The Memorial Hall is a registered charity, no. 301583

For almost seventy years Newent Memorial Hall has been at the hub of the town’s social life. The scene of countless family weddings, birthday parties and wakes, dances, concerts, jumble sales, bazaars and all the other activities of a vibrant community. 

The idea for a hall first surfaced during the height of the second world war when it was felt something more was needed to commemorate those who had fallen during that conflict, more than simply inscribing their names on the war memorial. 

A meeting was held on September 4, 1943, in the Market House, chaired by local GP Dr W. Johnstone, a leading figure in the town since the 1920s and a a generous giver of his time to many local causes. 

After some discussion it was agreed to build a Memorial Hall on the site of the town’s disused cattle market, an ideal central location. The market had closed in the mid 1930s, and all pens and other ironwork dismantled for scrap to help with the war effort. 

The building was kick-started by a magnificent donation of £1,000 from an anonymous local donor, later revealed to be Mr A.W. Southall of Clifford’s Mesne, a local JP and chairman of the Newent Rural District Council. 

His generosity was soon supplemented by fund-raisers, the first of which was a whist drive in the WI rooms, on the corner of Culver Street, and a Christmas Bazaar. A fete at Dr Johnstone’s home, The Holts, raised £120 and members of the Newent Darts League gave £60. The secretary of the fund was local postman Marcus Martin, who was also a parish councillor and committee member of the Comrades Club, now The Circle Club. 

By September 1944 the fund had reached £2,004 8s 9d, enough to purchase the cattle market site from owners, auctioneers G.H.Smith, still present in the town as estate agents. 

But it was not until 1952 that enough funds had been raised to start construction of the building. 

Many events were held to boost the fund, a memorable one being a fete held at The Holts in June 1945 to welcome home local servicemen released from German POW camps. They were Sgt Vallice, Sgt Willows, Cpl Nunn, Cpl Lodge and Privates H.Markey, H.Oliver, J.Baker, and A. Williams. The event raised £250. 

At the 1946 annual meeting the committee elected was A.E.Baker, L.R.Barrett, A.C.Bidmead, W.Wildsmith, R. Ovington, A.J. Williams, and Miss K.Field, with Dr Johnstone in the chair, Mr Martin as secretary and local bank manager Mr C.Charles treasurer. 

Dr Johnstone told the meeting misunderstandings about the hall had been heard in the town. It was not simply a dance hall but a facility to be used for every social activity. 

Fundraising continued until 1950 when architect’s sketches were put on show, and the funds stood at £5,342 16s 5d, which included a legacy in the will of Miss Emily Pocock and a donation from Newent Amateur Dramatic Society. 

Members of various clubs and organisations in the town were co-opted onto the committee, including a teenage Eric Freeman, representing Newent Young Farmers. 

The committee went to see an ex-Canadian army wooden building at Foxley Camp, near Hereford, and agreed to buy it. 

Building work was done by local contractor W.Wildsmith. The hut was painstakingly dismantled, nail by nail, and transported to Newent in a lorry driven by the late Ron Lewis. 

The structure was rebuilt on a 4ft hins brick wall and Mr Lewis recalled the main carpenters working on the project as Reg Davies, Owen James and Jimmy Dee. The bricklayers were Ron James, Walter Warren, Jim Gladwin, Jim Johnstone, Jim Sysum and Norman Marcovecchio. Painters were Jim Matthews and Ray Gough while the footings were dug, by hand, by a group including Andrew Russo. 

The memorial Hall was finally opened on April 3, 1953, by Dr Johnstone. In his speech he said the hall had been erected in memory of those men of Newent who had sacrificed their lives for freedom and justice, and they would never be forgotten, An oak dance floor was installed, stage lighting provided by the Amateur Dramatic 

and an inaugural dance took place, attended by nearly 300 people. 

At last Newent had a large public hall, available to all. Newent Badminton Club were among the first to use it, along with Newent Over 60s Club, whose Christmas parties used to attract more than 200 people. Newent Home Food Production Club held flower shows in the hall. 

Saturday night dances during the 1960s attracted young people from all over the county with top groups coming to play, some them from the stable of top record producer Joe Meek, who was born just yards from the hall in Market Square. 

Many a local couple who first met at a Memorial Hall dance would go on to celebrate their wedding in the same hall and years later, silver and golden wedding celebrations as well. 

In 1992 a proposal was made to demolish and rebuild the hall, but this was rejected by the committee, chaired by Jack Jones, who served on the committee for more than 20 years. 

In 2000 a scheme to renovate the hall was launched with a ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign which raised £10,000 and in 2002 the hall was damaged in a storm and had to have extensive roof repairs. 

The relaunch of the Newent Onion Fayre in 1996 had the hall at its centre, the venue for the giant onion show. The fayre has since become famous around the world and regularly attracts 15,000 people to the town, on the first Saturday in September. 

Apart from the hiatus of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the hall is still used daily, by groups including Newent Choral Society, Newent Orchestra, U3A, and by the British Legion who have, appropriately made it their HQ. 

Displays in the hall commemorate the men of Newent who served and died in both world wars, plus plaques marking the town’s fundraising efforts during the last war, 

A committee of volunteers, led by long-standing chairperson Mary Townsend. continue to operate the hall for the benefit of the town, but they realise times are changing and plans for the future have to be considered. 

But a determination remains to carry on the legacy of those whose wartime vision led to the building of Newent Memorial Hall, and to make sure future generations continue to honour the memory of those in whose name it was built.