A video of the history of the Memorial Village Institute (Hall) made about 2008.
Gnosall prospered especially during Victorian times due mainly to the Birmingham-Liverpool Canal carrying bulk goods and the Stafford-Shrewsbury railway transporting goods and passengers. Both services ran through the heart of Gnosall.Industries such as saw mills, brickworks, milk factory, flour mill, cement works, toy factory and furniture manufacturing as well as supporting trades provided local employment. Village schools ensured education from the age of 5 until school leaving age and Pastoral care was and still is provided by two churches, so the residents bonded into a tight community. Learning, praying, working and socialising together and mostly within the village. Many industries fell by the wayside in the early 1900s but the community spirit prevailed.In May 1921 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England donated a site of more than 3,000 square yards at the south side of the junction of Lowfield Lane and the main, Stafford to Newport road to ‘The Trustees’ as the site for a Parish Hall. The area had previously been a gravel pit according to the early maps.George Woodfield, a local smallholder who had lost his son John in the first world war paid £190 for an army hut used by Canadian soldiers at Brocton Camp near to Stafford. (Faint writing on the rear of the building later revealed it to be the “Non-Conformist Hut”)Many local people raised money, prepared the ground, moved and re-built the hut on the donated land. It was called the “Memorial Institute”.Mrs. Woodfield opened the Memorial Institute on Saturday 15th October 1921 just 5 months after the land was donated.The hut comprised one large 66 by 36 foot room complete with stage and piano, and one small room 30 foot square which was used for billiards.A committee room was built, and there was ample provision for games etc. and a library. Facilities were provided for serving refreshments.It was administered by the Gnosall Community Council and the Parish Council.Perhaps we should pause at this point to consider the impact this building made on the village.It’s 1921 - one year before BBC radio started and ‘television’ wasn’t even a word, so communication was by word-of-mouth or from newspapers. No entertainment or information available over the air-waves.The only venues in Gnosall where a large number of people could meet were restricted to the Churches, School rooms and various village pubs. None of which was suitable for all occasions. A visit to one of the nearby towns by train would give access to theatres and dances, but there was nothing locally.So now the villagers had this wonderful facility with large hall complete with stage, billiards room and a meeting room.Within 5 weeks of opening according to local newspaper cuttings, there were billiard competitions, a newly formed Badminton Club with 30 members and Whist drives to name just a few activities. There was even a tea party for all the village children aged between 4 and 14.Over time the building was used for many activities including, old time and modern dances and a mobile cinema visited each Tuesday evening.The “Gnosall and District Nursing Association” used the Institute for clinics for 20 years prior to the National Health Service.In the early years before motor cars were popular and a car park wasn’t needed, a bowling green was laid at one side of the Institute and tennis courts at the other side. The entrance to the building was from the road side of the building.The ’Gnosall Memorial Institute Dramatic Club’ staged many plays from 1928 onwards promoting the local village talent and of course all the actresses and actors would have been known to the audiences.Over the years the building started to show its age and by 1949 plans were being prepared for a new building and money was being raised – an indication of how much the residents valued the Hall and the commitment to honour those who fell during WW1.In March 1950 a new Trust was formed where Gnosall Parish Council handed its part of the shared responsibility for the management of the Memorial Institute to the Management Committee. The new Trust Document lists 31 village organisations who can delegate members to act on the committee up to a maximum of 40 members. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners conveyance document for the land from 1921 declared “that neither the said land nor any buildings erected thereon shall be used for the sale of any wine, beer, or spirits for any purposes except those authorised”. (Whilst carrying out research, one resident confirmed they had to obtain written permission in order to toast the bride and groom with a glass of sherry at her wedding reception).In 1951 a small strip of additional land was given by Mr Tomkinson from the Manor Farm opposite the hall allowing an entrance hall and cloakrooms to be built. This was completed in 1952. It also removed the alcohol-free condition of the original 1921 Conveyance.The wooden building continued to fall into a state of disrepair and from 1954 onwards the cost of maintenance exceeded the income.On 26 February 1954 the administration was transferred to the Charity Commission in London and the hall was registered as a charity known as the “Gnosall Memorial Institute”.A new constitution was drawn up naming 14 village organisations able to have representatives on the Management Committee as well as elected members.The ‘Community Council’ having completed the hand over to the Charity Commission then disbanded. By that time the Community Council had plans approved and obtained grant aid for a new hall.Planning permission was applied for and given in 1960 and grants were confirmed.In March 1960 the original hall was advertised for sale in 3 newspapers. It was sold in May for £200.00 and included a Billiard Table. Work started on the new hall in August.The new Hall cost £5200. There were two grants of 1/3 from Ministry of Education and ¼ from Staffordshire Education Authority. Over £700 was given in donations from villagers. The local Youth Club gave £69 (equivalent in 2022 to £2000) – indicative of the significant part youngsters played in the community.The balance of £1400 was loaned by National Council of Social Services. Villagers and some businesses had to act as guarantors in order to secure the loan (100 pledges in total) and which they surpassed to the value of £2000.The building was supplied by Stafford Concrete Buildings and incorporated the entrance hall and cloakrooms built in 1952.The new building was opened on Saturday 8th April 1961 by Mrs Shepherd Johnson.In March 1963 the 8 year loan of £1400 was repaid in full in less than 2 years. In a letter acknowledging the last payment the National Council of Social Services stated “they considered it an outstanding achievement to have repaid £1400 plus interest in just under 2 years, in fact very few other committees had equalled this record and was a good indication of the support given to the hall.”In 1971 the premises were registered with Staffordshire County Council for use as a Children’s Nursery and a Play-Group used the building on week days for more than 40 years until moving to the nearby St-Lawrence Primary School in 2013.As the motor car became more common, the bowling green was changed into a much-needed car park and in 1975 the tennis courts at the rear of the building were removed and a Scout and Guide Hut built on the land and is still in good use some 45 years later.Over the years more than 40 village organisations have at some point used the Memorial Hall for regular meetings and activities.In addition, the building is used for parties, wedding receptions, concerts, plays etc. and throughout each year there are also many fund-raising events supporting local charities.Every year on Remembrance Day more than 250 pupils from the nearby Primary School gather on the Memorial Village Institute (Hall) car park to pay their respects to all those who gave their lives over 100 years ago and on Remembrance Sunday the Royal British Legion lay a wreath at the Hall before going to St. Lawrence Church for the Remembrance Service.It is hoped that those brave men and women who gave their lives over 100 years ago would approve of the decision by their families and friends to provide this Memorial Village Institute (Hall) as a lasting and fitting tribute.
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During the First World War, out of a population of about 1500, more than 270 men and women from the Parish answered the call and enlisted. Sadly, more than 50 made the supreme sacrifice and failed to return.When the war ended, a committee of local people was formed to raise money and decide on a fitting and lasting tribute to those who fell. It was agreed to provide a facility for social and community use. Local newspaper articles indicated various fund-raising functions.
Acknowledgements:Many thanks to the Gnosall Memorial Institute (Hall) committee for their help and allowing the scanning and sharing of historical documents and to the Staffordshire Advertiser for permission to include newspaper extracts.