The First Parish Hall

An extract from the Devon and Exeter Gazette of December 1930.


A welcome and much needed addition to the amenities of Burrington, North Devon, is the new Social Institute, which was opened on Tuesday by the Earl of Portsmouth. The building is constructed of expanded metal, rendered down in Portland cement, and roughcast. The building is 64 feet by 24 feet, and the main hall is 45 feet by 23 feet. A kitchen is provided with a serving hatch, and there are ladies' and gentlemen's toilets. The lighting is by oil lamps, and the building is centrally heated. Messrs. Friend & Kelly, L.R.I.B.A. of Barnstaple, were the architects, and the builder was Mr. A.Kingdon, of Burrington. The estimated cost is £ 850, and towards this £525:15s:11d (£525.80 in todays currency) stands to the credit of the fund at the bank. The ground was given by Mr. J. Pickard, and the fund was headed by a gift of £250 from Col. T. Gracey. Other contributions included; Mrs. Gracey, competition £45; Women's Institute and Old Comrades' fete, £ 56; Miss Snell, dances, £ 13; Mrs. Gracey, senr., £12; Mr. Joslin, £2. The Institute Council comprises Lieut-Col. T. Gracey and Mr. W. Short as trustees; The Misses B. Ellicott and L. Gracey, and Messrs. L. Darch, A. Kingdon and G. Snell representing the parish; Mrs. W. Short representing the Women's Institute; Mr. T. Buckingham, Old Comrades and Mr. J. Cole, British Legion.

After the door had been unlocked by the Earl of Portsmouth an adjournment was made to the main hall, which was filled to its upmost capacity. Those present, in addition to his lordship, included Colonel and Mrs. T. Gracey and Miss M. Gracey; Miss Gracey (Braggamarsh), Dr. Bush, Dr. and Mrs. Hancock, Miss Gay, and the Rev. J. and Mrs. Brooke Harte (Ashreigney Manor).


Colonel Gracey who presided, said they were met on an occasion which would be in future regarded as an important one in the history of the parish. Up to the present there were two rooms which had been used for entertainment in the parish - the school room and the Comrades' Club - but neither had provided adequate accommodation. Now the parish had a hall in which these difficulties were overcome, and which would hold about 180 to 250 people, while a door leading into the Old Comrades' hall would provide a useful annexe in case it was needed. Dancing had become popular among the young people, and they had put in a special ash floor which made provision for this. Among those who gave gifts of money and in kind they especially thanked the donor of the land, Mr. Pickard. The Chairman, with a few well chosen words of compliment, introduced Lord Portsmouth.

The Earl of Portsmouth, in declaring the hall open, spoke of the manner in which village life had been brightened of late years, and said, he thought their village hall would be a great asset.

Thanks were recorded [to] his Lordship on the motion of Mr. Pickard, who, speaking of the regard in which his Lordship's family were held, related several interesting anecdotes concerning them. His Lordship briefly replied.

Mr. W. Short, expressing thanks to Col. and Mrs. Gracey, said that they all felt thankful they had people like them in the parish. (Applause.) Col. Gracey had put a tremendous lot of forethought into the matter of the provision of that hall. Any gift given in the spirit which Col. and Mrs. Gracey gave them, too, added to their value. As one who had worked on the committee with Col. Gracey, he testified to his broadmindedness, and said they were more than grateful for all he and his wife had done for the parish. (Applause.)

Miss Ellicott, seconding, said that it was a lucky day for Burrington when Col. and Mrs. Gracey came to live there. But for their kindness, the Burrington Village Hall, instead of being a substantial building, would still be a "castle in the air".

Col. Gracey, in acknowledgement, said they would go on trying to deserve the nice things which had been said about them. He expressed thanks to Mr. Pickard for the gift of the site, and advice tendered during construction of the building. He also announced receipt of a cheque towards the fund from Lord Portsmouth. Mr. Kingdon could feel proud of the building.

Mr. Kingdon, in acknowledgement, spoke in appreciation of the services of Mr. Drew, clerk of works.

Tea was served in the school room, under the direction of Mesdames Ellicott and Prouse; community singing was led by Mr. Bruce Oliver (Barnstaple); skittles were in charge of Mr. Kingdon; a shooting gallery was superintended by Miss Kingdon; and competitions were arranged by Miss Ellicott.

An auction of live and dead stock, arranged by Mr. W. Short, was conducted by Mr. C. Southcombe (Messrs. J. Hannnaford, Son and Southcombes, Ltd.), who gave their fees, amounting to about £ 2, to the fund. The articles sold included sheep, pigs, poultry, firewood, potatoes and meal, and the proceeds amounted to over £50. The sheep realised from 55s [£2.75] to 82s:6d [£4.13], the latter price being paid for an animal bought by Mr. John Cole. It was given back, and afterwards secured by Mr. Snell.

The days proceedings, which will benefit the hall fund to the extent of about £ 150, were voted a huge success. There were excellent houses at the marionette and cinema shows given by Messrs. Newth, Lee and Chester, of Okehampton, and the quality of the performances was highly praised. Large numbers took part in the whist drive and dance, including numerous visitors from neighbouring parishes. Messr. W. Cole, F. Darch and G. Snell organised a dance, music for which was provided by the Dartonia Band from Chulmleigh. The dance raised £ 21, the whist drive, for which the room was filled to its utmost playing capacity, £4:9s [£4.45], and the skittles, £ 4:5s [£4.25].

