A Brief History of the Abbotts Ann War Memorial Hall

How the hall was built

On 18th November 1919 Abbotts Ann Parish Council held a special meeting to sign and seal the conveyance of deeds of land which Major & Mrs Edward Rickards had given to the village for a recreation ground and hall. Major Rickards, of St John’s House, had served in the Great War and the family did a great deal to encourage the social life and welfare of villagers.

The original building, a wooden hut, was in use by April when Abbotts Ann WI met there to hear Mrs Townsend describe her tour of Belgium the previous June. She told how locals had responded to returning to normal life after the destruction of war. This was followed by solo musical performances and a short play.

The WI have been active users of the hall since its earliest days. In July 1920 they organised a fete to raise funds towards eliminating the War Memorial Hut’s debt.

Unfortunately, on Saturday 5th March 1921 the War Memorial Hut burned down. The alarm was raised at 3am by the village policeman who lived across the road at Chestnut Tree Cottage. Whilst neighbours set to work with buckets of water and pulling down the surrounding fences, by the time Andover fire brigade arrived the building was a smouldering ruin. Fortunately, the south westerly wind took flames away from Spring Cottage which would otherwise have been in danger. No-one was hurt but the hall’s contents were destroyed including a piano and a skeleton belonging to Dr Freeman. Remarkably, other villagers did not learn of the fire until the morning, some when they heard the news in Andover. There is no evidence to support the story that the fire was started by disgruntled husbands who resented their wives spending so much time on WI activities.

It’s unclear now how the new building was funded but the United Services Fund granted £14 10s in September that year to provide furniture for the village hall 16th September 1921. (The fund had been set up after the Great War to care for the interests of ex-Servicemen and institutions helping them.)

Messrs Grace and Son of Clatford designed and built the new hall. The Andover Advertiser described ‘a brick and tiled building with plenty of light and air space. Its total size is 60ft by 20ft the large hall which has a seating capacity of from 150 to 180, is 37ft by 20ft, and the billiard room to which access can be had by means of a door in the panelled partition, is 17ft by 20ft, and on the occasion of a concert can be used as a retiring room. There are ladies’ and gentlemen’s cloak rooms, each 10ft by 8ft; a large store with copper and sink used for kitchen purposes, and a kitchen range. The hall is heated from a large brick fireplace, and a stove will adequately warm the billiard room. The lighting is by means of acetylene gas, and the building is nicely set off with an entrance porch, and there are the usual emergency exits. It is a very practical form of war memorial and it is up to the inhabitants to make a fit and proper use of it.

The new hall was opened on 2nd January 1923. Following a two minutes silence the Rural Dean of Andover, the Revd T K Allen of Weyhill, dedicated the hall “to the glory of God and in memory of the men of Abbotts Ann who fell in the cause of righteousness and truth.” Major Miller-Mundy of Red Rice formally thanked the committee who had managed the project. He asked those present to remember that the hall was” for the benefit of the entire village, whatever their views” and urged users to settle amicably any differences they had before they entered the hall. The evening was rounded off by a concert of local talent and artistes from London arranged by Mr Grace the builder.

The Andover Advertiser on 27th February 1924 reported that the Hall Committee had met to identify measures to reduce the debt on the hall. The same article also told of a WI fancy dress dance, a whist drive (with dancing). Somehow, over time, the debt was paid off and the hall has been in constant use.

In 1954 the Ministry of Education issued a formal scheme detailing explaining how the hall and recreation ground were to be managed. The purpose of the hall was:

The Scheme also provided for other village organisations to provide a member of the hall management committee. This underlined the central role that the War Memorial Hall has played in village life since it was opened.

Since those early days the hall has not so much had a history of its own but served as the location.

How we use the War Memorial Hall

Our thanks to TIM TAYLER for providing this brief history of the hall.