Ramsden Bellhouse Village Hall

The `Village Club' was formed about 1915 with its headquarters in the old Thatched Barn which was part of the Hall Farm Estate, and had been used by Homesteads Ltd. for storage purposes during the building of the Homestead Estate.   This barn is no longer in existence, but stood north of St Mary's church, access being up the lane on the church side of the road halfway between the church and Orchard Avenue.   Members paid a subscription annually to belong to the Club, which gave them reduced admission fees to dances, socials and whist drives which were the main social events.

About 1926, because of the poor state of repair of the old barn, the need for a more permanent Hall became apparent.   A fund was set up and various money raising events took place over the next ten years.   A 'Limited Company' was formed and many local people bought `shares' or `bricks'.    400 was raised this way, and a further 500 was borrowed to enable the Village Hall to be built in 1936 by Mr Bert Easton for 900.

It was opened in the middle of May 1936 by Lieutenant Colonel J. Hilder DL MP. Mr Percy Porter was Chairman.   The Hall today is basically as it was built in 1936.

It has of course been re-wired and the toilets have had a face-lift.   Heating was changed to gas from solid fuel and a cooker was added to the kitchen.    In 1960 a sliding door was placed between the kitchen and the library room at the cost of 10.   Many extensions have been planned, and estimates sought.    Part of the war memorial fund was set aside for extension but always the money was needed for repairs.   The Hall was, and still is, run by a Management Committee.    Since 1946 this has consisted of a representative from each section, one from St Mary's Church, one from the Baptist Church and five public members.   The old minutes show all the perennial problems which exist today - lack of finance - non- . attendance of Section Reps: urgent repairs and estimates that go astray!   In 1946 the Limited Company was wound up and the Club was affiliated to Essex Rural Communities.   Mr Porter and Mr Abbott became Trustees, each putting up 100 to facilitate the change over.    This was repaid the following year from the Memorial Fund.   Homesteads Ltd. handed over the freehold of the site and paid the necessary expenses.    After this the `Club' became the `Community Centre' and was registered with the Charity Commissioners.

Wartime Years
The wartime years saw the Hall used for other things beside social events.   In the first month of the war it was obliged to close at 10.00 PM each night, but by February 1940 this was changed to 12.00 PM.   In the Hall grounds was Auxiliary Fire Brigade shed, and a dump for scrap metal.    In 1940 and 1941 the Women's Institute made jam from surplus fruit and blackberries picked by the Girl Guides, which presumably was sold locally to help out with the rations.    Wickford ARP requested that the Hall be available as an Emergency Casualty Clearing Station and a key was given to Dr Campbell for this purpose.    Blackout curtains had to be purchased, and procedures in the event of air-raids were on the agenda of the Management Committee.   Camouflaging the roof was considered, but the idea was rejected.

Meetings were often disrupted by air raids, and in 1940 the support for the Hall was so poor, that it was decided to hand over the Hall for the duration of the war to the Church Army for a services canteen.    A contract was signed giving the Church Army complete control, but allowing the use of the Hall to the Women's Institute, Library and Comforts Committee.    However by April 1941, owing to insufficient troops locally, and food restrictions, the Church Army paid the rent to the end of the contract, and returned the Hall to the residents.    In the minutes of May 1941 it is reported that the Regimental Welfare Officer thanked the club for welcoming troops and allowing them in free to dances.   This was the only hall locally that gave them this facility.

Further wartime events were:
1941   War Weapons Week:   Procession - Service - Social Events
1942   War Ships Week:          Procession - Service - Social Events
1943   Wings for Victory:          Procession - Service - Social Events
1944   Salute the Soldier:         Procession - Service - Social Events

War Memorial Fund
In 1945 there was an ambitious `Peace Memorial' plan.   This was to take the form of tennis courts, bowling green, children's playground, extension to the Hall and a Garden of Remembrance.    In the event the committee was more hopeful than the village itself.   Neighbouring villages asked to help were not interested.   In the end only the Garden of Remembrance materialised and was opened in 1951, the remainder of the money being put towards two hard tennis courts opened on July 28th 1955.   Sadly the Garden of Remembrance became a liability, with various plantings becoming overgrown with weeds, and gardeners being hard to come by.   The Horticultural Society helped out on occasions, but no lasting solution was found, and today it is more a Lawn of Remembrance.    The tennis courts fell into disrepair with the disappearance of the tennis club, and now are used as a car park.

