Following the Great War of 1914-1918, there were campaigns throughout the country to erect war memorials to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all who did not return.
The village of Pant is split between the two parishes of Llanymynech and Morton – the hall lies in the latter. While the fallen of Pant are commemorated on the war memorials at St Agathas, Llanymynech, and St Phillip and St James, Morton, the people of the village itself evolved the idea for a small leisure building as a practical commemoration. In 1920 a nucleus of people came together to make plans.
The picture on the left shows Brady Last (1848-1938), the original landowner of the hall site. (courtesy Mrs R Kynaston, his great-granddaughter). He lived on Llynclys Hill and had owned the hall land since 1908. He sold the land to the original trustees for £50.
In February 1922, a document records the purchase of land with conditions that required a building to be erected as a ‘Reading Room Club and Village Institute’ for general purpose use of all residents in Pant. That document also established the name “Pant War Memorial Institute” with management and control of the premises vested in The Management Committee. This Committee was to consist of the Trustees, plus other members to be elected annually by residents of Pant.
The five founding trustees were William Elias Morris, Frederick Lowe, John Rogers, Henry William Eyton Leslie and Alfred Arthur Kynaston.
Alfred Arthur Kynaston (14 November 1875 -8 December 1946) was born in Crickheath and began his working life as the station master as Llynclys. He lost his left arm aged 21 in a tragic railway accident, but continued working until retirement as a clerk at the goods yard in Oswestry. He was committee treasurer for the hall, and also very involved with the ‘bottom chapel’. As a scholarly man, he also helped many villagers who could not read or write to manage their affairs. Alfred remained a very active contributor to the hall throughout his life. He died suddenly from heart failure, aged 70, during the harsh winter of 1946, while trying to push his car after chapel.
William Elias Morris (1873 – 1935) lived at Rockwell Cottage in Pant with his wife Rosanna (nee Parry) and daughters Bertha and Olive. He worked as a delver at the Llanymynech limeworks.
John Eric (Jack) Rogers (1916 – 1991 ) of 1 Powis Cottages, Pant, was a constant presence on the committee into the 1970s. He worked as a locomotive shunter at a quarry (presumably Llynclys) and in 1939 lived at Powis Cottages with his parents Edward and Selina (nee Trevor) and two siblings. He is commemorated on the clock in the main hall, which was installed in 1978 and transferred when the institute was rebuilt. He later moved to Cheshire.
Frederick Lowe (24/2/1889-1968) was the second son out of the seven children of Thomas and Sarah Jane Lowe, the village midwife. He was brought up in the Gin House in Pant. In 1911 he was recorded living with his parents in Pant, and working as a signal porter on the Cambrian railway. Later he ran Woodlands Garage on the main road in Pant. During World War 2 he worked at engine manufacturers Coventry Climax, who were evacuated to Oswestry in 1941. (more information awaited)
Captain Henry William Eyton Leslie MC (1892-1961) was a grandson of choral musician Henry Leslie of Bryn Tanat Hall in Llansantffraid. With a distinguished WW1 service record, he was very much the initial impetus behind the memorial project although his connection to Pant is unclear. His war record included service in Egypt and the Dardanelles in the 1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry from August 1914 to February 1919, and he was awarded both the Military Cross and mentions in despatches. He moved away from the area after the founding of the hall, becoming a managing director at Lloyds of London and travelling the world by ship. He was awarded the freedom of the City of London in 1920. Captain Leslie wrote to the committee in January 1960 resigning as a trustee due to distance and his age, by which time he had retired to Somerset.
Descendants of some of these families still live in the village, and in some cases are still part of the hall committee.
The first hall
The first hall building was an ex-WW1 army hut from Park Hall, erected on the site in 1922. It had a timber framework covered in corrugated iron sheets, with a corrugated iron roof. Inside was lined with tongue and groove boards.
