The Building of St Michaels Village Hall

Tenterden News
Article by Jack Gillett
Tenterden & District Local History Society Newsletter
During the Square Dancing craze of 1951 and 1952, the Hayseeds Dancing Club was formed with George Freeland of St Michaels as Vice-Chairman. It was so popular that it was unable to accommodate all those who wished to join, due to the fact that there was not a large enough hall in Tenterden. At one committee meeting, it was suggested that St Michaels which had no hall, other than the semi-derelict Ebenezer Chapel situated behind what is now Stanley Georges' DIY shop, was badly in need of a Social Centre. George Freeland agreed to contact local organisations to explore reactions. George Freeland was also Chairman of the local Conservative Association and at one meeting found a note at his place which said "St Michaels Hall - The Brownies are behind you." Getting a favourable response to a hall, George Freeland contacted the Mayor, Stanley Day, who dismissed the possibility of adapting the Ebenezer Chapel and called a public meeting in the Town Hall at which a representative from the Ministry of Social Service attended to advise and say how the Government could help. A crowded meeting agreed a hall should be built and George Freeland was appointed to run the effort.
George Freeland immediately formed a committee of representatives from local organisations and applied to the Council for a suitable site. This was before Wayside, Heather Drive, Grange Crescent and other modern developments had been started or completed, but to every plea George Freeland was told that none was available. George Freeland was told that the site now occupied by the Fire Station was required for educational purposes and the corner site at Shoreham Lane was refused. After many months a quarter of an acre of the Pond Site in Grange Road was offered. The committee turned this down as being too small. Later, the whole of the Pond Site was offered, but inspections by two architects declared it unstable for building, plus it would cost up to £1000 for foundations. The committee had to turn this offer down.
After many frustrating months with no cooperation from the Council, a Public Meeting was called to reconsider the Pond Site previously offered for the sum of £50. George Freeland suggested that as the Ford Works at Dagenham had been built on a marsh using a concrete raft then the same idea could be used with the Pond Site. Finally, despite the extra costs involved, it was agreed to purchase the site for the asking price of £50. George Freeland always thought that the site was only offered because the Council thought the project would fall by the wayside and a hall would never be built. One Councillor said to George Freeland : "The hall will never be built in your lifetime, but when it is, it will make a lovely memorial to you."
Miss Roughton started the building fund with a donation of £25 and she was duly told that she had thrown her money away. Mrs Reece very generously gave the purchase price of £50 as a memorial to her late husband whilst Mrs Heaton made a donation of £10. The Council acknowledged receipt of the £50 and described the area of land purchased as Marshalls Land. George Freeland replied that the Pond Site had been bought. A letter followed stating that no error had been made and that Marshalls Land had been purchased. This block of land consisted of the pond, twenty houses and a dozen garages. George Freeland said that he should have written and asked for all the rentals to be paid into the building fund at Barclays Bank but he did not respond. Some months later the Council wrote saying that an error had been made and that only the Pond Site had been bought.
The committee signed the Ministry's Trust Deed, making the project a charity and thus authorising funds raised by the Trustees to be backed pound for pound by a grant. Funds were raised by running Whist Drives, Coffee Mornings, Bridge Drives, Concerts, etc. Supporters were asked if they would make marmalade to sell. Oranges and sugar were bought wholesale and the whole village smelt of marmalade.
George Freeland asked the Mayor, Major Chalk, if he would hold a dance on behalf of the Fund. He replied that he would arrange a whole week of events in support. The week of events was held at the end of March 1962 and the Mayor published an appeal giving the programme as follows:

  • A Carnival Procession organised by the Chamber of Trade to include the Band of the Buffs and the Squadron Air Training Corps
  • A Beauty Competition sponsored by the Kentish Express - the winner to be crowned by Donald Sinden 
  • A Vaudeville Concert, Bridge Drive, Whist Drive, Teen Beat Drive, Mayoress' Gift Auction, Old Time Dance, Bingo, a Mayor's Ball with the Trumpeters of the Queen's Own Buffs, an American Baseball match with a Team from the US Air base at West Malling, a Jumble Sale and a mile of pennies

