The Fourth John Prime Memorial Lecture
Rucklers Lane Hall
This talk was given by to the Society by Stanley Bower in December 2007
Good evening Ladies & Gentlemen.
When your Chairman approached me to book this hall for your meeting and explained the format for the occasion, we were talking about the Hall and my association with it for many years, he suggested that I might be persuaded to give you a short talk about the hall, its history and its place in our community.
Early days as a Mission Hall
This hall was built in 1909 to the memory of Arthur Longman, by his widow and it, along with the adjoining land was conveyed to the Church for the benefit of the local community to be used as a place of worship for the families whose breadwinner worked on the local farms which were part of the Shendish estate and whose local church would have been St Mary’s Apsley or All Saints Kings Langley. Initially, I would suspect, but have no real evidence, that the residents of the Green and local houses would have made good use of the facilities for their weekly services, but this use had certainly waned by the time my family appeared on the scene.
At this stage I should introduce myself, my name is Stanley Bower and I presently live in Bovingdon. I was born in a small mining village of Cudworth in South Yorkshire (West Riding until Mrs Thatcher decided it was too big and cut it into smaller pieces). My Father was a miner but ill health forced him to look for other work, so he cycled to London and back (a distance of around 160 miles each way), twice, in his search for other employment than coal mining. An Aunt worked as housekeeper for Mr & Mrs Neat at Hollow Hedges in Bovingdon and upon hearing of my Father’s need offered to rent a house in Rucklers Lane, which was vacant, if it would help. My family moved into 79 Rucklers Lane on Good Friday 1937, during a snowstorm. We soon settled in to our new environment, I started school at Nash Mills and Dad got a job with a local builder. My Mother and Father lived in that house until he died in 1983.
The Hall was only used at this time for an occasional Church service, some of which I attended, and I believe an occasional public meeting when needed.
World War 2
At the outbreak of war, the Hall was brought into service initially as a clearing station for evacuees from London, where local people could attend and select those they could accommodate.When the evacuees arrived, it put an enormous strain upon the local schools to find the extra space and, until new buildings could be constructed, the Hall was once again press-ganged into use as an additional classroom for Nash Mills School, local children attending for part of the week and evacuees attending for the remaining part achieved this.
Later, some kitchen space was added, to enable a Workers Canteen to be established, run by the local WVS, for the benefit of the local workforce, who could supplement their meagre rations by taking a mid-day meal. After Dunkirk and the formation of the Home Guard, space had to be found to undertake essential training and to attend lectures; once again the Hall came to the rescue. (A photograph of the local platoon is on the wall with all the names of those members that I have been able to identify.)
When peace was declared in Europe, the need for the Hall ceased and as the organisations were wound up, the keys were handed back to the Vicar of Kings Langley Church for safekeeping. Rucklers Lane, along with many other local communities, celebrated both VE and VJ days by having parties in the street, but in the case of the Lane, the Green was pressed into use and was used for a number of years.
During the period of greatest emergency, when Britain was under constant attack from the air and there was a threat of invasion, to thwart the enemy, all road signs were removed and, to prevent the free movement of enemy troops and equipment, concrete blocks, in the shape of a roller, about four feet tall and a yard in diameter, were placed across many open areas which included the Green. All these obstructions had to be removed to enable the space to be used to put out stalls and to provide usable running tracks for the children’s events.
After we had celebrated the ‘end of the war’, my father who, with many other local inhabitants, had formed the Rucklers Lane Social Club, asked why the Hall could not be used for other events. This question was followed up and my father made contact with a Kings Langley Church Warden, Mr Arthur Warren, and together they approached the Rev Parkin, who agreed that the Committee could use the Hall and the Church would continue to maintain the fabric so long as the original bequest lasted. The residents of Abbots Rise and Shendish Ridgeway were invited to join in. From that time on, the Mission Hall has been used for many and varied activities. Social evenings were frequently arranged, with party games, sing-songs, dancing and occasionally entertainment by a member of the community, every week there would be a whist drive, beetle drive and bingo.
The youth of the area were not forgotten, a youth club was formed, (The Link Youth Club), who were represented on the Rucklers Lane Social Club Committee, and were provided with a dart board, table tennis table and billiards/snooker table (the main game in those days was billiards), the Youth Club had contact with other clubs in the area and regularly held darts or table tennis matches both at home and away. The Youth Club also had their own social evenings and would put on shadow plays and have dances.
One of the most popular activities at the Hall was the dancing classes run by Miss Beryl Hunter, nearly all the members of the Youth Club and many other adults took part and of course this led to an increase in demand for dances at the Hall. One result of the dancing classes was the ‘formation dance team’, we started up in the Hall and became quite proficient needing to practice more, which we did at Berkhamsted and Watford, as a result we performed for the public at St John’s Hall, Hemel Hempstead and a hall in St Albans Road, Watford. On the same theme, Mrs Medland gave lessons in ‘old time dancing’ which was much enjoyed by more of the older generation.
Cinema and library
In the early days after the war, transport was not very frequent and services finished early in the evenings, so that it was almost impossible to go to the cinema, either in Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted or Watford as you would have to leave the cinema before the film ended to catch the last bus home, or else face a long walk. The committee solved this problem by inviting a gentleman, I believe his name was Ted Partin, who ran a village film service, designed to meet the needs of neighbourhoods like ours. He was able to supply all the then up-to-date releases and to ensure that our patrons came every week; we would run a serial (I can recall that one of the favourites was Flash Gordon). We were not allowed to make a charge for entry, otherwise we would have to pay a duty on the takings, so we suggested that everyone put one shilling (5p in today’s coinage) into a hat. We would get more than 100 people attending most showings. (This would not be allowed nowadays due to health and safety regulations.)
Another service to the community, which I personally provided, was a library service, in those days the mobile library service was non-existent. Each week, I think it was on Wednesdays, I would have around 5 boxes of books, which had been supplied by the library service changed on a regular basis. The local public would come to the Hall to browse and select volumes to take away for reading, just as they do now at the local library or on the mobile vehicle.
Outings and Parties
Every year there would be an outing organized to a seaside resort for a day out, we went to all the popular resorts, Margate, Southend, Littlehampton, Brighton, Southsea, etc. In those days, car ownership was reserved for the well off members of the population and so the outings were well subscribed, I seem to recall we had 12 coaches on one outing, all leaving from Rucklers Lane. These annual outings to the coast continued through to the sixties, a small amount was charged for the adults, but all the children travelled free. For many of the children in the lane this was their only opportunity to visit the seaside. As soon as the sea was spotted, the coaches would erupt with the usual chorus of “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside”.
As well as the free annual outings the children were also looked after at Christmas, the younger ones were given a party in the Hall, as well as being ‘well fed’, there was the usual visit from Santa, who gave each child a gift. The older children were taken by coach to a pantomime, very often to the Golders Green Hippodrome.
Money was not so plentiful in those days so, to help people to be able to afford their outing and Christmas, a thrift club was started up, the main providers of the service were, my father Harry Bower, George Parker and Jim Shapcott, they would be in the Hall every Friday evening and people would come and deposit their sixpence, shilling, florin or half-crown. There would be a grand payout a week or two before Christmas. It was very well run and much appreciated by the locals; I used to act as the auditor and can honestly say that there was never any discrepancy at any time.
Over the years, a major source of income has been the ability to let out the Hall for private functions of all kinds from Christenings parties to Golden Weddings and even Funeral Wakes, in fact both my wife and I used the Hall for our 21st Birthday celebrations, our Wedding reception and most recently, our Golden Wedding celebration. In the early days, the floor comprised bare wooden boards and before each letting for a party, the ladies usually wives of the Committee men, would spend the day before the letting, in the Hall, on their knees, scrubbing the floor. By constant treatment sealing and polishing the floor over a number of years, this is not now required.
The Hall is not let out for private parties as much these days, other than children’s parties, as it has been found that lettings to teens and for disco’s are subject to damage which costs more to put right than the income received, also, the expense of having a full time caretaker would be prohibitive.
Community Association Constitution
The management of the Hall has had to change over the years and I would love to record every change in detail, but this is not possible as some years ago one of the people elected as Secretary, moved away without giving notice and failed to surrender all the historic notes and minutes of meetings in his keeping, so that history is lost forever. All I can do is give an account of what is still retained in my own memory. After some time, the Social Committee was approached by the Church Council and informed that the original bequest for the upkeep of the Hall had run out and the Church could no longer provide for the maintenance of the structure. It was decided that, in order to keep the facility in the hands of the community, an association be set up with trustees safeguarding the integrity of its functions, this resulted in the setting up, on 10 March, 1967, of the Rucklers Lane (Kings Langley) Community Association, with an appropriate Constitution setting out its aims and conditions. In 1980, to enable the Association to become a registered charity, with the advantages that would bring, the Constitution had to be amended and is still in force to this day.