The hall was fairly primitive by modern standards.The first minutes we have (August 1932) talk about electric light installation. The toilets were ‘buckets beneath cubicles’ until the mains sewerage was connected in 1970. However it did have a billiards table, a piano and space for the dances that were a regular feature of village life. Heating seems to have been via coal fires. There was a caretaker for many years, opening up and closing down, taking entrance fees, cleaning and generally supervising.
Running the hall
The hall committee has met regularly throughout the decades: the earliest minutes we have date from August 1932. At that time the committee met almost monthly, to discuss and approve requests to book the hall. (This was delegated to the secretary in 1947). The minutes from the time record use by a fishing club, many dances and whist drives and the existence of a ‘ladies room’. Other organisations also held events at the hall (as now). Customers included Criggon Radio Station, Porthywaen Band and Oswestry Cottage hospital.
Although the original building was furnished as a Reading Room, Billiard Room and Club/Institute for the use by residents of Pant, the Management Committee could determine other similar public purposes. The records show some controversy about whether to allow alcohol in the hall, the sale and purchase of various items of equipment as fashions changed, and the ongoing requests for support from the village.
The hall committee has always held all sorts of events to raise funds to maintain and improve the building. It has been known as “The Institute”, “Pant Memorial Hall” or just ‘the village hall’.
Maintaining the tin hut was a challenge. It needed frequent repainting both inside and out, as well as replacement of the galvanised sheets which made up roof and walls.
World War II and beyond
The minute books are interestingly silent on the effect of the Second World War in Pant. Committee meetings stopped between February 1940 and January 1945, although there was income recorded between those dates. Village halls were used in wartime as badly-needed venues for socialising.
The hall soldiered on after the war, with users including the youth club, the pigeon club and a weekly whist drive. The minutes record our long association with the Pant Women’s Institute (still going strong).
Following a recommendation from the Shropshire Community Council, the hall was registered as a charity on 26th March 1965, under the name “Pant Memorial Institute”. That is still the official name (cheques payable to…) although we’ll answer to anything vaguely similar. The original conveyance still acts as our governing document.
By the end of the 1970s the original ‘tin hut’ hall was definitely showing its age. Since 1973 there had been a plan to build a new school and community centre on the site, and with this ‘joint use’ idea there didn’t seem any point in spending money on the building. This plan was then deferred – in the end it never happened, the present school was built on a different site. It then became worth taking some action.
An ambitious scheme was put in place to modernise the building. The total cost was £37,000, of which £25000 came from a grant from Shropshire Council and the Department of Education and Science. Llanymynech and Pant Parish Council donated a further £3000 and the rest was raised by fundraising events and individual donations. A loan of £6,000 from Oswestry Council filled the last gaps.
The hall was closed in November 1980 for the works to begin. A brick skin was built to replace the tin hut, with a new roof and new floor fitted. The hall gained a kitchen, modern toilets and a proper entrance hall. The committee decamped to various locations round Pant to monitor the works. As always with building projects, the job was longer and more complex than planned, but the hall was back in action the next spring. An official reopening was held on 11th May 1981.
The architect was John Pugh (now MBE for his services to the Porthywaen silver band). His above and beyond contribution to the hall was recognised with a presentation on completion of the works.
To bring the hall into the new millenium, the committee applied to the Heritage Lottery fund, and after a great deal of hard work was able to secure a grant of £99,943. (This shows the effects of inflation since the first rebuild 20 years earlier)
This rebuild added the 25 square metre side room off the main hall, and also refurbished the toilet block, including adding a disabled toilet. The original purpose of the side room was to provide computer training facilities, which were used for several years. (This is why some people refer to this as the ‘tech room’). The room now provides a handy meeting space, quiet room for livelier events and a ’round table’ without having to set anything up.
Since 1999 the kitchen has been refurbished, the front smartly gravelled, flower tubs added, the play area upgraded, replacement guttering and fascias installed and windows replaced. We took a deep breath and removed the coin meters from the heating – thank you to our responsible hirers who keep the bills under control. The main room heats up within a few minutes of pushing the heat button and there is a separate system for the side room.
