Stansted Village Hall

Stansted Recreation Ground Layout Plan (1938).
Image courtesy of the National Playing Fields Association

It is believed the Hall arrived dismantled and was erected on the Recreation Ground shortly after 20th September 1968, when a 60-year lease was initiated between the Parish Council and the founding trustees: Hugh Pasteur of Fairseat House, Fairseat, and three residents of Stansted; Arthur Prentice, of Rowanshurst, Plaxdale Green Road, Nevill Phillips of Goodmans Barn, Tumblefield Road and Cyril Tucker, former landlord of the Black Horse, of The Beach House. The terms of the lease included a schedule on how the Hall should be run and governed and this was duly signed and witnessed on behalf of the Parish Council on 9th December 1968 by Ernest Unwin, (Chairman), Ernest King and Pamela Sheldon.

At the time of writing the building has been in situ for some 55 years, but it is somewhat older, having initially served as a temporary post office in Longfield. The plans for a Hall go back to at least 1938, when, possibly prompted by Sir Gerald Hohler, who as former MP for Rochester, had close contacts in the Diocese, the Church Commissioners suggested they might sell 6.13 acres of Glebe land adjacent to the (Old) Rectory for communal recreational purposes. The Parish Council approached the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) and drew up a plan which in addition to a village hall/sports pavilion, far-sightedly included a significant extension to the School play area (including a netball pitch); two grass tennis courts, a bowling green and a football/hockey pitch enclosing a levelled cricket square. With the aid of a £175 grant from NPFA and a £200 loan from Kent County Council, the Parish Council purchased the land for £275 in 1939. The Church Commissioners inserted a restrictive covenant decreeing that no alcohol should be consumed on the recreation ground (subsequently removed in 1970), that only a single building could be erected, and that it should be below the sloping ground, presumably to minimise the sight line from the (Old) Rectory.

World War 2 meant that all available land was needed for agriculture, and so the newly acquired recreation ground continued in arable use under the tenancy of Cllr. Haydon, and was also temporarily used by RAF Balloon Command. Shortly after the War, the cricket and hockey pitches were both established. Stansted Cricket Club doubtless appreciated the less challenging nature of the pitch compared to their previous field, Clamberdene in the steep valley adjacent to Stone Rocks in Plaxdale Green Road! They also erected a small hut to serve as a changing room and in which to store their gear. It was sited where the rear car park of the current village hall is situated and can be seen inserted as an amendment to the 1938 NPFA plan. By contrast, the Ladies Hockey Club used the school air raid shelters as changing rooms, but in 1953, with the resignation of Mrs Murphy, the Head Teacher, the Club was asked to find alternative accommodation.

Hockey Club member Sheila Parker recalls “I remember it was suggested we ask the Cricket Club if we could use their Pavilion during the winter months as they mainly used it in the summer. We did approach them, but they didn’t take kindly to the idea, so we had to then raise money and buy a hut of our own. This was achieved in 1955 and it was officially opened by Miss A M Bennet, President of the Kent Women’s Hockey Association”. It stood roughly on the site of the current village hall but slightly closer to Malthouse Road.

This development presented the Parish Council with a conundrum as the restrictive covenant stipulated only one building, and in 1954, before the opening of the Hockey Club hut, the issue of having a single village hall was mooted, it would appear at the time there was little motivation to drive this forward, and following the erection of the Hockey Hut it seems that for some time a blind eye was turned. Grisell Pasteur explained this away on the basis that the Cricket Hut was just “a little wooden thing about the size of two chicken houses, and everybody had closed their eyes and said it wasn’t really a building!”.

That notwithstanding, Sheila Parker believes that subsequently the Hockey Hut was used as a “Village Hall”, for Horticultural Society Shows, Fetes, wedding receptions and various other events until the current Village Hall arrived in 1968. She also recalls being told that a couple had their Golden Wedding Celebrations in the current Stansted Village Hall as their original wedding reception was held in the Stansted Hockey pavilion!

