|1885 was the year when land was purchased in order to build the Cowling Liberal Club and Institute, and eighteen Trustees were appointed to carry on the work of the Club. The objects of the Club were to afford its members all the usual privileges, advantages, conveniences and accommodation of a club; to promote the cause of Liberalism, to consider and discuss all questions affecting the interests of the community and maintain a library of political, historical and other literature. One rule that no intoxicating liquor should be supplied, or consumed on the premises on any pretext whatsoever. These various plans were carried out efficiently for many years, and the Club really was a centre of social life. Many lectures both educational and political were held, whilst this excellent Library and Reading Room (now the Meeting Room) were extensively used.
Quite apart from it’s political value, the Liberal Club played a prominent part in the social life of the village. The Assembly Hall, one of the largest halls in the village, and central in position, was widely used for dances, concerts and other public gatherings. The smaller rooms on the ground floor provided a meeting place for such organisations as the Cowling Nursing Association, First Aid Classes and a reception centre for evacuees during the war, and an Air Raid Precaution Post was established in the cellar. The Assembly Hall has been the scenes of numerous dramatic productions, being crowded to capacity when dialect plays of the late Alfred Teal, based on local events were presented during the 1920’s to 1930’s. This room was used by every political party for their meetings at election time.
A shop (now the kitchen) was supervised by a part-time caretaker where sweets, tobacco and soft drinks etc, could be purchased. A full sized billiard table catered for the billiard and snooker players in what is now the Social Room. Non-players could observe the play from raised seating around the walls. The Billiard Handicaps, Domino and Whist Drives at Christmas time created considerable interest.
The Smoke Room (now the Pool Room) was used for dominoes and card games, or a quiet smoke and chat, the venue of the more elderly Members. The Cowling Womens’ Liberal Association played an active part in the social life of the club, no doubt on the catering side and in fact did maintain a large cupboard full of china crockery with ‘C.W.L.A.’ the initials of their organisation.
The kitchen in the early days was located in the, cellar where very primitive facilities were available. A large open range fireplace with side boilers no doubt provided the hot water, and an old type shallow sandstone, sink was available for washing-up requirements. A quick way of transferring refreshments to the Assembly Hall was by way of a manually operated small lift. This equipment went out of use a long time ago, and the shaft was sealed up.
By 1939 times were changing and a steady decreasing Membership was giving rise to concern as to the future of the Liberal Club and Institute, A meeting of Members was held to consider the position, and possibility that the Club might have to close was not excluded.
One suggestion that there should be a drive for new members another that the Club should be closed for a period with a view to emphasizing what an asset it was to the community, a third suggestion being that the building be offered to the local authority as a gift. Ultimately, the premises wore offered as a free gift to the Cowling Parish Council. A public meeting of ratepayers was called by the Parish Council in order to consider this offer, the Chairman pointing out that the Parish Council would be in order in opening a place of this nature under the Local Government Act of 1933, if the offer was accepted. The building was in good order with a debt of £25 on the premises. The average income and expenditure in the preceding five years being £176 and £162 respectively.
Ben Snowden Bequest Concert pensioners over 70 yrs.
This meeting approved the following resolution: ‘That this public meeting of ratepayers of Cowling, empowers the Parish Council to accept the generous gift from the Liberal Club and Institute, as a gift, and that if there is any expenditure in excess of income which cannot be raised by voluntary effort, they be authorised if necessary to meet same out of the rates.’
Consequently arrangements for the legal transfer. of the building ware put in hand and the drawing up of a conveyance appointing a Management Committee comprising the members of the Parish Council and nine members of the Cowling Village Institute, as the building was now named. The first meeting of the new Management Committee was held on April 3rd 1940, and officials elected. One of the first matters discussed was the possible formation of a ladies section and the provision of a ladies meeting room, with all the usual facilities. Although this matter was discussed at subsequent meetings the initial idea did not take hold, but, the final outcome of all these discussions was the formation of the Cowling Womens’ Institute who still meet monthly in a hired room.
In 1940 of course the country was at war and the building was used considerably more frequently due to the establishment of several bodies associated with the War Effort, some of which have already been mentioned. For a period the premises were used for the billeting of an army unit which caused unusual administrative problems for the management. The Royal Observer Corps used a room and jam making sessions were held by ladies of the Womens’ Institute, who were allocated sugar for this purpose by the Ministry of Food, the sugar ration to the average family was microscopic and certainly not sufficient to preserve jam. The premises had now become of great value to the community during the anxious and difficult years of the war. In 1940 the provision of a more practical kitchen was considered and it was decided to partition part of the the shop, but even so the resultant room was very small containing only a sink, gas oven and small cupboard for the storage of crockery. With three persons working in it, one would say it was overcrowded.
