Harston Village Hall Trust
Registered Charity no. 300397
History of Hall
Harston appears in the Domesday Book under the hundred Thriplow and had 29 households although its boundaries were not formally laid down until its inclosure in 1800. There is a significant article here.
The village hall was officially opened on 2nd November 1923 by Sir William Graham Greene but prior to that there had been held Harston Whitsun Fetes in aid of the Village Hall Building Fund. One was held on Whit Monday 21st May 1923 in the grounds of the Manor House.
The 1922 Fete secured the amount required before building could begin and the 1923 Fete was to raise further sums to cover the cost of the site. The Fete was opened by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Professor of English Literature at Cambridge and well known eccentric. It included exhibition dancing, boxing and a wireless demonstration. A receiving set was exhibited and the demonstration included the reception by means of wireless telephony of concert items as broadcast in London by the London Broadcasting Company.
As well as a Concert Party and Dancing on the Lawn there were side shows and guessing competitions such as the weight of a fowl and the number of varieties in a bunch of flowers.
Members of the Executive Committee on the platform were Miss Helen Greene, Mr G Royston, Dr. W J Young, Mr W Fisher and Mrs Young
The piece of land upon which the hall was situated had a frontage of 100 feet and a depth of 525 feet and on 27th November 1933 a Declaration of Trust was signed by Sir William Graham Greene, Mr T Harold Smith and Dr W J Young which established the trustees and the document that enables us to run the hall today. The land was vested in the Official Trustee of Charity Lands on 27th July 1937.
An article appeared in the 'Architect's Journal' on 27th October 1926 describing how the architect Mr Betham had created a low pitched roof covered with English interlocking tiles, internally the trusses, purlins and rafters were exposed and the doors made of seasoned elm. The main contractor was Mr Clement Jude of Harston with sub contractors Mackintosh and Sons Ltd Cambridge (heating), The Acetylene Corporation Ltd London ( lighting) and Lawrance and Sons, blacksmiths of Harston (ironwork).
The total cost of building the Hall and all surrounding site works was £2504. Land on which the hall is built had been owned and farmed from the late 1700's by the Hays family.
The only small indulgence the architect allowed himself was a porch with a gallery room over it, this was used for committee meetings or as a box for non dancers on dance nights !
The copper rook on the gable end of the hall, seen in the second picture was made by Mr Harry Lawrance village Blacksmith.
In October 1946 an application was made for the Hall to be vested into the Board of Charity Commissioners after approval by the Harston Parish Council. This was sealed on 18th April 1947 and in accordance with the scheme a Council of Management was formed consisting of 14 persons, 7 elected members and 7 representatives of Village Organizations. Dr Young retired as a Trustee and was replaced by the Vicar of Harston the Rev. Leonard Askham.
Little is recorded about the Hall in the 1950's but mention is made elsewhere of 12th October 1963 when a Cambridge group 'The Ramblers' played at the Hall. They were the forerunner for a future group Pink Floyd.
In the late 1960's, fund raising began again together with the sale of land for the building of a Telephone exchange and after 5 years in September 1971 the old bleak village hall was transformed into a warm modern building at a cost of £6300. Whereas before there was only one cold water tap in the building, the modernization included hot and cold running water, central heating and a new kitchen. The official opening ceremony was carried out by the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Col. G.T. Hurrell under the watchful eye of Chairman Dr John Heap, Secretary Mrs Denise Phillips and Treasurer Mrs Daphne Whitmore.
The Department of Education and Science agreed a pound for pound grant with monies also coming from the Chesterton Rural Council.
Fund raising continued apace and in 1973 the Hall celebrated its Golden Jubilee, a week of celebrations took place and a further £9000 was raised to provide a new entrance hall, cloakrooms, flooring and kitchen equipment. The main contractor for these works was Gatward Bros of Harston supported by Tanner & Hall Ltd (roofing) and All Square Flooring Ltd of Newmarket supplied the new maple strip flooring in the main hall.
The local paper report can be read here.
Advertising in the Jubilee Booklet were firms still present today, The Queens Head, Chas Simpkins (mowers) and Barker Bros butchers from Shelford who had advertised in the 1923 programme! There was also an advert from the local car showrooms for Skoda and Moskvich cars, nowadays the village showroom is Aston Martins and Porsche.
The week of celebrations started with a Church Service and over the next few days there was entertainment for the senior citizens, Bingo, a Film Show and Concerts with a Gala Dance on the Saturday night. On the previous day ( Friday 2nd November) there was a live broadcast on BBC Radio of the programme 'Any Questions'. The panel included the novelist Kingsley Amis and the former BBC Director General, Sir Hugh Greene whose uncle had opened the Hall 50 years earlier. A report appeared in the Cambridge Evening News which can be seen here.