Undoubtedly what acted as a catalyst in building the current Village Hall was the erection of Fairseat Village Hall in 1961 and the demise of the Hockey Club at around the same time, leading, in 1964, to the establishment of a committee, which included two members of the Cricket Club. Their brief was to examine the possibilities of erecting a single hall which would replace the Cricket and Hockey buildings to accommodate a cricket store and changing rooms and provide a larger community facility. Seed funding would be provided by the respective clubs, and fundraising possibilities investigated. Cricket Club records state that many of these meetings were hosted by the late Cranley Onslow MP (latterly Sir Cranley Onslow and then Lord Onslow of Woking) at his home The Malthouse, Malthouse Road.

In 1967 a watershed occurred when Hugh Pasteur of Fairseat House, Vigo Road noticed the Longfield Post Office hut was up for sale. A price of £600 was agreed upon, and work on the Lease was commenced by solicitors Moreton Phillips & Son of which Nevill Phillips was a partner. Sometime before 4th November 1968, when the Parish Council held its first meeting there, the building was disassembled, transported, and reassembled on its current site.

Stansted Festival 1970 – Programme Cover
Image courtesy of Virginia Phillips

Buying the Hall was one thing, insuring it and keeping it running was another, so the founding trustees organised a spectacular two-day fundraising “Stansted Festival” over the weekend of 29th/30th August 1970. Saturday saw the annual Gymkhana originally established by Mrs Stoneham combined with sideshows and attractions, the Horticultural Society summer show, a tug-of-war competition and a dog training demonstration.

On Sunday there was a festival cricket match between the England Ladies’ cricket team and an eleven made up of sporting celebrities and local cricketers. This was arranged by Nevill Phillips in conjunction with a sports journalist of his acquaintance. A team of eleven men who had distinguished themselves in the sporting arena was assembled to play and these included footballers Peter Bonetti, John Hollins and Bobby Tambling of Chelsea and England plus David Perry who had been Captain of the England Rugby Union team in the 1965 Five Nations Championship. They played against an England Ladies Cricket XI. The Ladies’ side was captained by Rachel Heyhoe as she was before she married Mr Flint the following year. She was captain of England from 1966-78 including when England won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1973. She later became a Baroness. Eight of the rest of the side had played for England and one for Australia. The strains from a Tea Dance accompanied the play which was followed by a barbecue held that evening at ten shillings a head.

The result was a resounding success, all the bills were paid, and the weekend became the prototype for what has become an annual fundraising event ever since. Other fundraisers have included fashion shows, social evenings, fireworks night, summer BBQs with croquet and the ever-popular Race Night, the brainchild of Barry Haggar, and a 100 Club Lottery introduced by Barry Melton and currently run by Jo Moore.

The current fibreglass flagpole erected by Mick Osborne replaced a wooden original which was originally donated by the late John Bentley of Erewhon, Old Coach Road. His friend and neighbour, George (Terry) Glenton recalled:

The Glenstrathallan

“John died in 1988 aged 75 and his funeral service was held at St Mary’s church. “After the Service, I went to Stansted Recreation Ground to look at the flagstaff by the village hall. How it had got there I know not, but I knew where it came from. lt had once been the foremast of that well-remembered Thames training ship Glen Strathallan, a former steam yacht whose late owner, the millionaire Colby Cubbin had vowed she would never go to the breakers’ yard. By legal covenant, he had decreed that when her useful days were over she should be sunk honourably off Britain’s shores. John Bentley undertook the task of surveying her for the last time to certify her seaworthiness for her last trip. It was 1970 and it was the only time he had ever had to issue a certificate confirming that a ship was sufficiently sound to be scuttled – an Incongruity which appealed to his sense of the ridiculous.”

Whilst the Hall has always been an integral part of village life, like any organisation, it has enjoyed good times but has also faced challenges. New changing rooms and a disabled lavatory were added in 1989 but sadly the cricket club did not survive. For many years the Hall’s income was considerably boosted by Stansted School’s use of it for many of the things that a bigger school would have had in their assembly hall – lunches, PE, and various other things. However, with Stansted School’s subsequent extension facilitating these activities, a big dent in the Hall’s income was created which made it even more reliant on fundraising. In 2004 it was registered as a charity, and as a result is now able to claim back tax on donations. Many attempts were made to attract new users, and there were high hopes that a preschool could be permanently established, but a trial period failed when Stansted School was closed, and the preschool withdrew. In 2008, in an attempt to revitalise the building, Alan Bullock of Keepers Cottage, Wrotham Hill Road was co-opted as Project Manager to make it more attractive as a birthday/wedding reception venue, and a £30,000 grant was obtained from the Cory Environmental Trust, which together with other grants and use of the reserves was spent on major improvements. These included enlarging the floor space to accommodate short mat bowls, provision of new heating, installation of new lavatories and storerooms together with a new kitchen with twin catering ovens.

