From School to Hall
The story of a village hall
In 1841 the School Sites Act was passed, the intention of which was to encourage landowners to donate small plots of land for the provision of schools for the poor. It stated that “Landowners can convey not more than one acre to trustees for use as a site for a school for the education of poor persons, or for the residence of the schoolmaster or schoolmistress…”, but importantly added the binding clause requiring that “When the land ceases to be used for the purposes mentioned in the Act, the land reverts to the grantor.”
In 1846, the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne donated land in the village to the Vicar and Church Wardens and built Bremhill School which opened later that year and continued to educate local children until its closure by the Local Authority in 1969. At this time, meeting places in the village were limited. The rambling Old Vicarage was occasionally used for a meeting and the Reading Room had long since disappeared, incorporated into a private house, while now the village had an empty building in its midst. Therefore, in December of that year, Bremhill PCC, under the impression that the Salisbury Diocesan Council of Education were the owners, approached them with a view to purchasing the school, but were informed by letter in 1971 that, according to the requirements of the 1841 Act, the building and land had reverted to its former owner, the Bowood Estate. Therefore, following negotiations with Lord Lansdowne, the outcome was that Bremhill Village was offered a lease on the old school as a village hall, paying a peppercorn rent, but being responsible for all maintenance.
This situation lasted for nineteen years, by which time the Hall was in need of repair, especially the roof which was in danger of collapse. The Hall Committee was given professional advice that the roof was beyond economical repair and needed to be replaced. The lease was due to expire in 1998, but a request for a lease extension was rejected by Lord Lansdowne, leaving the Hall Committee with a dilemma as they were responsible for the building’s upkeep and they felt any major repair carried out while on a limited-time lease would be very much to Bowood’s advantage. So in November 1990 a sub-committee was formed to investigate all possibilities, including the building of a new hall. A meeting of this group in March 1991 with Lord Lansdowne was inconclusive as his request for a public meeting to discuss Bowood’s proposals was rejected by the Committee on the grounds that there seemed to be no concrete proposals. At a second meeting in May finally a valuation figure of £30,000 was given, in addition to an estimate of £12,000 for the roof, giving the village the task of acquiring a total of £42,000 and in June 1991, at a meeting in the Village Hall, it was unanimously agreed to pursue the option to buy.
A further meeting in August of that year was held at Bowood House where a selling price of £20,000 was negotiated, but the delight at this reduction was tempered in September with the information that there were to be no Wiltshire Council grants available that year, so an agreement was reached with Lord Lansdowne to extend the completion date to April, 1993. Therefore, with the help of local craftsmen, work began on re-roofing the hall while fundraising continued apace. In November 1992 a grant of £1,750 was received towards the roofing costs and then in March 1993 Wiltshire Council awarded a £10,000 grant, enabling, finally on 31st March 1993, the completion of purchase to be made – naturally followed very shortly by a party! Almost as difficult to negotiate were the later efforts to refurbish the toilet block, with many meetings and much correspondence with the Wiltshire planning department and the Listed Building authorities, but this was achieved in 2010 and the village now has a hall of high standard. Perhaps the final account should go to Lord Lansdowne who clearly had to bear the interests of Bowood in mind, but who was also supportive of the village. In an extract from a statement in the Bremhill Parish Newsletter of December 2014, he wrote:
“…When the school closed, the village enjoyed the use of the premises for nineteen years at a peppercorn rent on the full repairing basis, until it fell into disrepair.
It was about this time that I had to make some difficult decisions to rationalise the future of Bowood as a whole. We were in the process of building the golf course and decided to concentrate our resources on creating a business which, with a fair wind, would secure the Estate for the future. This meant re-trenching from the outlying areas, such as Bremhill. So there was no easy way we could afford to enter into an extended lease on a peppercorn basis. We had to make better use of our assets. This meant offering the hall for sale. The meeting I requested in 1991 was to explore this possibility. It was suggested there were no concrete proposals. However, there were. We were no longer able to afford the luxury of valuable assets to lie fallow. So I arranged for a formal valuation to be carried out. It was valued at £30,000.
Once the decision was made by the Village Hall Committee to purchase the building and fund raising had commenced, I was happy to discuss a discounted price of £20,000 and extend a completion date … So looking back, I believe there were winners all round…an honourable outcome for both the Community and Bowood.”
The village, therefore, acquired an excellent village hall which provides the community with a well-equipped and well-used centre for many lively social activities. Interestingly, with a look back towards the 1841 Act, there is a requirement written into the sale agreement which states that if ever the building ceases to be used for the purpose for which it was sold – as a village hall - then ownership reverts to Bowood.
- Interview with a sub-committee member;
- Printed material and notes from current Chair of the Hall Committee;
- The Bremhill Parish Newsletter – November and December, 2014