The hall also now hosts the Pant WW2 memorial plaque. This was originally in the Bottom Chapel, which closed in 2004. The plaque was moved to our entrance hall and rededicated there, and is now the centrepiece of our annual remembrance service. Although the original WW1 roll of honour plaque has gone, in 2018 we were gifted the Morton Parish WW1 roll of honour and we are working on a place to display this unique item.
We carried out the latest major refurbishment in 2018, to replace the entrance hall and storeroom flooring. These areas were showing their age, and there was also an issue with woodworm and wet rot. Our prized Canadian maple main floor was at risk – as was the building itself.
With the help of a grant from the National Lottery and a lot of planning effort, the suspended floor in the hallway and storerooms was removed and replaced with a solid floor. The void was filled with hardcore, which was then covered with insulation and a concrete slab. The final surface is a layer of smart commercial grade tiles. The hallway and storerooms were also redecorated. It took weeks to clear the dust but it was well worthwhile.
Other work in 2018 included fire alarm installation, building an exit ramp from the kitchen and general electrical works. BT repainted the phone box and the parish council refurbished the bench, both of which are on hall land.
As the hall was founded as a WW1 memorial, we wanted to mark the centenary of the Armistice. This took a lot of planning and consulting, including a lively discussion at the 2018 AGM.
After a lot of fundraising and planning, the hall is now the home of our #Armistice100 commemorative artwork, a mini-tourist attraction for Pant and a celebration of the beautiful area in which we live. We’ve also added more planting to this corner of the carpark, providing an attractive welcome to the hall for hirers, locals and passersby.
The unthinkable – the Coronavirus pandemic
A thorough review of the hall finances included allocation of reserves. As well as putting money aside for foreseeable items such as roof troubles, window repairs and so on, we also ring-fenced running costs for two years in the event that the hall lost income. Having this money ‘in pots’ allowed us to continue applying for grants despite having reserves. The land was secured for the charity, the bookings were healthy and varied, the building was well looked after – what could possibly produce this situation?
Like the rest of the world – in March 2020 we found out the answer. Most of our hirers had already decided to suspend activities when lockdown was declared on March 23rd, two days short of the 55th anniversary of our charity registration. At time of writing (August 2020) the hall remains closed to the public. A sub-committee has been meeting via Zoom and working hard on reopening proposals. Things will be different for a while, but we hope to welcome back at least some of our hirers before too long.
We put in a grant application to the National Lottery just before lockdown, and were delighted to receive the funding. The money was used to upgrade our lighting system – read all about it on this link. We also completed an order placed before lockdown, and so the hall now has a bluetooth speaker system available to all hirers.
Towards our centenary…
The events held at the hall have changed over the years, reflecting a more mobile society with very different expectations. That does mean that we also see people from much further afield. We’re still hosting a lot of dancing and even the occasional whist drive – but we’re open to anything that fits in. Weekly regulars include children’s dance classes (from toddler up!), yoga, Scottish dancing, tango, and our mother and toddler group. Once a month or more we have mindfulness sessions, psychic events, amateur dramatics and the stalwart Pant Women’s Institute. The hall is also used for band rehearsals (they love our good acoustics) meetings, children’s parties, family celebrations and more.
The work always goes on, (open or not!) as anyone who owns a property will understand. We pride ourselves on making the hall somewhere that people want to be. We ensure that we are up to date with ever-changing charity, health and safety and financial legislation.
We always have more that we want to do. Future ideas include refurbishing the bar area and ways to separate the side room so that we can have two hirers in at once to meet demand. The main room will be next up for repainting when funds permit. What else would you like to see? Let us know!
The current committee continue the work of nearly a century, and new members are always warmly welcomed.
If anybody reading this has corrections or additions, please contact us.