Community hall at the heart of local life is 100 years old
PUBLISHED: 14:01 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 14:01 09 February 2015
According to a note at the bottom of the First and Second World War Roll of Honour scroll St Augustine’s Hall in Norwich was built in 1920 as a memorial using money given by parishioners and friends.
Recent research, says author and historian Stuart McLaren, has revealed that this statement is almost entirely inaccurate.
This hall is in fact 100 years old. It is a building which has survived against all the odds and is now a community centre to be proud of, and home to a host of groups and clubs.
It was opened in 1915 and this Friday there will be a special dinner organised at the hall by St Augustine’s District Church Council and St Augustine’s Community Together Residents’ Association to celebrate the centenary.
The Sheriff of Norwich, William Armstrong OBE, will be the guest of honour and he will be invited to unveil a commemorative plaque, paid for from a bequest by former parishioner Vivian Mabel Lynes (1920-2014).
Stuart, secretary of the residents’ association and author of the book They Are Not Dead - telling the stories of soldiers from St Augustine’s in the Great War - explained that at the start of the 20th century the church in St Augustine’s had decided there was a need for a purpose-built hall for activities.
Since 1909 small gatherings had been held in a house in Pitt Street owned by builder and churchwarden Harry Cutler Greengrass.
In 1914 it was decided to sell the old school rooms which raised £296 6s and build a parochial hall and classrooms. The land was occupied by a row of labourers’ cottages known as Minns Court. The freehold owner, King Edward VI Grammar School, offered to sell it to the PCC for £150 and the building started. The builder was – Harry Greengrass.
The following year the Rev H Griffiths noted in the parish magazine: “This most useful structure is now practically finished and we hope the Bishop will be able to come and open it very shortly.”
The hall even had heating and electrical lighting – a remarkably advanced innovation at the time.
It was a meeting place for the people of the parish could be proud of, set in open, almost rural surroundings, within the city.
Information on how the hall was used in the forty or so years between the First World War and the late 1950s is scare. A small stage was used by various groups and companies and this rare photograph of the St Augustine’s Accordion Band taken in the mid-1930s may show it.
In the early 60s the hall was used by a branch of the Church of England Men’s Society, oddly enough for a Women’s Hour!
There was also a Young Wives Group, a social club which met on a Tuesday and a youth club set up in 1962 provided local lads with the opportunity to play darts, billiards and table tennis, while girls were offered needlework, art classes and PT. Boys and girls were allowed to mingle, under supervision, for dances, quizzes and lectures.
The tough winter of 1962/3 took its toll on the heating system and a couple of decades later another youth club was thrown out of the hall by the PCC following complaints about their rowdy behaviour.
By the end of the 1980s the rat-infested hall and the nearby medieval church of St Augustine’s were in a poor way. A playgroup was ordered to close until essential repairs were made.
It was decided to close the old church and concentrate fund-raising efforts on saving the hall instead with the vicar, the Rev Tony Ward, telling the Evening News and Eastern Daily Press:
“Faced with a decision between spending £150,000 on a building used by 40 people for an hour and a half a week, or £80,000 on a building used by many groups throughout the week, this second seemed to us to be the only sensible course of action.”
In September 1993 the first divine service was held in the hall, the service taken by Canon Maurice Burrell, who had grown up in Rose Yard just across St Augustine’s Street, had sung in the church choir and had been married there.
Meanwhile the hall and its facilities continued to deteriorate and in November 1993 an adjacent outbuilding was set on fire ending plans to turn it into a children’s club and drop-in centre.
Stuart takes up the story: “By sheer hard work less than a year later, £50,000 had been raised from grants, donations and fund-raising events. Enough to start the renovations – being filmed by bookings manager Rosemary Taylor.”
The re-building work was a glorious example of the community spirit. Six months on a ‘new’ hall emerged and in 2000 the care of the old church was transferred to the Churches Conservation Trust, relieving the PCC of the financial burden.
In addition to the Church of England congregation, among the regular uses of the hall today are: The Thursday Club for senior citizens which celebrated its 25th birthday in 2013; The Monday Club, providing friendship, help and advice and a free hot meal for all; English Plus, offering free English language lessons; a yoga class, two keep-fit classes, a meditation class, a long-running table-tennis club Tankards; and a popular parent and toddler club called Cheeky Monkeys.
The hall is also used for children’s birthday parties and the local community group, St Augustine’s Community Together Residents’ Association, holds its well-attended public meetings there.
Now that’s what you call a community centre. Happy birthday St Augustine’s Memorial Hall.