The war memorial hall was unveiled in High Street on December 7, 1920, with around 600 people from the Congresbury area in attendance. It cost approximately £3,000 to construct. 

The opening of Congresbury War Memorial Hall.

The opening of Congresbury War Memorial Hall. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

Local historian, Clive Burlton, said: “At the opening ceremony, Congresbury vicar, Canon George Laws described the occasion as a ‘red letter day for the village’.  

“He went on to say that next to the church and the day school he considered there was nothing more important in the village for the wellbeing of the community than a parish hall. 

"He finished his address by saying it was a rallying centre for much that was good, gracious and inspiring in village life. 

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“The ‘rallying centre’ phrase was picked up by the Western Daily Press, accompanied by the handy work of prolific illustrator Samuel Loxton who, with his love of art and architecture, was employed by several local newspapers of the day to record various aspects of local life.” 

The opening of Congresbury War Memorial Hall.

The opening of Congresbury War Memorial Hall. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

After World War Two, village communities up and down the country wrestled with just how they should commemorate the loss of loved ones from their parish who had perished.  

Apart from one or two exceptions, those killed overseas were buried near to where they fell or near to the field hospitals where they succumbed to their injuries.

In post war Britain, visits to cemeteries in France and Belgium and further afield were out of the question for the vast majority of families who had lost relatives.  

There was no guidance or funding from Government about the nature of war memorials and so the estimated 100,000 or so that emerged in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s took all shapes and forms including halls, crosses, plaques, gardens, cenotaphs, sculptures, monuments and so forth.  

The opening of Congresbury War Memorial Hall tablet unveiled by Mrs Fiisher on December 17, 1922.

The opening of Congresbury War Memorial Hall tablet unveiled by Mrs Fiisher on December 17, 1922. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

It was left to local committees to decide for themselves what should be done and at a public meeting in Congresbury in April 1919, it was decided that the building of a Memorial Hall would be a fitting tribute to the 24 local men who had died in World War One.  

A memorial committee was subsequently formed and from that was selected a building committee once the building of a hall had been decided upon.

Twelve months later, some £2,200, which would equate to £100,000 today, of the estimated build cost of £3,000 had been raised through fetes, donations, subscriptions and loans.  

This was enough to commence construction and working to plans drawn up by Congresbury architect and builder George Wear, village men did all the hard graft and just one carpenter working with a 14-year old boy, did all of the extensive woodwork.  

The WW1 memorial.

The WW1 memorial. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

Laying of foundation stones was first discussed in early May 1920 and around a month after work started, it was time for the ceremonial laying of the stones.  

The future of Congresbury War Memorial Hall came into question after long-standing licensees Jim and Sue Redstone announced their retirement in 2010. 

In 2013, War Memorials Trust offered a grant of £1,805 towards works to make the hall watertight and to secure its future as a public building. 

The WW1 memorial.

The WW2 memorial. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

The works included the removal of the two failing box valleys in between the double gabled roof replacements, with the joints were secured and sealed.

The failing flat roof to the rear was removed as well as the rotten timbers and ceiling below, which was falling in.

The asbestos roof was removed and properly disposed of. 

In 2020, a group of volunteers carried out various repair works with the hope of restoring the building for community group use in 2021 and beyond. 

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