It was decided to enrol Junior Members aged between 12 and 14 year’s, for a trial period until the end of 1940, They would be required to leave the building by 8.30pm, and could use the Billiard Table only when it was not being used by Senior Members. About this date the Ladies Toilet was built next to the Library, the idea being that it was the most suitable position for it when the Library was used for a Ladies cloakroom when dances were being held, the total cost was £111.
Following the end of the war in 1945 many of the lads were returning from the Forces, and became members of the newly formed Social Committee. This Committee was a great asset to the Management Committee because they did evening duty in the shop (there was no caretaker after 1948) and supervised and took payment for the billiard games etc. In addition social events were organised and the proceeds handed over to the Management Committee towards the upkeep of the building. This Committee also carried out the work of re-decorating all the rooms on the ground floor and the entrance hall. During the period between the caretaker finishing and the appointment of a cleaner, much of the cleaning was carried out by these Members, as was the duty of securing the premises at night, each member did a weeks evening duty in turn.
Application for a licence to perform stage plays was made and considered by the Justices sitting at Skipton Court in the early 1950’s when new regulations became law. The licence was not granted because the two exits from the Assembly Hall converged into one staircase, and the Fire Authorities insisted that there be two exits independent of each other. It was therefore decided to ask the Parish Council to include this matter on the agenda for the Annual Parish Meeting to be held in about two months time. This meeting approved the opening of a special fund involving house to house collection, in order to finance the building of an outside fire escape. This money raised by the community of Cowling enabled the Management Committee to order the provision of a Fire Escape which was erected by May 1957. It is recorded that £100 was donated by the local firm of John Binns & Son which was a very generous gift. This same firm had been very generous since 1946, and had donated £250 over the years. The Directors of another local textile firm, John Hartley (Cowling) Ltd, paid for the decoration of the kitchen and the shop.
In 1952 any person of pensionable age was granted free Membership, but most of the older loyal members still continued to pay their fee as a token of their continued support for the Institute. The Management now considered that they had sufficient money in hand to carry out a long overdue face lift to the Assembly Hall. Re-decoration was carried out, pelmets and curtains were hung on all the windows for the first time, and improvements made to the stage frontage. To celebrate the opening of the room after the completion of these improvements, a Grand Military Whist Drive was held in the room on Friday of one weekend, when Bumper Prizes were offered. On Saturday the Del Rio Accordion Band played for dancing, where refreshments were provided. Special thanks were due to the wives of the Members of the Social and Management Committee who were responsible for making up the curtains.
Learie Constantine guest judge at Cricket Club Carnival Night,
Village Hall Cowling – Date: 1930s
In 1959 a Youth Club was formed in the village to be run by volunteers, and an application was made to the Management Committee for permission to hire the Assembly Hall for their meeting on one evening a week. The application was approved subject to certain conditions which the Youth Club Committee agreed to accept. When they got established they asked for an extra evening for the training of a Table Tennis Team and other activities. With the Assembly Hall being situated on the first floor it was not ideal for some of the activities which took place as the people attending meetings on the ground floor suffered from the noise. There was a period when trouble was being experienced from the Junior Members of the Institute who very often had the building to themselves. They ware fooling about, and causing damage particularly in the Billiard Room. It was therefore passed that the Junior Membership be discontinued, and the minimum age for full Membership be 15 years but youths under 21 were required to make application for Membership to the Social Committee. However it was reported at their next meeting that no applications had been received from anyone under 21, but that the Billiard Room was in constant use, mostly by last years Junior Members. It was agreed that the Billiard Room be locked up as from that night, and any applications submitted in the future to be considered only at the convenience of the Committee.
In 1961 another crisis was appearing in the life, of the building. The older Members were becoming less in numbers and those remaining were not using the Institute as regularly. In addition the Members of the Social Committee were also dwindling in numbers. This Committee had done stirling work for 15 years practically unchanged in personnel, helping with the daily running of the premises, being responsible for locking up at night and generally supervising activities. Two facts probably contributed to this situation, which certainly changed the lifestyle of a lot of people. One being the introduction of shift working and the other the increased popularity of television in the home. Most of the personnel of the Social Committee also served on the Management Committee and at a Management Committee meeting in January the Social Committee Secretary reported the complete breakdown of the duty rota, and his members wished to resign from both Committees.
A public meeting was called in February 1961, and the position explained to 50 residents who were present. Unless a complete Management Committee could be formed, some of the rooms in the Institute would have to be closed. Only one person amongst these present was prepared to stand on the Committee, It was then suggested that another public meeting be called also inviting all organisations who use the Institute to nominate two of their Members to attend, the object again to try and form a Management Committee. This meeting was duly held and about half of the organisations invited were represented, but again no headway was made in achieving a satisfactory solution to the problem. It was passed that the meeting be closed and the matter left with the Parish Council to deal with as they thought best.