Caretakers etc.
Problems with obtaining cleaners, boiler stokers, and someone to pump the cesspool, appear regularly in the minutes.   In 1941 Mr Read was paid ten shillings a week to stoke the boiler, and two shillings to pump the cesspool. Miss Gower was paid 10d an hour for cleaning.
At one time there was a steward who attended all functions and provided the refreshments on sale.   The kitchen, then called the canteen, was sacred to the steward, who usually resented any intrusion.   In the sixties however, sections began to do their own catering.

Annual Events
The Birthday Party took place in the middle of May, and took the form of a concert party followed by a dance.   In 1957 a special 21st Birthday Party was held.    All those connected with the club for the past 21 years were invited.   I remember it being a wonderful evening.   At one time a club service was held in the church on the day after the Birthday Party.   Each year a charity is chosen and every section is required to raise a contribution for this charity.   A cheque is handed over at the Christmas Bazaar.   In 1952 171 was raised for the Canvey Distress Fund.   The annual fete appeared after a lapse of many years in 1953.    At first held on August Bank Holiday Monday, it is now usually held at the end of June.   The first Christmas Bazaar was held in December 1945 in aid of the Peace Memorial Fund.    It is now held in November and proceeds go into the running of the Village Hall.
The Remembrance Day service is held in November.   This is a combined service of the Baptist Church and St Mary's and is attended by the Cub Scouts and Scouts.    A combined carol service is often held in December.   This follows the policy of the early `club' days when there was much emphasis on co-operation with the other organisations of the village.

In the early days dances, whist drives and socials were run by Management sub-Committees.   Many societies have been formed as Sections of the Village Hall.    Some have died an early death.   Some have come and gone and come again.

The following is a rough list of sections and one time sections.
1917*        Women's Institute (Now named Ramsden Ladies Club)
1939          Indoor Sports - closed 1961 due to damage done
1939*         Badminton - closed and re-started in 1946
1939          Debating and Lecture Society
1939          Tap and Toe Dancing for Children
Oct. 42*     Horticultural Club - 50 members enrolled
Sept. 43    Civic Section - 13 members
March 45   Church Guild
June 45      Tennis Section reformed.   In 1920's the Tennis Club had grass courts behind the `Wee Cabin' (opposite the Recreation Ground).    Later there were grass courts at the Village Hall.   Hard courts were laid down in 1956.   220 came from a Ministry of Education grant, 223 from the Memorial Fund, and 250 from a loan from the National Playing Fields Association.   The tennis courts were opened July 28th 1956.
Oct. 45        Dramatic Section - many excellent shows and pantomimes were performed
Oct. 48        Workers Educational Association - class in Economics
1950           Woolshots Club - closed 1952
1954           Aero Club - model aeroplanes
1955           Handicrafts Section
1957*          Cub Scouts began to use the Hall
1957           Youth Club - one of many started with high hopes, and closed usually because of damage.   In October 1961 there was a request to re-open the youth club.    The request was refused on the grounds of "members being unmanageable and doing considerable wanton damage".
1957           Ramsden Bellhouse Travellers Association
1958*         Scouts began to use the Hall
1960           Old Tyme and Modern Dancing Section
1960           Darby and Joan
1961*         Dog Training Club
1963*         Keep Fit Medau

* indicates those still in existence

Downham School
Starting on September 15th 1956, the Community Centre was used as part of Downham School.   This was probably quite a financial help to the Hall as the Education Authorities not only paid rent, but paid towards a new boiler and had their own caretaker.   There was however inevitably friction between the two caretakers and between the Education Authorities and the Management Committee.    Each blamed the other for the "state of the Hall", "dirty toilets" and the "unhygienic kitchen" : However they managed to live with each other until June 24th 1964 when the new Downham School was built at Ramsden Heath.

Village Magazine
The club originally had a section printed in the Church Magazine, but this was not a free publication and had an ever diminishing circulation.   The first Village Magazine came out in September 1961 and was delivered free to every house.   It went out of circulation in the 1980's due to lack of support from some of the Sections combined with the inability to get it printed until after most events had taken place.
In 1990, the Village Magazine in its present form started to drop through our letter boxes once more.
This account is based on the minutes of meetings up until 1964 and some memories of older residents.

Isabel C Johnson

This article was first published in "Thoughts on Ramsden - A Brief History of Village Life" Compiled and Edited by Isabel Johnson.
This article appears with her permission.