The first of the two articles is by Mr. Green and it describes the time from the initial idea to the opening. The second account by Mrs. Packham continues the story. Both articles are reproduced from Look! This was Timsbury by kind permission of The Cheshire Home.
Before the Conygre Hall was built the recreational field just had a corrugated iron hut on it. One half was a billiard hall and the other was a meeting room, and it was terribly dilapidated and falling to pieces. It had been the Miners Welfare Hall, and there was an ambulance stationed here.
When I came in 1966 I was very interested in Timsbury Football Club and the cricket team and I was always watching them and I used to say that what the village needed was a village hall, a central point where people could meet and do things because there was nothing an the village really for dances or badminton (although the Legion was our Parish Hall years ago.) Rector Meade-King would show old-fashioned lantern slides at Easter, there’d be dances, concerts, whist drives anything.
I think it was 1967 at the annual Parish meeting when Mr. Moon asked if there was anybody present interested in building a village hall in Timsbury. There was quite a lot of support for it, and I think 23 of us volunteered to serve on a committee to try to raise money to build a village hall. All 23 of us had a meeting in the tin hut on the recreational field and Mr. Moon as chairman of the Parish Council came along and spoke to us and said what a good idea it was. Arthur Moon has since said to me that when he started things goings he never expected it to succeed. Les Brewer was the chairman, and I was the secretary. William Bertram drew up the first set of plans, but they were not followed up. Then after a few modifications the village hall that was eventually built was to plans by Jock Crozier.
A most interesting thing about the village hall was the way we raised the money. Everybody seemed to get swept into it. We did the most outrageous things! A caravan on the main road to Wells! We bought an old caravan for £25, converted it into a little snack bar and for ten weekends during the year, Friday – Sundays we would go to Rush Hill and open up for business. Frank Constable used to get a lot on the food from Fry’s at cost, go down to the farm to get the milk and water, and we would sleep there to make sure there was no vandalism. We would open for a business making hot dogs and bacon sandwiches from 8 o’clock in the morning, and I’ve been working at midnight, with people going on holiday travelling through the night and wanting a stop. We used to make over £1,000 a year on that.
Then Major Cayzer said he’d add pound for pound to everything we raised. You can imagine how this spurred our efforts. He was very generous. He used to send me cheques from time to time. He gave us the amplification equipment without our asking. Frank Constable and I painted Bill Coombs’ house (the top story and the gutters) for £25 and my wife was asked by Nurse Evans to dig her garden because it was all overgrown, so my wife did that for £5 which went into the kitty – within 6 months it was all full of weeds again. We had donkey derbies, summer fetes. We nearly always had lovely weather for those. The development committee was formed into a charity and the charity commissioners said that every organisation in the village had to have representation on the committee. About 25 – 30 people came to the committee meetings, and everybody was so enthusiastic. It was Frank Constable’s idea to buy a Mini Minor and raffle it. In those days, a Mini cost about £2,000. We were horrified to think that £2,000 of our hard-earned gains should go into buying a Mini, but we did. Jock Crozier provided a trailer for the Mini, Alan White provided the Landrover to tow it and we had it in tine Abbey Churchyard in Bath, took it to Weston-super-Mare and we went round all the pubs at night. A lot of Americans bought tickets at 5/- a time. We made about two and a half thousand on that Mini, and a lady in Bath won it, and she couldn’t drive. When people knew what we were doing, they’d all buy a ticket.
But it was very hard work, always on the go. Do you remember the 50 – 50 auctions? Some lovely things were given for those auctions. We collected waste paper, and stored it in John Holbrook’s huts down at Meadgate. He used to send down a ten-ton lorry on a Saturday morning to collect it all from us.
We had virtually all the money we’d aimed for before we started, then we continued with stage lighting and so on afterwards. I think it was quite remarkable the support the village gave to the village hall. Everybody was involved. It was very satisfying. We got no grant at all from the local authority.
The first event was a grand opening dance, organised by Eileen Ford.
