Sonning Common Village Hall and Kidmore End Memorial Hall are managed by Sonning Common Parish Council.
Sonning Common Village Hall
Sonning Common Village Hall was built in the 1950’s and is a central hub of the community. The hall houses the Parish Council offices and is the regular venue for Parish Council meetings alongside a variety of private bookings and events.
The hall is situated in the heart of the village on Wood Lane, next door to the Co-op and One Stop shops. It benefits from a public car park to the rear of the building and is close to bus stops.
The flower beds and hanging baskets outside Sonning Common Village hall are maintained by Sonning Common Village Gardeners.
Kidmore End War Memorial Hall History
Kidmore End War Memorial Hall was built to commemorate those who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-18, and its site was in the then ecclesiastical parish of Kidmore End. When, 28 years later, Sonning Common became a local government parish, the Kidmore End War Memorial Hall became part of that new parish.
How the enterprise began was vividly described in the Reading Standard of 25th March 1922. Parishioners met in 1919, and the first hall committee was elected in May 1920, born from the desire to commemorate those who deserved to be remembered for their sacrifice and to form a social centre, in what was then an isolated community, cut off from the nearest towns, Reading and Henley-on-Thames.
Mr. T Arathoon of Caversham Court and Bishopswood Farm, Sonning Common, gave the land, and within a few months the £600 required for the building and furnishing was raised. There were no costs for the labour involved, which was given voluntarily in their spare time by master builders and other trades. How it proceeded is illustrated in a series of photographs; some show the lorry belonging to Josey’s, an old established firm, still remembered by some in Sonning Common.
The voluntary effort of those who built the Hall with their own hands was matched by others. Messrs. Talbot & Sons, of Caversham waived the royalty on the moulded concrete blocks used in the building and Mr. H. Chandos Bryant drew up the trust deed without charging for his professional services. And so, to quote the Reading Standard, this ‘pivot for the social and educational life of the village, owned and controlled by the parishioners on a democratic basis,’ was born. It still thrives today but alas Bingo is a thing of the past!
Came the great day, 11th November, 1922, the inauguration of the Hall took place with a service and a dedication prayer spoken by Rev. B. H. Bird, and the ceremonial opening of the door by Lord Phillimore wearing, as a contemporary photograph shows, a dark overcoat and a flat-top bowler hat, in later years associated only with Sir Winston Churchill. Subsequently, the Roll of Honour was prepared free of charge by Mr G Shea. The Roll of Honour after the 1939-1945 war was the work of Mr R W Allwright, whose family was closely associated with the Hall.
One month before the opening, the Management Committee held its first meeting in the new premises, and the minutes were recorded carefully. This has continued to the current day. The Committee elected Mr W A Callis as its first Chairman, assisted as Vice Chairman by Mr W AlIwright, and as Hon. Treasurer by Miss M Maitland. Other members of the Callis and Allwright families have served down the years. The present Chair (2018) is Mrs. C M Lewis. The names of Miss Maitland and also of Lady Crichton Maitland, an Original Trustee, were remembered in the neighbourhood through the Maitland Ward at the old Peppard Hospital. Not long after Mr L Stapleton joined, and he was succeeded by his daughter, Mrs. Eley. One of her sons became a Trustee. The third new Trustee, Mr. F. Tarrant, was the son of another committee member.
This demonstrates the tradition that has helped to carry the Hall through the years. But new recruits came and went as the years passed, adding fresh vigour to the work of the committee. Many came to meetings on foot or riding their bicycle from Kidmore End, Gallowstree Common and Sonning Common.
But back to the first meeting, in October 1922. It was decided that the Hall should run on Institute Lines, with sections for men and women and for a variety of activities.
The minutes for these 50 years show the patience, perseverance and energy of the members when dealing with the recurrent chores required to make a success of any undertaking – finding caretakers, replacing broken crockery, maintaining and later improving heating and lighting, taking out insurance, and ultimately bowing to the motor car by providing a car park.
The Committee could also be firm. One member who had let out what had happened at a private committee meeting was ‘called to order’. Another member, noted for his absence, was told he must mend his ways.
The Committee could also be a little naïve. When it became necessary to apply for a licence to the Performing Right Society, the body which ensures that composers receive royalties for their music performed in public, members objected that, being voluntary workers, they could not be expected to fill in the Society’s forms. Of course, they relented eventually, and we still fill them each year!
What services did the Hall provide in the early days? They were twofold: activities for members and facilities for outsiders who hire the Hall for their own purposes; and for many years, the Committee ran a library stocked with books bought from Hall funds and with others loaned by the County Library; only once was the theft of a book mentioned in the minutes. Periodicals were soon abandoned since little use was made of them.
There was a men’s club, revived for a while after the last war. There were sports: tennis, bowls and badminton… but ping-pong was turned down!
There were regular dances – both for the enjoyment of members and sometimes to raise money for good causes, including one in 1944 for the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. And of course, whist drives – a number of them – some also arranged to raise funds for other organisations. Users hiring the Hall included for many years the British Legion. Even after it ceased maintaining its headquarters there, because the Committee would not allow a bar, the Legion was a frequent hirer for special meetings and dances.
For a while a monthly Gospel service was held. An Adult School used the Hall on Sunday afternoons. Political meetings also had their venue at the Hall. The Brownies also used the Hall.
On one occasion a concert was arranged by friends of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. The Peppard Brass Band hired the Hall for a concert to raise funds for new uniforms. Dancing classes, magic lantern shows and later Cinema shows were staged, and plays performed. A close association existed with the Kidmore End Women’s Institute for many years; one of its members made the curtains for the Hall. The Institute for the Blind, the Primrose League, the Reading Branch of the National Council of Labour Colleges were among those using the Hall in 1932. A new use of the Hall was then found as Play Groups for small children below school age.
In 1938, as the war approached, the Territorials used the Premises as a drill hall. And then came the war. An evacuees’ Christmas party in 1939 was an example of the Hall’s own hospitality. Other activities included whist drives for the Oxford Spitfire Fund and the Prisoners’ Cigarette Fund. In 1942, some £1OO was raised for the Red Cross Prisoners-Of-War Fund and other causes.
The Oxfordshire Education Committee took over the Hall for a time, the Sonning Common Home Guard hired it, as did the Henley Food Office, for the issue of ration books.
The First Hall activities after the war were a VE dance and a Welcome Home Supper for those returning from war service; on that occasion the Committee bent its own rule, allowing free beer to be served.
The upsurge of social and educational life after the war, greatly supported from public funds, ended most of the Hall’s own activities, although it is still in demand by mainly local organisations. With the library in Grove Road, the need to maintain a library at the Hall disappeared. With motor cars plentiful and a good bus service, dances and other functions farther afield were readily accessible to residents. The facilities at the Chiltern Edge School opposite the Hall also impacted on the demand for classes at the latter. Whist drives organised by the Hall for its own funds and for other causes did, however, continue until the 1970’s, and members even ventured (tentatively) into Bingo. Its intimate character still made the Hall popular for family parties, christenings and weddings.
Not surprisingly, the general body of parishioners no longer take the active part in the running of the Hall as they did when Sonning Common was more isolated. The Hall however, continues to provide genuine village facilities for many occasional and regular users. The Hall still performs its public service under the Trust that was implemented in 1922, to a different clientele which now includes, amongst others, martial arts, aerobics, Tai Chi, keep fit, Pilates, judo and aikido, kick boxing, line dancing and music practise. The Hall is available most weekends for functions, although the Hall does not have a liquor licence.