Results of competitions are appended:- Guessing weight of sheep (100Ib.), Mr. P. Park house; do, duck (4Ib.5oz), Mr. T. Drew; guessing sixpences in a bottle (104), Miss M. Harris; guessing name of doll (Joan), Mr. A. Aplin; lucky number draw, cigarettes, Mrs. Friend and Mr. A. Hookway. Skittles (under Mr. A. Kingdon): 1, Mr. W. Miller; 2, Mr. W. Short. Whist - Ladies: 1, Mrs. Partridge; 2, Miss M. Harris; 3, Miss V. Souden. Gentlemen: 1, Mr. C. Down; 2, Mr. J. Huxtable; 3, Mr. S. Lake.

Gifts towards the tea fund included 5s [25p] from Mr. Nethercott of Chulmleigh, and a set of Madeira cakes from Mr. Routcliffe of Chuimleigh. A shooting competition, lent by Mr. Penfold, was in charge of the Misses Ellicott and Snell.


The Comrades Club and the Loss of the First Hall


In 1921 the ex-servicemen of the parish found that they were missing the comradeship which they had experienced in the armed services and explored the possibility of forming a skittles club. A meeting to discuss the project was called which was attended by 32 ex-servicemen with Sir Harold Taggart taking the chair. During the course of the meeting, Sir Harold promised to donate £77: 10s, this being the cost of an ex-army hut, provided that the other members raised a similar amount and voluntarily re-assembled the hut on its site.

With the money having been raised, a grant of £15 obtained and the hut having been erected the opening day was the 7th June 1922, when various draws, competitions, etcetera were held and there were two performances of a cinematograph show. The prices of admission were either 1/6, 1/- or 6d (including tax).

The annual fees for membership of the club were set at 3/6 for ex-servicemen and 5/- for others.

Shortly prior to Christmas 1923 a skittle competition was held with the turkey being won by Mr. W.E. Short. With the assistance of helpers Mrs Short carved the turkey and it was consumed at a dinner held in the club house. The organisation was in the hands of Mrs Ena Short, Mrs Tancock and Mrs Darch who received support from many others. This annual dinner of the club survives to this day. Friends and members contributed provisions towards the meal and, while the members were not required to pay for the meal, wives or girl friends paid 5/-.

As recorded above, a more permanent Parish Hall was opened in 1930 and this received ample usage until one fateful day in 1943 when, at 3 o'clock one morning, the hall was consumed by fire. On the previous evening there had been a dance which many locals and also soldiers from the Searchlight unit then stationed at Ley Farm attended. As the fire started in mattresses stored in the skittle alley many rumours circulated as to the root cause of the fire.

During the remainder of the war years, men met for cards and social company in a reading room which was situated upstairs in the building at the rear of Miller's Stores, now London Cottage.

In 1951 the Club had built a temporary structure for a total cost of £510 to hold the skittle alley and also a billiard room, and due to the generosity of a Torrington doctor the full size billiard table, which is still in current use, was obtained by donating £10 to the doctor's hospital. The skittle alley was obtained from an Ilfracombe club, which was in the process of closing down, for £11.


The New Hall


In 1959 a committee (chaired by Mr. Roy Short) was formed to consider the building of a new hall which would be able to accommodate both a large hall for events such as dances and the Comrades Club under the same roof. Mrs. Elsie Short kindly donated the land on which the hall would be built. The total cost of the project was £8,500. The Mens' Club building was sold, as were the site and the chairs and utensils, the proceeds, £500, were handed to the new hall committee as a permanent interest free loan, almost one sixth of the sum required to be raised within the parish.

A Carnival was organised to raise money, the Devonshire Regiment band attending. With the help of monies raised at other functions and interest free loans, sufficient funds had been raised by the end of one year and the hall was opened by Dr. Cook, the County Education Officer; the County Council having provided the grant money. The loans were all repaid within two years.

By 1978 the annual subscription [to the Comrades Club] had increased to £2.

In 1989/90 an extension to enlarge the kitchen area, provide a store for equipment and provide public toilets was built at a cost of £59,000.

Due to the generosity of a bequest from the late caretaker, Mrs. M.Miller, many other improvements have been made available. The bequest has also enabled the hire charges to be kept at a very reasonable figure.

1991 saw a victory in the North Devon District competition for "The Best Run Village Hall". and a runners-up position in the competition for the whole county of Devon.


This isn’t the end of the story, as the Parish Hall Committee obtained planning permission in 2009 to extend the kitchen, improve the entrance hall and build a store for tables and chairs. While doing that we also wanted to improve the heating and lighting. There was just the small (!) matter of raising the funds to build the extension. This was achieved in September 2010 and work was completed in March 2011.

Following the committee being successful in applying for further grants, a disabled toilet was built adjacent to the Club Room in 2013. New chairs have been purchased and in January 2014 a Broadband connection with WIFI access throughout the building was installed.

A digital projector was purchased in 2015 by the Parish Council and is available for use in the village by all organisations.

In 2018 the Committee Room was refurbished. The wall between the cloak room and main committee room was replaced by sound proof sliding doors. The existing sliding doors into the main hall were also upgraded, the ceiling soundproofed and the lightening improved.