The opening was just the beginning. The Hall has actually grown quite a lot in the intervening time. For example there wasn’t a bar when we firs opened but very rapidly we decided that we did need to have a proper bar for dances and the big functions that went on, so the bar was one of the first things to be added.
At the other end, the cricket pavilion has been added. Originally there was just a single storey at the back of the Hall with the changing facilities for the sports clubs, but the cricketers very badly missed their pavilion. I don’t think you can play cricket without a pavilion to walk out from in your beautiful pads and you need somewhere that you can have the scoreboard, so it was agreed to put a pavilion with proper facilities on the back of the Hal1. It’s a first-storey pavilion and you do get a marvellous view if you’re up there and the scorers can’t miss any runs.
It was decided to put another garage at the back, to move the tractor and the mowers into the new garage and then we could leave the old one for storing particularly the Playgroup’s facilities – their plant and paper and toys. The Theatre Group, too, needed storage space for its costumes and props and facilities, the badminton people wanted somewhere to keep their badminton equipment and their nets. The clinic needed somewhere for its cupboard and baby-scales.
One of the changes which I was particularly pleased to be involved with occurred during the International Year for the Disabled, 1981. I had long complained to the committee that there were no toilet facilities for the disabled in the Hall and it was a great pity because the Hall was ideal in every other respect – there’s not a step in there, so we took advantage of that year to do some more fundraising to make a modification to the existing cloak–rooms and put in toilet facilities for the disabled.
Anyone who’s passed the Hall in the last four months will have noticed lots of scaffolding round the Hall because it was decided to replace the flat roofs which existed over the kitchen and the bar by pitched roofs. This wasn’t just a cosmetic operation. These flat roofs have a life of only about 10 years. We’d already had 13 years out of it and it was leaking badly so we’d got to do something, and certainly to improve the appearance of the pitched roof was essential. I don’t know what the next operation is going to be, but I’m quite sure something will turn up!
So much for the building. Since the Hall has been able to provide the premises for people to meet, the number of clubs in the village has increased tremendously. The Theatre Group is one that springs to mind. They’ve been using the Hall all the time and put on shows 2 or 3 times a year. The Natural History Group again is one that’s formed since the Hall opened. Nobody quite knew how many people were going to come and immediately it seemed to attract audiences of 80 and it has never flagged. Another group which is very popular and has a tremendous amount of fun is the Wine Circle and they meet every month. They seem to do quite a lot of tasting. Whenever they have a danced they come by coach load so they don’t have to drive themselves home.
The Hall also provides facilities for ballet classes three times I week. I don’t know how many little girls have taken their first steps at the Conygre Hall. They also work at productions and displays. Then we also have flower shows, the Timsbury Horticultural Society has always met there.
Some of the best events have been to raise funds for charity. We’ve had dozens of bazaars and fetes and donkey derbies and hundreds of thousands of pounds have been raised for charity.
Many of the Somerset cricket team has been to the Hall including Viv Richards, Joel Garner. They regard these matches as terribly important. One year we had a real beautiful English summer weekend, it poured with rain, and the pitch was far too wet to play. They hired a helicopter to hover over the patch and dry it out a bit with the rotor blades. That was a benefit match for Hallam Mosley.
Mike Gregory the darts player has been, and Leslie Crowther came to a WI. supper and entertained the over-seventies.
Another WI visitor was Lady Isabel Barnet. She was staying with Bernard Cayzer, and brought him along to the W.I. She was absolutely sweet and lovely.
We’ve that The London Welsh Male Voice Choir here, the Farmborough Youth Band, and Midsomer Norton Accordion.
Several broadcasts have come from the Hall. In our opening week Any Questions came from Timsbury and not so long ago the Natural History Group had a broadcast with a panel of experts.
The Antiques Market continues, but not on Sundays – they’ll try them on Thursdays instead.
The only money the Hall gets is the hire charges, so it has to pay its way, so as to cover the bills for things like the roof, curtains and so on.