The hall featured again in the Cambridge Evening News when in August 1975 a local Builder Mr Albert Hearn offered to do work on the Halls front porch for a cost of 2p! You can read about his extraordinary offer here.
Another milestone for the village was the erection of a village sign. The whole village had been invited to a meeting in the Hall to decide upon a permanent memorial of the Queen's Silver Jubilee using monies raised from the Jubilee Day celebrations.
The sign on Swan Green was unveiled by one of the village's oldest inhabitants, 91 year old Edward Baker who came to Harston in 1920, he was accompanied by Col. Geoffrey Hurrell on 13th October 1979.
The base of the sign is of brickwork topped by a 500 year old mill stone, donated by Col. Hurrell and believed to come from Hauxton Mill. The timber column and oak braces were salvaged from an old building almost 300 years old and donated by F G Willers and Sons who had constructed the base free of charge.
The sign, wrought iron design and work, was carried out by Victor Saunders of Cambridge Art Metals and the pictorial work was done by a young artist, Andrew Smith of Hitchin.
The emblems are:
An earlier article published in 1927 advised local residents that Harston Waters had tonic properties and that a course of taking the waters was the real antidote to Reumatism, Liver and Kidney troubles. Harston residents were cited as proof positive of the effectiveness of the waters as 'People without a care having a clearness of skin and brightness of eye that is quite remarkable, especially the aged'
A more recent interpretation of the village sign is on display in the new entrance foyer constructed in 2014. The newspaper article concerning the original is available here.
In the 1980s a regular event was the Harston and Newton Horticultural Society Annual Show, here are some photographs from the 1982 show.
In 1983 the Hall turned 60 and during the year was judged Best Kept Hall in Cambridgeshire out of 100 entries, the event was reported in the Cambridge Weekly News.
1984 saw the retirement of Mrs Daphne Whitmore Chairman of the Trustees.
By far one of the biggest changes to the Village Hall started in 2012 with the need to bring the Hall into the 21st Century, a public meeting was held on 21st October 2012 for residents of Harston who heard plans to carry out structural work to keep the main fabric of the building in good order and facilities needed to bring the Hall up to modern standards.
The meeting voted in favour of selling a parcel of land to the rear of the Hall beyond the Telephone Exchange with planning permission to build residential housing. These funds together with grants and fund raising would enable a new rear entrance lobby to be constructed, modernized toilets and a completely new landscaped car park with external lighting together with internal redecoration, new boiler, fire alarm and CCTV. The works were carried out between the end of 2013 and start of 2014 and the official opening of the new entrance took place on Saturday 4th October 2014.
This was attended by regular users,
past and present Trustees, local dignitaries, and representatives of
organisations who generously donated funds towards the project, the ceremonial
ribbon was cut by Cllr Susan Ellington, Vice Chairman of the South
Cambridgeshire District Council. Major donors included:
The Opening Ceremony was followed by a reception in the Hall where guests enjoyed refreshments, jazz music played by Harston Church and Friends Music Group, and listened to excerpts from a 1973 recording of the BBC programme "Any Questions", broadcast from the Hall in celebration of its 50th anniversary.
In 2016 - 2018 the Trustees completed phases 2 and 3 of their long term project which included replacement of all windows and doors with double glazed units and the insulation and replacement of the main hall roof. These additional phases could not have been achieved without the generous donations from the local public plus several of the major contributors who had assisted in phase 1, in particular The Amey Community Fund and Rugby Group.
Little activity took place in the Hall during the COVID19 pandemic which lasted on and off during 2020 and 2021. The Hall was closed for long periods and when reopened required stringent restrictions such as keeping 2 meters social distancing and one way movement around the Hall.
1923 ~ 2023 Centenary Celebrations
To celebrate its centenary the Trustees of the Village Hall hosted a weekend of events during November. Starting with a live broadcast of Radio 4's Any Questions? on Friday 3rd November. This was a return visit, as the programme was previously broadcast from here 50 years ago to the day! .
The panel, from left to right in the photo, were Timandra Harkness (broadcaster), Gareth Davies (con), Alex Forsyth (chair), Peter Kyle (lab), Gwenn Hines (CEO Save the Children). The panel took six questions and lively debates were variously applauded or 'disapproved of' by an engaged and enthusiastic audience. Catch up on BBC Sounds!
Saturday saw the children from Harston and Newton primary school choir sing for the Better Brew coffee morning, followed in the evening by a Gala Dinner. Over 80 people were treated to an evening of food and wine with entertainment provided by Cameo, a local a Capela group, and a short quiz to see if any brains were still functioning!