Before the present Village Hall was built in 1974, the social hub of East Meon had been the Parish Institute. Michael Blakstad has researched the minutes of the Management Committee of the Institute and wrote this article for Meon Matters, June 2014.
Before the Village Hall
Today’s Village Hall is a comparatively recent building, opened in January 1975; it plays a vital part in the community life of East Meon, providing a venue for meetings and indoor sports, organised by village societies, and for private social events such as weddings and funeral receptions. The Village Hall Committee works hard to maintain the building and schedule bookings, and to organise the Country Fair each May. But its predecessor was a more vibrant social centre, and demanded more its unpaid Committee.
I have been digging deep into the history of The Institute, the ramshackle building which was located opposite where East Meon Stores now stands. You may have seen the plaque in the foyer of today’s Hall which commemorates the building of the ‘Reading room, Library, Recreation and Coffee room …. legally secured through private beneficence …. in 1887, the year of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria’. It was donated by its benefactors to ‘the Parish of East Meon’, the church not the Parish Council.
The buildings were the cheapest available, mainly corrugated and galvanised iron sheeting. In 1885 it was listed as the ‘Working Men’s Reading Room and Library’, and its Librarian was William S Tregear, then master of the National School. In 1915 it was listed as the ‘East Meon Church Institute’, and ‘Institute’ became the name by which it was known.
As part of his parish responsibilities, the Vicar of All Saints always chaired the Management Committee, until as recently as May 1968, when the legendary Herbie Goddard was elected to be the first regular lay chairman. Below is a photograph of a Management Committee in the late 1940s, with a commentary by Denys Ryder.
In the days before radio, and long before television, the Institute was a vital source of entertainment and social life in East Meon. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a plethora of village music groups including a fife and drum band, a glee club, jazz and swing bands and a folk group. They all performed at the Institute.
Sports facilities included a billiards table, a boxing ring, and even a rifle range (where Park Vista is now located) all organised by the Committee, who also laid on regular dances. Village societies such as the British Legion also held events (the WI held cookery demonstrations). The National School, located on the West Meon road, used the Library and held overspill classes there. Vicars gave magic lantern shows. In the minutes of January 1931, it is recorded that ‘Mr Talbot Ponsonby was to give a play in aid of Institute funds’.
Next to the Institute was the caretaker’s house, and the incumbent was responsible not only for maintenance of the facilities, but for taking bookings, collecting the money and supervising behaviour. Several of the entries in the minutes record damage done ‘by younger members’ at dances and unruly sports events.
The most depressing theme pervading the minutes was the constant need to refurbish and repair the buildings, reflecting the skimpy materials from which they were built.
By Denys Ryder (from Meon Matters)
Running the Village Hall in the late 1940s was the domain of the men of the Village. Even so, Lady Margaret Nicholson, the last of the Nicholson ‘Gin’ family to live at Bereleigh, (sitting second left) was reported to be a very strong lady in her own right, could get her own way, and saw that the Village Institute & Library, as it was then know, was well run. Other characters were, (from left to right back row), W (Weary) Blackman from Drayton who worked at Bereleigh Estate on the farm side, Herbert (Herby) Goddard ran the garage and petrol pump from the yard of Glenthorne House. Jack Porter was the caretaker and Librarian and worked for the Ministry of Defence at Liphook. He was brother-in-law to Iris Porter. Frank Collyer, leader of the Home Guard and father of Margaret Tosdevine. He was a wood turner by trade. Finally, standing at the end of the row Reece Porter (husband to Iris). He was a Postman and assisted his brother looking after the Village Hall.
Sitting to the right of Lady Margaret Nicholson is Doc. Clifford, who ‘sported’ a ginger goatee beard and had one artificial leg. His surgery was in the Glebe House. The Church was represented by the Reverend Watkins. Harry Wynn was the local contractor who had a lorry and lived at Pidham Farm. He had a wood business and helped maintain the Church Yard. To complete the picture George Wilson Atkinson, father to Wilson and Mary Caines, represented the farming interests, as did his son Wilson for many years in the 1980/90s.
For records of the Institute in the online archive, click here