The WI Hall, Samuel Road, Langdon Hills

Formerly known as the 'Hut Club'

The WI hall isn’t visible from the High Road because it is tucked away just a few yards along Samuel Road and set back slightly from the road. Some people may be unaware of its existence and that it is one of the few old communal buildings now remaining in Langdon Hills.

I had the pleasure of meeting two long-standing members of the Langdon Hill’s branch, Joyce Taylor (Secretary) and Audrey Clarke (past President) at the hall, who were happy to tell me some of its history and the activities that still takes place there.  They were also kind enough to lend me their scrap books containing newspaper cuttings and photos, a few of which I have included in this article.

The Langdon Hills branch of the WI was formed in 1924 and meetings initially took place in the small Baptist Church that stood at the end of a small row of shops on the east side of the High Road known as Nightingale Parade.  As a point of interest, Joyce recalls many shops south of Laindon Station, six of which were grocers and wonders how so many managed to survive in the small community where many people “grew their own”.  Audrey also remembers the brickworks in Florence Road (now Florence Way).

Garden parties and pageants were popular WI events and members formed a choir and an active drama group, which produced and presented many plays, most of which were performed at the hall in Samuel Road, known as the “Hut Club” but at least one play was performed outdoors. With the kind permission of Mrs Brooks, “The Gypsy Countess” took place in the grounds and woods of “Goldsmiths”, (a large house in South Hill, Langdon Hills) the story being reminiscent of the folk song “The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies O”.

After the last war, the group relocated to the hall in Samuel Road, where they continued to hold their meetings.  The building, which had apparently been constructed from former army huts, was renamed “The WI Hall”.   On summer evenings, the soft sweet sound of the choral group’s practice sessions at the hall, could sometimes be heard floating on the air in the neighbourhood close by.

Audrey explained that originally, Isaac Levy of “Primrose Lodge”, Langdon Hills, a well-known local builder and businessman, had acquired the WW1 army huts to store his building materials and tools in.  Several local roads were named after his children: Alexander, David, Samuel, Emanuel and Florence.  He sold the hall to a Mr Alfred Brooks of “Goldsmiths”, who installed a fine billiard table and turned it into a meeting place for WW1 servicemen, somewhere for them to have a drink and relax.  It was at that time when it became known as the ‘Hut Club’.

History (Wikipedia)

The WI movement began at Stoney Creek in Canada in 1897 when Adelaide Hoodless addressed a meeting for the wives of members of the Farmers’ Institute.

The first British WI meeting took place on 11 September 1915 at Llanfairpwll on Anglesey in North Wales. The WI was originally set up in the UK to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War.

The WI celebrated its 95th anniversary in 2010 and today plays a unique role in enabling women to gain new skills, take part in wide-ranging activities and campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities. The WI is a diverse organisation open to all women, and there are now WIs in towns and cities as well as villages.

Today

Much has changed both socially and geographically over the years. Pageants and garden tea parties are mostly events of the past.  The Institute has moved along with the times and is no longer known as just the ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ of yesteryear.  Since the fifties, women’s lives have become more diverse than ever as new opportunities opened to them.  Many manage to combine a career along with homemaking and bringing up a family and are just as likely to be found using a laptop rather than just a sink top.  The very popular film and stage show “Calendar Girls”, featuring the Rylestone and District WI (based near Skipton, North Yorkshire) who raised £2m for Leukaemia in 1999, shows what can be achieved with a bit of tenacity and plenty of determination.

Sadly, the Langdon Hills WI drama group and choral group no longer exist, the choir having disbanded around ten years ago.  However, the camaraderie of the women remains strong and currently the group has 46 members.  Meetings are at 2pm on the second Tuesday of each month.  Various activities take place on other days including keep fit and sewing club.

Although the WI own the hall, the Langdon Hills group have to pay for all costs.  This has necessitated a great amount of fund raising over the years for essential repair and restoration work.  Several lottery grants as well as much funding from Cleanaway (Veolia), Mr Toomey, Rotary, Round Table, The Masons, and Basildon Council, among others, helped along the way.  Audrey estimated that as much as £90,000 had been raised since 1993.  This paid for roof repairs, decoration and the mandatory installation of disabled toilet facilities.  Desperate for funds in 2003 to pay for much needed refurbishment, reluctantly the billiard table had to be sold.  It raised just £30.

Thanks to the ladies’ hard work and efforts, the hall is in very good condition and is due to have a smart new floor covering laid this year.  Without the dedication of the WI ladies, the hall may well not have survived.  Long may this lovely reminder of years gone by be supported and appreciated by the local community. The hall is available for hire and is a popular venue for bazaars, plant sales, group meetings and the occasional wedding reception.

No doubt plans are already underway for a splendid, well deserved Centenary Celebration in 2015 and The Laindon Archive would like to offer the ladies of the Langdon Hills WI their very best wishes for the future.

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  • Gerald, I’m so sorry hearing that Queenie died in 1996. The last time I saw her was at my mum’s funeral in 1989. I have so many photos of them together, playing the Mandolin at different locations. I will make a page up on here for you to see.

