BBC News

Magazine

Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Monday, 13 April 2009 12:02 UK

A celebration of the humble village hall

Cartoon
Husband has penned a cartoon history of villages he visited

For two years, cartoonist Tony Husband has been touring England's village halls putting on a two-man show with a comedian. Here he explains why these humble institutions should be cherished.

Tony Husband has a confession to make. He has an obsession.

"When I pass a sign pointing to a village hall, I'll divert and have a look. I've turned into a village hall spotter."

After performing in more than 100 such venues in two years, he is something of an expert. And the experience of taking his two-handed show with comedian Ian McMillan around England has sparked an unlikely love affair.

"The village hall is the centre of the community, from what I've seen," says Husband. "I live in Manchester and it's hard to imagine sometimes that there are these villages miles from anywhere, where a pub and a post office might have closed down, leaving just a hall and a church."

You go back in time to an England that doesn't exist for many of us

From bee-keeping to Shakespeare, flower shows to tap dancing, aerobics to comedy, these hubs of rural life provide a vital lifeline in a peculiarly English way, he says.

"They are all different and they're well off the beaten track. I would advise anyone who finds themselves driving down the A6 and seeing the signs for these little villages, to turn off and explore this lost England.

"You go back in time to an England that doesn't exist for many of us. You can find the leafy lane and village green and church bells ringing."

In their show, Husband and McMillan have a conversation with the audience to create a picture of the village. Husband draws cartoons and McMillan makes up poems as those watching reveal events and characters that shape their community.


"In one village we found out during the show that the village pet donkey Ben had died. It seemed that everyone loved him and fed him and he died of old age."

People vary in age from seven to 90, and they come bringing sandwiches or wine. The smallest audience was 50 but larger halls can seat 200, although occasionally the crowd is topped up by strays.

On one occasion, there were two women in the front row passing each other notes but not laughing at any of the jokes. When asked what they were writing, the note was read out loud. It said: "When does the aerobics start?"

On another day, a man wandered in and asked whether this was the beekeepers' society meeting.

Cartoon

When Husband and McMillan entered Allington, near Grantham, they were struck by the idyllic village scene - the green, the two big oak trees and the church. But they were a little startled to see between the trees a white banner with the words "Song and Dance with Tony Husband and Ian McMillan".

After they parked their car, they sought out one of the organisers and asked why they were being described as singers.

"We were told the guy doing the posters was going on holiday and only had time to change the names on the banner. How eccentric and wonderful."

The condition of the buildings varies, he says. Some are very modern, thanks to refurbishments paid by National Lottery money. They sometimes provide an interesting social history, like those which were once schools with only about 20 pupils, but were later turned into village halls.

Flea circus

Staying overnight with villagers gave Husband a glimpse of some of the memorable characters who help to keep the village hall thriving.

One host got out his flea circus to entertain the visitors. And another woman was very disapproving when Husband told her after the show that he was going to the pub with McMillan.

"The hall and the church are the only things left so they are a vital part of village life and that's why people work so hard to keep them going, by putting on events and working out costs and paying the bills.

"There are these people everywhere who put themselves forward to get stuck in and it's great. Most of them are women."

He's confident that thanks to people like this, the future of the village hall is secure, and this pillar of English life will continue to prosper.

Cartoon


Below is a selection of your comments.

If only our political leaders would make the time to visit one of these Village Halls when a local discussion is taking place on a subject that embraces everyone. They would learn the valuable lesson of how real politics work. They will find little if any politcal correctness. People speak their mind and they do it openly. Very rarely is a question answered with a question. Very rarely is there an ambiguous answer. If it is deemed you are talking a load of rubbish, you will soon be made aware of the fact. Oh for village hall politics in Westminster.
Tony Ive, Petersfield UK

My wife and I did live in a village until work moved us to a town, now we live on a new development with space to build a village hall but all the property developers want to build are pubs shops and creches. there are no plans for a village hall or any will to build a village hall. Builders quote costs and local planning regs. Council also quote cost and necessity. I am exacerbated by it all, especially as we know how beneficial a place for all to meet not necessarily with alcohol.
Tony Garrett, Swindon

I always like hearing about the Englishness of England. One day my wife and I were in the village of Bungay in Suffolk and we heard about their black dog, as infamous as the attack on Pearl Harbour. We stayed for a drink, only tea as driving, and discovered that the lady who made the tea's brother had only left the village once. He only got as far as the next village, Beccles, missed the bus back to Bungay and vowed to never leave Bungay again! and to that day he stayed true to his word. He was an old age pensioner and the bus to Beccles only ran once a day!
Dr SA Holmes, Southend-on-Sea

"an England that doesn't exist for many of us" Who are the "us" referred to here?! There are many, many English people who support local events in their village halls as this article demonstrates. In addition to comedians and cartoonists (great idea btw) politicians and broadcasters should get out more and meet the forgotten English electorate on their home ground.
Mrs M Malcher, Woking, Surrey

Being from the south-east London/Kent area, I'm used to being around a busy and built up area of the country. I was however part of a Murder Mystery evening at Shipham village hall in Somerset, miles away from where I live, in both the travel sense and the living sense. It was extremely refreshing to see the togetherness and friendship shown by the 100 odd people in this village hall which is poles apart from the lack of communication found in Orpington, and I suspect is the same of any other town in Greater London. It's great to hear that these village halls are still thriving!
Paul Valentine, Orpington

"An England that doesn't exist for many of us." Who are the "us" referred to here?The "us" are the majority of the population. Whilst I accept that there are thriving village populations it is an unfortunate fact that the vast majority of the country live in cities and towns.
Martin, Harlow, Essex

I am chair of our local village hall committee. There are only five of us on the committee and we have to work really hard to inspire even a modicum of support. We know, however, that if we put up a for sale sign there would be uproar. You are right that it might be the last vestige of the community so PLEASE SUPPORT US. I wouldn't stop for the world.
Val, Milton Combe

I've just spent the weekend in rural Norfolk. It's true that village halls (and parish councils) are a central part of the community in many areas. We don't see this in the city because there aren't many multi-use buildings. I think that these should be included in the plans for new estates etc as I have seen them used very successfully.
J Brown, Hull



Print Sponsor


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific