The Centenary of the Chilwell Memorial Hall

Nottingham Journal 5th May 1924

‘The memory of the 30 natives of Chilwell who lost their lives in the war was suitably commemorated on Saturday, when the opening and dedication of a commodious Village Hall took place in the presence of practically the whole of the village. In the evening the local ex-servicemen, to the number of 150, had tea in the hall, which was followed by an enjoyable musical entertainment.’

So began 100 years of service to the local people of Chilwell for ‘the purposes of assembly, social and recreational activities for local residents.’ This history has been recorded in the minutes of the monthly meetings of the Management Committee and the Annual General Meetings.

Looking through the minutes, you immediately see a progression of caring, hard-working, and kind people who gave up their time and put in herculean efforts to keep the Institute running, to provide a safe environment for the people of Chilwell to meet, socialise, keep fit, be educated, cared for and to be entertained.

The building itself is rather like the Forth Bridge, in that it is constant need of repair and the minutes reflect issues with the roof and windows leaking, the need for decoration (inside and out), repairs to the billiard table, floor replacement, new curtains, blocked drains, new toilets, and the putting in of a town supply of water in the 1930’s, as before that they used water from their own well.

This continual maintenance required money, and as a self-sustaining, charitable institution money was always tight and fund raising the driving force of the committees. Throughout the history of the Institute, whist (a card game) played a huge role both in fund raising, and as a much-loved social and community event. The ‘Fur and Feather Whist Drive’ which always took place just before Christmas, was a huge community event with tickets limiting the number of players to 220. Running from the 1920’s, until the early 1970’s the winners received rabbits and chickens as prizes, ready for their Christmas Dinner.

The Institute ran regular weekly Whist sessions (three a week), to raise money for the day-to-day upkeep of the building, but also for other charitable reasons, including donating money to the refugees after WW1, the Red Cross, local hospitals (pre-NHS) the PDSA, nearby mining disasters, The Comforts Fund (WW2) and a donation of £14 to the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil in November 1966 for the Aberfan Disaster Fund.

In the minutes of the 32nd AGM in 1956 Mr Gregory (Chair) ‘went on to say that the year’s activities would have been a sorry tale without the support of the whist section, which had always been the mainstay  of the institute.’

Every national celebration over the last century including the Silver Jubilee and the marriage of Charles and Diana have been marked with a whist drive. The number of packs of playing cards, whist score cards purchased, the replacement and re-covering of worn-out card tables and the ordering of cups and saucers, and tea and biscuits has been enormous. (In 1960 144 packs of cards were ordered along with 10,000 whist score cards in 1976)

The Institute has also supported the community in other ways. In the 1920s it ran a library and held lectures, put on concerts and dances and hosted weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. In the Second World War the hall became one of four British Restaurants in Beeston, with seating for 200, it provided 500 midday meals daily throughout the war and from 1949 the Red Cross ran Britain’s only physiotherapy clinic for the elderly in the Institute, twice a week for 45 years.  Sport and fitness have always been encouraged with a range of clubs including tennis, bowls, badminton, billiards (and later snooker), table tennis, dancing and of course whist. It was also interesting to see how the activities changed over the years, to reflect new trends and fads from Scottish dancing to pop-mobility, ballroom dancing to disco dancing, line dancing to slimming classes, whist to bingo.

The building also has its own unique story. Over the years, it has been extended, the interior redesigned and 1937 an arson attack almost caused the Institute to be destroyed by fire. Luckily, PC Burdett who at 1.55am was patrolling High Road Chilwell, noticed an unusual light in the Chilwell Institute. He found fires burning in four parts of the building and managed to chase and catch the perpetrator and took him to the nearest telephone box, where he telephoned for the Beeston fire brigade.

The chief fire officer prised the main entrance door with an axe and found the fires consisted of coronation decorations, bunting Union Jacks and curtains. A good deal of damage was done by flames to a billiard table, a piano and a door. A fortunate escape for the building.

The minutes also reported break-ins, damage to fences, broken windows and lights, graffiti on the gent’s toilet walls and some thefts including a bottle of rum from a kitchen cupboard and the Union Jack which was stolen from the flagpole during the Silver Jubilee in 1977 (the police were informed, but neither items were recovered)

However, woven throughout the history of the institute have been the threads of care, compassion, charity and community. From an annual donation of 10/- towards a treat for the Beeston and Chilwell old folks, (and later running a Christmas Party for them), to collecting 2,179 eggs in 1939 as a fund raiser for the General Hospital. The Institute also sent money for the war comfort fund sending 1000s of cigarettes (£5 for 5,000 cigarettes and organised through the Red Cross), to service personnel who were patients in local hospitals during the Second World War!

Mrs Edghill, President of the Chilwell War Memorial Institute in 1977 summed up the impact and the support the Institute offers the local community, when in her closing speech of the AGM she said;

‘The building was erected as a war memorial, and if those whose monument it is, could come back, they would feel what pleasure the institute gives to so many people. Above all it gives friendship and company.’

To these unsung civic heroes who attended meetings, fixed fences, covered whist tables, made curtains, unblocked drains, organised charity events and hosted generations of Chilwell people we thank and salute you.

Today, the Institute continues to support the local community, by improving and modernising the amenities, as it prepares for the next 100 years.

If you wish to find out more about the history or discover what activities are available at the Chilwell Memorial Institute, there will be an open day on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th May as part of the centenary celebrations.

CB