Picture of the verandah balcony at the Chichester Hall


On May 6th 1935 the new Chichester Hall at Witley was opened. Like most other projects of this kind the decision to build had not been taken without certain misgivings.

The hall was to be located on part of the recreation ground, and at one time it was believed that the local branch of the British Legion would be provided with an annex for their use with facilitates for the sale of liquor. This did not not go down well with the members of the Parish Council at the time as it was "considered by them to be most undesirable". The matter must have been settled, fairly amicably, however, because the Hall was then built, by local firm F Milton and Sons - on land purchased from The Chandler Trust, with money provided by Mrs Spencer Chichester of Enton Hall in memory of Major Chichester. It was to seat 250 people, with basement accommodation for the cricket club and a veranda overlooking the adjoining pitch. Expert advice was sought on the acoustics and the luxury of an up-to-date electric gramophone with two amplifiers installed. According to the newspaper report Mrs Chichester and her family took the "closest interest in the scheme, making frequent inspections during the construction and equipment of the building"

The formal handing over to the trustees representing the village was followed by the entertainment by The Play Makers of London to those inhabitants of 18 years and over, of the ecclesiastical boundary of Witley. A certain number of seats being for those contributing 2s 6d and a silver collection taken on behalf of the Witley Nursing Association.

1935 was the Silver Jubilee of George V and Queen Mary. A tea party was laid in the Hall for all the children of Witley. There was a terrific thunderstorm, all the lights went out and there was no hot water for the washing up. When war was declared in September 1939, everyone became busy filling sandbags and making blackout curtains. The local Red Cross ladies scrubbed the Hall to make it ready for use as a casualty station. The Head Warden, Mr Edwards, had his headquarters in the stokehold (boiler room) at the Hall, and each night he slept there in order to be ready for an emergency. At this time the Hall was not being used, but then the Canadians arrived. Dances were held in the Hall and continued throughout the war, the local residents becoming accustomed to the "drunk truck" coming along at the end of the evening to pick up the "casualties".

Among the strictures laid down by the original Deed of Trust is the responsibility laid on the Management Committee to preserve the letting of the Hall from any 'secretary or body promoting sentiments or propaganda of a disloyal, unpatriotic or seditious character' and to uphold the wishes of Mrs Chichester that no dance should be held on 'Armistice night nor Good Friday'. Despite these restrictions the Chichester Hall, regarded when it was opened, as one of the finest village halls in the South East of England, continues nevertheless, to provide a home to many village events, including the now, yearly, pantomime. The gratitude and affection still felt by many of the people of Witley for the Chichester Hall is a tribute to the remarkable generosity of Mrs Chichester and her family. Fittingly the Committee continues to meet in the 'Swallow' Room, named after a local headmaster, the very first secretary and treasurer.

Portrait of Major Chichester Wedding gathering.