An Extraordinary Meeting of the Village Institute Management Committee, which now comprised members of the Parish Council only, was held in March 1961, the first item to be dealt with was the consideration of the security of the building if it was to be used in a more limited way. This was solved by arranging for the members of the Parish Council themselves, the Clerk and two or three volunteers from, the membership operating on a rota system to lock the building at night. The part-time cleaner being responsible for opening up in the mornings. It was agreed that the Billiard Room remain closed until September 30th, and that the Assembly Hall be closed until the same date. With regard to the ground floor rooms it was decided to try to keep them open for meetings etc, and for the next ten years the Parish Council went it alone as it were, in providing limited facilities, but generally kept the place open, fortunately, the Parish Council during this time were a most amicable and dedicated body of people, who worked together and really got results.
The building being the property on trust to the Parish Council, they were required by law to submit the separate accounts of the Village Hall Management Committee for audit by the District Auditor, because of their complexity they gave both the District Auditor and the Institute Treasurer, quite a difficult time. It was thought that the Auditor would be only too pleased not to be involved with the Institute accounts, and he suggested that it would be quite in order for the Parish Council to let the premises to the Village Institutional Management Committee for a nominal rent of £5 per annum. Such an arrangement would obviate the necessity of involving the District Auditor, and the audit could be carried out by some other suitable person agreed to by the Management Committee. The Auditor also pointed out that the Parish Council would be in order in paying specific accounts such as gas, electricity, rates or fuel. These suggestions of the District Auditor were implemented which meant that the Finances were considerably improved. The restriction limiting the spending by the Parish Council to the maximum 4d. rate, without Ministerial approval, was also lifted about this period which further improved the availability of financial help from the Parish Council. Two legacies, one from the late Tom Snowden, a local poultry farmer and former member of the Institute and another from the late Norman E. Snowden, a former Director of John Binns & Son, were gratefully accepted.
During these ten years when the Parish Council were acting alone as the Management Committee, a policy of carrying out necessary maintenance and improvements when possible was implemented. The rooms were being used more than at first had been thought possible, including the Assembly Hall, with the co-operation of organisations wishing to use the facilities.
Some of the major projects carried out included the following:- the shop was now empty of stock and unused so including the small kitchen it was made into one room and fitted out for use as a kitchen in it’s present form. The misuse of the Billiard Table and lack of interest in the game resulted in the table being sold and raised seating surrounding the room taken out, thus making a useful room to accommodate a larger gathering of people at meetings. When further educational classes were held at the Institute, the room was used three times a week for dressmaking and soft furnishing classes, which brought in welcome income.
Dealing with the heating system which has always been one of the most expensive items to consider, the boiler was first converted from coke to oil burning. This virtually removed the need for a boiler fire, as all that was now required to work the system was to set a time clock and operate the steam valves to heat the various rooms required. A few years later a new boiler was installed and when fuel rocketed in price, the conversion to gas firing of the boiler was carried out, the Assembly Hall floor was becoming dangerous through splinters breaking away, and as the boards had become so thin through repeated sanding downs over the years, it was impossible to patch up in the worst places. Large sections of chip board were then laid down, as anything heavier would have put too much strain, on the ceilings of the ground floor rooms. Also in the Assembly Hall a false ceiling was hung which gave the room a more modern appearance and at the time considerably reduced the space to heat. The North gable-end was cement rendered as it had not been built with dressed stone and this caused a problem with damp on the wall at the rear of the stage. The gable had most likely been left in a rough state because it was probably anticipated that a further building would be joined to the Institute.
A start was also made on renewing the electric wiring of the building. The most frequent users of the Institute during the 1960’s were: ‘The County Council for the Library, three Building Societies, Further Education Authority for Classes (4 per week), the Youth Club, Male Voice Choir, Cowling Pensioners, the Womens’ Institute and regular Whist Drives. The District Council used a room once a quarter for the collection of rates, as did the gas and electricity boards for the payment of accounts. Doctors have also rented rooms for the convenience of their patients living in Cowling.
By 1971 some additional support was now coming from members of the public, including several ladies who offered to serve on the Committee. More enthusiasm was now apparent, and it was decided to redecorate the entrance hall with the help of volunteers from the Committee, to their credit the new lady Members helped with the painting alongside the men.
It was decided to re-name the building, “Cowling Village Hall” as most village community centres were referred to as village halls.
During the last ten years a Pool Table was installed on a rental basis for the benefit of the younger members, but the hire firm took it back after a few months use because they were not receiving sufficient profits from it’s use. The Committee than decided to purchase a second hand table which has since been replaced by another of better quality.
The rewiring of the building has been completed and the mens’ toilet modernised. The day to day running of the village hall is now carried out by a representative body of residents who appreciate the value of a building of this nature, to the village, and are prepared to celebrate the centenary in style. This present Management Committee deserves our good wishes and support for the future as they carry on this good work.
Ernest G. Smith