Although the bowling has fallen into abeyance, the Hall continues to offer a picturesque cost-effective alternative to some of the more expensive local venues. More recently, considerable thought and energy was expended in investigating whether the Charity could relinquish its lease on the Hall and instead take up a new lease to occupy part of the recently closed Stansted School which had been acquired by the Parish Council. In the event, the whole School building was let to Grange Park School for Autistic children in an arrangement which appeared to offer the village a very significant financial and regenerative boost.

From its inception, the Village Hall was governed and managed on a two-tier Trustee basis. Founding trustees Cyril Tucker, Hugh Pasteur and Arthur Prentice were eventually replaced by Mr Vivian Walton and Miss Jean Lyle. These “Custodian Trustees” delegated the day-to-day running of the Hall to a Management Committee body of trustees and would attend the Annual General Meeting to approve the year’s activities and give strategic guidance. From inception, Jeff Marchant chaired the Management Committee and was responsible for organising the annual Fete for planning and implementing the initial additions to the building and managing the relationship with the school. After 30 years of service to the community, Jeff handed over the chairmanship to Mike Goddings in 2006 when he and Janet Marchant moved back to Platt.

Following the deaths of Vivian Walton and Jean Lyle, Nevill Phillips was the sole remaining Custodian Trustee and he agreed to a new arrangement whereby the Management Committee Trustees assumed full responsibility for the Charity, and Custodian Trusteeship was instead vested in the Official Custodian for Charities who would only become involved if there were insufficient trustees who were no longer willing or able to run the charity.

When Mike Goddings retired, Penny Goring assumed the Chairmanship and introduced a hugely successful bi-monthly Farmers Market which continues to this day. Penny passed the baton to Will Peat, who continues to ensure the viability of this great community asset, with the Fete & Gymkhana income rising year on year.

Management Committee Trustees

  • Jeff Marchant (Chair), Cob Trees, Hatham Green Lane
  • Mike Goddings (Chair), The Old Farmhouse, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Penny Goring (Chair), Ruskins, Tumblefield Road
  • Will Peat (Chair), Parsons Cottage, Hatham Green Lane
  • Sheila Parker (Secretary), Delatour, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Sheila Goodworth (Secretary), Oakdale Farm, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Stanley Maughan (Treasurer), The Cottage on the Hill, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Jean Lyle (Treasurer), Ocklynge, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Barry Haggar (Treasurer), White House, Tumblefield Road
  • Liz Rimell (Treasurer), Stansted Lodge, Tumblefield Road
  • Glyn Charlton, 1 Court Lodge Cottages, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Jim Fardell, Holly Tree House, Tumblefield Road
  • Janet Marchant, Cob Trees, Hatham Green Lane
  • Dick Hogbin, Compass Cottage, Malthouse Road
  • Jo Moore, White Cottage, Plaxdale Green Road
  • Barry Melton, Hatham Green Farm, Parsons Lane
  • Sue Ridley
  • Frances Moore


Booking Secretaries

  • Cynthia Glover, Cobweb Cottage, Tumblefield Road
  • Jess Osborne, 1 Seagrove Cottages, Malthouse Road
  • Sheila Goodworth, Oakdale Farm, Plaxdale Green Road

 

Author: Mike Goddings
Editor: Tony Piper
Contributors: Sheila Parker, Grissell Pasteur, Virginia Phillips, George (Terry) Glenton, Dick Hogbin, Jeff Marchant, Janet Marchant
Acknowledgements: Stansted Parish Council, Stansted Village Hall and Recreation Centre Committee, Jenny Bradbury, Action with Communities in Rural Kent
Last Updated: 19 February 2024