The committee allocated £400 for the expenses required to finance these events and a profit of £700 was made £ 1400 with the Ministry grant of a pound for a pound. The Kentish Express published the outcome of some of the events.
By 1963 the Building Fund had £2500 which would become £5000 with the Ministry grant. As prices were continually rising, it was agreed to start the building, anticipating more public support when it was seen to be actually taking place. W P Woodgate Ltd (High Halden builders) gave George Freeland a price estimate of £900 for the plans. However, these were drawn up by Peter Luckett - a great compliment to him when they were approved by the Ministry when he and George Freeland visited them. The plans were then submitted to Tenterden Town Council and the Kent County Council, both of whom approved them and the building started. When the foundations were marked out it was found there was not enough room for an entrance for cars to exit at the rear. The council had forgotten that they had built 12 garages on the north perimeter thus reducing the site and had given incorrect measurements. The builder stopped work and contacted George Freeland and Peter Luckett. A site meeting was held. It was agreed to say nothing and proceed with the building, feeling sure the council would not notice the loss of an exit and that was the case. This was 1965!
The committee continued to raise money by any mean possible, including a bottle stall at the annual combined organisations bottle stall in the Town Hall. At this time, the Tenterden Borough Council was asked for an interest free loan and the committee were invited to a meeting to discuss the matter. The request was turned down saying that the Hall was too big. George Freeland pointed out to them that they had passed the plans. Later, when the Council could see that the Hall was taking shape, George Freeland was invited to see the Town Clerk regarding a grant. George Freeland gave the Town Clerk a 'dusty' answer when he was told that a loan was available but the Council would want the freehold of the Hall on completion! The Council finally relented and an interest free grant of £3000 was given with a repayment period of fifteen years.
The Hall also benefited from an inactive Tenterden War Memorial Fund which had £850. It was decided to hold a public meeting at the Town Hall with two representatives from every organisation to decide how the money should be used. George Freeland attended with the Rev Victor Perry and it was finally voted to give St Michaels half for the Hall and the other half to Tenterden. George Freeland was accused of 'rigging the votes' at the initial meeting and so a second meeting was held at which the whole sum was awarded to Tenterden. The money was going to be used to put the roof on the partly built pavilion on the recreation ground. A short time after this the roof fell in (!) and St Michaels then received the half initially awarded to them.
As with all village halls a rate relief of 50% was given when it was eventually built in 1967. The authorities fixed the seating capacity at three hundred for shows, etc and two hundred and forty for dances. Social Services held a bi-annual meeting in the Sessions House at Maidstone for the Chairmen of the Village Halls in Kent. George Freeland attended one of these meetings when a Ministry speaker came to explain what they did for village halls and the difference between Culture and Entertainment, the former Grant Aided and the latter not. At the end of the talk, the speaker was in a thick fog of bewilderment as was his audience. This was beautifully epitomised by a large gentlemen in the front row, who rose and in a loud voice said: "We are about to install new lavatories. Does this rank as Culture or Entertainment?"
Two postal appeals were made. In the first appeal a lady councillor replied with a letter saying: "You are responsible for building a monstrosity which is not wanted and will never be used." The second postal appeal to this lady, contained the plea 'perhaps you will help on this occasion'. This was when the Hall was getting established and the lady replied with a cheque for £5. For a local election, the Council wanted to hire the hall, but as it was booked they used the committee room which was quite adequate for the occasion.
George Freeland gave three flowering cherry trees, three conifers and some flowering shrubs for ground cover for the front of the Hall. As there was no kerb along the front, cars were always parking on the frontage and so decimated the trees. The committee decided that six feet of the frontage should be offered for a footpath if the council would build a low retaining wall. In the meantime stakes and a railing fence were put up which the Council immediately moved, illegally, which lead to more acrimonious correspondence. Eventually a reply arrived from the County Council Highways Committee turning down the request for a pathway. Knowing Mr Homewood of Biddenden was a County Councillor, George Freeland went and discussed the matter with him. Mr Homewood advised George Freeland that he was Chairman of the Highways Committee and that the request had never been put before his committee. He advised George Freeland that he could consider the request granted. Within a short space of time the wall was built and the pathway made. It is now 1970.
Reference: The History of the Building of St Michaels Hall by G E Freeland, 1987
Jack Gillett
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