Full history of the village hall

The Village Hall was the idea of John Henry Stokes, the famous Edwardian breeder of hunters, and commemorates the Coronation of Edward V11. Stokes came to the village in 1875. 5 years later he was living at Nether House on Nether Green and had started to change the village by building large hunting- boxes for his rich clients.

In July 1902, he negotiated the purchase of land for the Hall from Christ Church College, Oxford for £5 and he subsequently organized the fundraising to pay for the building. The Coales and Johnson Architectural Practice (well known in Market Harborough and responsible for the Settling Rooms and the Grammar School on Burnmill Road) offered their services free of charge and recommended a local builder, W.A. Martin. Work began in April 1903 and was completed four months later at a total cost of £424 (equivalent to about £53,000 today).

Stokes’s original intention had been to provide a place of recreation for his grooms away from the six public houses in the village and so the Hall was run as an “Institute” with a Reading Room and a Games Room.

Declining membership after the 1st WW. caused the Hall to be closed in March 1928 for nearly 6 months. After a public meeting, a new committee was formed with Trustees and a Trust Deed which was to remain in force for nearly 60 years. In 2011, the Management Committee decided to follow legal advice and common practice and the hall was vested in The Official Custodian for Charities. The elected Management Committee must provide annual accounts to the Charity Commission and holds an AGM.

The 2nd WW had a more direct effect on the Hall and its role in the village. In September 1939, Leicestershire County Council rented the Hall as a school for London evacuees who were lodging locally. It was also used as an ARP. centre and a base for the Home Guard. The Hall was to be used again as a school in 1970 because of the rise in numbers of children in the village. So, for thirteen years from 1970 to 1983 when the new school was built in Gunnsbrook Close, the Hall was occupied each day from Monday to Friday by 9 to 10 year olds.

There have been several improvements to the Hall over the years. Between 1996 and 1998 the porch was rebuilt following subsidence (a result of the long hot summer of 1995), central heating was installed and re-roofing and re-pointing was carried out.

In 2005 the Village Hall Committee had the opportunity to purchase some extra land at the rear of the Hall and it was decided to carry out a major extension and refurbishment to provide disabled access and toilet, a meeting room, additional storage, and mounting of the memorial plaques. The architect was Michael Scott, who lives in the village, and the builders were AJ Goode of Slawston, a local firm specializing in restoration work. Part of this work involved removing the old suspended ceiling, revealing the original timbers in the roof. Externally the extension matches up seamlessly with the hall and its intricate Edwardian detail. The project was completed in 2007.

We were fortunate to receive major grants from the Harborough and Bowdens Charity and from Biffa Waste Management together with many smaller contributors. A list of the organizations that gave their support is displayed in the Hall. An Opening Ceremony was held on the 6th February 2007.

We were able to rescue the War Memorials from the Congregational Chapel which closed in 2003. Alf Herbert, a retired stonemason from the village, restored them and they are now mounted in the meeting room. A Re-dedication Service was held on Remembrance Day Sunday, 11th November 2007. The memorials are registered with the War Memorials Trust.

In 2008 two members of the committee were invited to attend the Biffa Award Ceremony for Community and Environmental Projects in the UK. It was held on HMS Belfast in London. Amazingly, Great Bowden Village Hall won their category prize, Community Building Projects, against distinguished projects such as Regenerating Shoreditch Town Hall in London, the Heritage Lounge at the Royal Hall in Harrogate and the National Trust’s Reigate Fort.

Great Bowden Village Hall was also chosen as the overall winner of the competition from all 4 categories. As we were overall winners, the Chairman was invited to the 2009 ceremony held in Harrogate.

Our most recent improvements have been the new kitchen and boiler in 2018 and double-glazed windows on the south side in 2019.