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Reading Room Becomes Village Hall

This article is an addition to the Breamish Hall Heritage Project:

1934 Reading room established

On 2 February 1934 a contractual agreement was made between ‘The Hedgeley Estates Company’ and the committee of ‘The Powburn Reading Room’. Hedgeley Estates agreed to let “the room over the stables situate near the Plough Inn Powburn…” The premises were to be used as a reading room and recreation hall at a rent of 10 shillings per year, commencing on 13 February 1934. The reading room was a subscription-based, members’ club for males only.

Link button for the PDF file of the Powburn Reading Room Agreement 1934
Powburn Reading Room Agreement 1934

Location

The Reading Room was established in a room over a stables building situated just behind the Plough Inn in Powburn.

Vintage photo of haystacks in a field in front of village housing and stables
The stables building in Powburn c. 1900 seen from what is now (2022) the Powburn Play Area [Ref: BVPC0102]

This position of the room can be seen from a different angle in the following photograph.

Vintage photo of Powburn village showing location of the Reading Room
Location of Reading Room in Powburn as seen before Council houses were constructed along the A697 road [Ref: BVPC104]

Committee of the Powburn Reading Room

The Committee was comprised of seven people (all presumed to be male, given that the Reading Room was a male-only organisation):

  • R. Thompson
  • Charles Thompson
  • S. Lewins
  • William Jobson
  • Albert Chisholm
  • William Hall
  • A. Lee

Rules of the Powburn Reading Room

The Reading Room was managed according to a set of Standing Rules. These set out the aims and management of the Reading Room, its membership, opening times, expected standards of behaviour, and the power to “expel any member who does not conform to the rules.”

males only

Rule 3 indicated that only males could become members: “Men and lads over 14 years of age may become members.”

order…order!

Rules 8-11 focussed on ‘good behaviour’, i.e., no gambling, no intoxicating drink, cigarette ends must be put in ash trays, everyone must “keep order”.

Link button for the PDF file of the Rules of the Powburn Reading Room
Rules of the Powburn Reading Room 1934

1944 Powburn Village Hall established

About ten and a half years after the Reading Room was established, a committee of seven people entered a legal agreement on 21 August 1944 with ‘The Hedgeley Estates Company’ (landlords of the Reading Room) to form the ‘Powburn Village Hall’.

Link button for the PDF file of the 1944 Powburn Village Hall Agreement
Powburn Village Hall Agreement 1944

The village hall was to be formed in the same room as the Reading Room, i.e., “the room over the stables situate near the Plough Inn…”

Vintage photo of Powburn Village Hall behind Council houses in Powburn, Northumberland
Position of the Powburn Village Hall (1930s-built Council Houses can be seen along A697 road) [Ref: BVPC0103]

The premises were to be let and used as a village hall and recreation hall “for the entertainment and social gatherings of the district.” The rental fee was ten shillings per year – the same fee as 10 years previous when the Reading Room was established.

Committee of the Powburn Village Hall

The seven committee members when the Powburn Village Hall was established were:

  • Robert Little
  • John Thompson
  • Eric Thompson
  • Mrs Emma Fanny Potts, Powburn
  • Mrs Mary Elizabeth Chisholm, Post Office, Powburn
  • Robert Clark, Crawley
  • Burgess Jefferson, Hedgeley Station, Powburn

Interestingly, there were two women on the committee (there were none ten years earlier on the Reading Room committee). This suggests that women were now to be explicitly included in this new venture. Indeed, this is borne out by the ‘Standing Rules’.

Rules of the Powburn Village Hall

As with the rules of the Powburn Reading Room, the Standing Rules for the Powburn Village Hall set out the institution’s objectives, constitution, voting rights, expected standards of behaviour, and the right to expel anyone breaking the rules.

women included

Rule 11 confirms that, unlike the Powburn Reading Room, women could participate on the same terms as men: “Membership shall be open to boys over fourteen years of age, but no member under eighteen years of age shall be entitled to vote at any meeting. Ladies will be eligible for membership on the same terms as men.”

members’ club

It is clear that, at its inception, the Powburn Village Hall was a members’ club/institution, e.g., Rule 12 sets out the terms for membership applications: “All applications for membership shall be considered by the Committee and it shall be in their discretion to decline any application without stating the reason for doing so.” What is not clear is whether a membership subscription had to be paid. Unlike the Powburn Reading Room Standing Rules, there is no mention of a membership fee.