    By Patsy Spendlove (14/03/2018)
  • Thanks Patsy. I told Ken Porter that my mother was friends with Margaret Roper and that the picture almost certainly included her with my mother in that photo. It is great to hear that my guess was correct and also that it was not my imagination that she was then called Queenie. I don’t know how she became known as Ann Jones when later with Melody Makers at Lee Chapel North. My mother died age 91 in 1996.

    By Gerry Jones (20/02/2018)
  • My Mum and Dad, Mr and Mrs Roper had their wedding reception in the W.I. hall in 1926. Also a message for Gerald Jones:- my Mum, Margaret Roper played the mandolin with your mum for many years. She sadly died in 1989. I have lots of photo’s of them playing mandolin at many places. Also the picture of them both practising in our garden at ‘Rose Villa’ Langdon Hills is on your page about ‘Who remembers Mrs Jones. We called her Queenie.

    By Patsy Spendlove (20/02/2018)
  • Yesterday evening (Sunday), Masterpiece Theatre on PBS began a new programme entitled “The Jam Busters.” Obviously a pun on the WW2 heroics of “The Dam Busters.”  Perhaps the programme is old hat to those living in the UK but to us ex pats living in the erstwhile colonies it is all new. The first episode deals with how the Women’s Institute is taken over from the old upper class biddy by the more modern women of the village. The new WI finds its way to picking blackberries, black currents etc and making jam as a way to do their little bit in the war effort. Every food that can be produced locally is that much less that their husbands and sons in the merchant navy have to risk their lives to bring in to the country. Thus the women of the village begin to find their place in the war. Next episode, apparently, is when they aim to plough up the village cricket pitch to plant potatoes. (HORRORS.) 

    To the point. I remember being taken by my mother to a WI meeting on Samuel Road. I cannot remember much about the meeting except that I had seldom been more greatly bored. What I do remember is that immediately thereafter I was packed off to pick every conceivable berry growing along Berry Lane and thereabouts while my mother was frantically engaged, midst clouds of steam, in making jams of all description.

    The jam tasted great. I imagine it did as much for the morale of the WI members as anything else.

    By Alan Davies (06/10/2015)
  • I’ve rememberd the name of my godmother who was the pianist at the old time dancing at the WI, it was Mrs Angus. Looking again at the pantomine picture it could have been much earlier around 1950, certainly If the little face peering over the back row was me.

    Editors note: Hi Gerald, I have made it possible to enlarge the pantomime  photograph by clicking on it, please let us know if the little face is you.

    By Gerald Jones (02/03/2015)
  • I only think it is me, would make sense standing next to my mother. I was born 1939 and guess I was about 10 years old there in the photo. I also think it likely that the person back row left, next to my mother was almost certainly the old time dancing group pianist, Mrs Angus. Sorry I cannot be more certain. Although I now live in West London I will try and be at the Manor Mission to see the photos.

    By the way, I still have in my possession the mandolin held by my mother in that picture. If you ever have a collection of memorabilia in connection with this site I would be happy to donate it.

    By Gerald Jones (02/03/2015)
  • The pantomine picture includes my mother (Agnes Kate Jones also known as Queenie) backrow second from left holding the mandolin. She use to teach old time dancing at the WI as well as part of a concert group playing the mandolin. The pianist was my godmother but shamefully I cannot remember her name. They both lived in Victoria Avenue. The picture would likely be mid or late 50’s.

    By Gerald Jones (01/03/2015)
  • Martin

    Kath Doubleday was our next door neighbour in Victoria Avenue. The food bar was operated by Mr Doubleday. I briefly took piano lessons, I think there, but cannot recall the teacher’s name, probably around 1949-1950.

    By Gerald Jones (01/03/2015)
  • I can see my grandmother, Amy Robinson, fourth from left middle row, in the undated photograph (4th picture from top). I believe I am correct in saying that her husband Tom built the WI building. He built a number of properties just south of Laindon Station, including the building a short distance away on the High Road, that housed Cath’s (Doubleday?) hairdressers (a chemist’s previously) and my Aunt Edith’s piano shop. There was also a little food bar/ cafe tagged on the end of it in the fifties. The photo must date to somewhere around 1950.

    By Martin Robinson (25/01/2013)
  • My mum, Alice White, belonged to the WI for many years until she moved to Basingstoke. I had my first wedding reception there in 1970. She was in the choir and drama. She used to speak of Joyce Sibbons, Anne Rowe, Anne Miniken and Sheila Stubbs and so many more I cannot name

    By Joan Merchant nee white (29/10/2012)
  • My father Alec Norman was a member of the Hut Club, where various gents would meet to play billiards. My memories are of the wartime childrens Christmas parties

    By Mary Cole (nee Norman) (28/07/2012)
  • My own memories of the Hut Club are all pre-war and apart from being a WI venue it was also a members only social club frequented mainly by the younger element being unlicensed. While I was never a member myself I often went there with my friend Stan Clegg who signed me in and where we could play table tennis, billiards and darts. 

    It also had a lawn tennis section for members, but every year it would hold an open Tennis Tournament which was organised in part by the Laindon Recorder who also ran football tournaments for local clubs, there was a Recorder Rose Bowl and I believe the Victoria Sports Trophy was sponsored by them.

    By WH.Diment (18/05/2012)

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