Newton Solney Village Hall History

The wonderful Arts and Crafts building which now graces the village as its Village Hall was not the first structure on the site; that was a wooden building erected at the beginning of the First World War as a rifle range to train men to shoot. Practice trenches six feet deep were also dug close by in the area now occupied by the tennis court and bowls green.

According to local books on Newton Solney the original part of the current building was completed in 1926, but it is quite possible that it was built before that date because the Ordnance Survey Map of 1923 (based on a revision carried out in 1920) shows a building of similar shape to and in the position occupied by the present building and there is also a newspaper report in November 1921 of the first of a series of winter concerts being held in the “Club room at Newton Solney Recreation Club”. Whether both these items refer to the present building or to an earlier wooden “extension” of the original rifle range is not known as we have no records going back that far.

What is not in doubt is that the present brick building (which became known as “the Institute”) was built at the behest and expense of Colonel Robert F Ratcliffe CMG (a member of the brewing family) who resided at Newton Park (now part of the Mercure hotel) and whose estate comprised a large part of the land and buildings in and around the village) and that the architects were Arthur Eaton & Son of Derby. Although it was originally thought that the architect responsible for the design was Arthur Eaton himself it is perhaps more likely that it was his son George Morley Eaton who later became president of the RIBA.

According to a newspaper report there were several additions to the original building, namely a billiards room with a full sized table and a reading room, all paid for by Mr Percy Ratcliffe, the Colonel’s younger brother. In 1927 or 1928, the Colonel leased land immediately adjoining the building to the Recreation Club which Mr Percy Ratcliffe laid out as a bowls green and hard tennis court. The new tennis court was opened by Mrs Percy Ratcliffe (Olive) and she and her husband played the first set against Mr & Mrs H V Argyle. There were further additions in the 1930s and in subsequent decades when new lavatories and a kitchen extension were added and the rifle range rebuilt in brick.

Although the bombs dropped on the village missed the Hall it didn’t escape completely unscathed from the Second World War because it was reported that in 1946 Mr Percy Ratcliffe had paid for necessary repairs to the Hall due to damage caused by evacuee children.

The Recreation Club seems to have begun life as a separate entity from the estate on the 3rd December 1926 when £5 was paid in to enable the newly formed Club to purchase (amongst more mundane items such as coal and firewood) prizes for the annual Christmas Shoot, which had come into being following the setting up of the rifle range. The Christmas Shoot, when anyone over 16 who wishes, can, under strict supervision, have a go at target shooting, has continued to be held up until the present day.

The Institute or Club continued to host dances, junior dance lessons, flower shows, W I meetings and events, drama, lectures, an over 45s club (aka the Tuesday Club), church lunches and harvest suppers, parties, whist drives, youth club, badminton, bowls, snooker teams and rifle clubs up until 1973 when following a number of village meetings it was agreed to set up a charity to purchase from the executor of Mrs Olive Ratcliffe (who had died in 1971) the building including the bowls green, tennis court and land attached. The purchase price of £600 was raised from available Club funds topped up with various donations and an urgent house to house collection which itself produced more than half of the money needed. The purchase and the Declaration of Trust founding the Newton Solney Village Hall charity were both completed on the 3rd December 1973 exactly 47 years after the formation of the Recreation Club.

Life has continued in much the same vein ever since although the activities at the Hall have changed with the times and the more modern interests of the villagers. Instead of formal dances, drama and lectures, we now host more physical activities such as yoga, pilates, karate, tennis coaching for the very young and upwards, etc.

Needless to say, as the Hall approaches its centenary (always assuming it hasn’t already passed!) repairs, renovations and refurbishment consume ever larger amounts of money but with the not inconsiderable financial assistance of the Parish Council and generous donations of time and money from villagers I think we are just keeping ahead of the game – until, that is, the next unforeseen or unforeseeable event turns up!

Chris Kitto