Link button for the PDF file of the 1944 Powburn Village Hall Rules
Powburn Village Hall Rules 1944

Activities

The Powburn Village Hall was available to hire by community groups. The 1944 document shown below shows the charges in shillings (s) and pence (d) for various activities, including the Home Guard.

Document showing list of fees
Charges for activities 1944

It is apparent, then, that the hall was used for meetings, dances, whist drives, concerts and “juvenile organisations”. This raises the question of how a single room could accommodate such activities. However, we have an undated document showing a simple outline drawing of what was presumably the plan to modify the “room over the stables” (see below).

Link button to building plan for the Powburn Village Hall
Building plan of Powburn Village Hall

In addition, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to conclude that these renovations (or something similar) were implemented. For example, May Wilson recalls Jock Brown (see Hex and Friends) mentioning that he would go to dances in the room above the stables [Note 1]. Likewise, Marjorie Greshon recalls that there were billiards, whist drives, dances, Girl Guides’ meetings and Sunday School pastimes held there [Note 2].

Marjorie recollects Sunday School being held on the top floor and being taught by “Mrs Smith and the Binnie girls.” This is supported by Jenny Guthrie who remembers that, as a child, she would go up the stairs to the room above the stables for Sunday School and that “Mrs. Smith from Wooler used to take the classes.” The children were given scripture searches for homework and the following week, they would get points if they had carried out the tasks successfully. Jenny recalls that the Powburn Village Hall was functioning at the same time as the Jubilee Hall [Note 3].

Side by side

While we do not have clear documentary evidence, it appears that there were two separate committees managing two community buildings and organising events: (1) the Jubilee Hall Committee, and (2) the Powburn Village Hall Committee. For example, Lorna Wilson had her wedding reception at the Jubilee Hall in 1952, whereas Marjorie Greshon and her sister Moira Brown had theirs in 1957 and 1959 respectively in the room above the stables – the Powburn Village Hall [Note 3]. 

1960 Powburn Village Hall closes

A letter dated 28 April 1960 was received by the Secretary of the Powburn Village Hall Committee, Mr. Eric Thompson (who was one of the original 1944 Powburn Village Hall Committee members).

Link button to the notice  quit letter for Powburn Village Hall 1960
Notice to quit Powburn Village Hall 1960

The letter was sent from the Hedgeley Estates Company (the landlords) indicating that Major Carr-Ellison wished “to convert the Village Hall into two cottages” and, therefore, the Estate was serving a three-months’ notice to quit by 12 August 1960 [Note 4]. The letter suggested that the Committee might be able to arrange for the hall’s activities to continue in the Jubilee Hall. This is further evidence from which we can plausibly infer that the Jubilee Hall had (1) continued as an actively operating community space at the same time as the Powburn Village Hall, and (2) its facilities were in good functional order, given that there was an assumption in the letter that activities could continue at the Jubilee Hall within just a three-month period.

Amalgamation?

At the time of writing (2022), we do not have any documentary evidence from which we could piece together what happened after the Powburn Village Hall closed in 1960. We can presume that several activities did transfer to the Jubilee Hall. Of course, this may not be the case. Perhaps the Powburn Village Hall Committee ‘resigned’ and simply allowed the Jubilee Hall to become the de facto ‘village hall’? Or perhaps the two committees amalgamated? Questions such as these present multiple opportunities for further research.

Afterword

For the purposes of the Breamish Hall Heritage Project, the Jubilee Hall (as the first village hall in Powburn) represents the Breamish Hall’s ancestral home, as it were. And, whatever the fine detail of how a ‘village hall’ became established in the Breamish Hall, it is evident that this evolved from use of the Jubilee Hall. Indeed, at the time of writing (2022), several older members of the local community still refer to the Jubilee Hall when the topic of ‘the village hall in Powburn’ is discussed. Perhaps this has something to do with how long the Jubilee Hall was operational? The ‘Powburn Village Hall’ was in use for 16 years (1944-1960), whereas the Jubilee Hall operated as a village hall for 77 years (1897-1974) – a long time to embed in the collective psyche!

Notes

  1. Email from May Wilson to Graham Williamson dated 29 November 2022.
  2. Marjorie Greshon: handwritten notes ‘Reading Rooms Powburn’ dated 8 December 2022.
  3. Telephone conversation between Jenny Guthrie and May Wilson on 29 November 2022 and recorded in writing by May Wilson in an email dated 29 November 2022.
  4. Today (December 2022), the building survives as two semi-detached domestic properties: 15 and 17 The Square, Powburn.

Credits

All PDF documents on this page provided by John Carr-Ellison, 2022.

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