Back in the day...
Sompting Village Hall was built by Henry Peter Crofts of Sompting Abbots, in 1889 – as a reading and recreation room for the community. It was known as the Reading Room. The work was “..carried out in most praiseworthy manner by Mr C C Cook, a builder from Worthing. The walls of knapped flint and Bath stone, the 44 feet long and 22 feet wide building provided a conformable place, out of the weather, where poorer people could go to improve their education without the temptation of alcohol…”
Sompting was for practical purposes divided into East and West; the Reading Room was at the edge of the Eastern part, what is now the Recreation Ground was then White Styles Farm. Henry Crofts then nominated six parishioners to preserve good order and maintain proper rules. Henry Crofts, squire of the village, and a former High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex, and President of Worthing Infirmary, died aged 71 in 1890. His widow Ellen Merriall, nee Dodson, lived until 1916 when she died at 100.
In the early 1890s, entertainment featured heavily in the press reports about the Reading Room, especially in winter months. The Worthing Gazette reported, on 19 November 1890 “.. A most successful concert… with the proceeds.. being devoted to the Sunday School Fund”. There was also a series of fortnightly ‘Smoking Concerts’, with free tobacco supplied by Mr H Pullen-Burry to those on the ‘sick list’.
The Reading Room was initially used by men only; eventually the local womenfolk revolted on the issue. The Women’s Institute movement, which had started in Canada, caught hold in Britain during World War I, as patriotic local women set up branches in towns and villages. One such branch was Sompting, which was set up at the Reading Room on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1918. Sompting Village branch celebrated its 90th anniversary at the Hall in 2008, and is our oldest running user group by some margin.
For some years Sompting Primary School held concerts and some classes at the hall. We have photographs of cookery classes in the 1930’s, held by a Miss Owen. Mr Ed Stringer, still a resident of Sompting, recalls the teachers from the school being Miss Finnemore, Miss Dean, Miss Powell, My Heath and Mrs Bruton. He remembers country dancing lessons and variety performances, the latter run by Captain Billy Brewster of the Salvation Army.
During World War Two...
Sompting lay within the notorious “Bomb Alley” of World War II, between the south coast and London, where German bombers would unload unused weapons on the area, trying to cause as much damage as possible and avoid carrying them home. In May 1941, the building suffered significant bomb damage. The official report indicates severe damage to the roof tiles, the porch entrance, windows, doors, glass and water pipes all sustained. The total repair cost was £60.8s.0d.
Throughout the 1940s, the Hall was used by the school and also as a youth club. It was also used for Brownies meetings and by the Sompting Scouts pack and also for Maypole practise – accompanied by Miss Finnemore’s gramophone. During the War, about 20 PoWs were held at a camp on West street, near what is now Stocks House. Not long after the War ended, in 1949, electricity was installed, at a cost of £85.00, to be paid for out of donations and funding drives etc.
Charity and Modernising...
In 1953 the Hall was gifted to the village by Henry Croft’s grandson, Major Guy Henry Tristram, Royal Artillery, during his ownership of Sompting Estate. Guy served in France and India. The conveyance under which Guy gifted the property to a charitable trust, administered by local trustees, embodies the constitution of the charity. He stipulated the hall should “..benefit the inhabitants of Sompting .. without discrimination..”.
From 1953 onwards, many fun events are reported upon, including wedding receptions, skiffle band nights and square dancing sessions.
Modern sanitation was installed and an entrance porch added in 1957 at a cost of £610, with the help of a grant from the Ministry of Education and a loan from Worthing Rural District Council. Guy Tristram who gifted the Hall to the community died in 1963 and lies beside his wife in Sompting Churchyard.
The scrapbooks of the Sompting WI records show that in October 1965 the branch provided the Hall with a new lighting system, to mark the Golden Jubilee of the National WI federation. The Secretary of the Hall management committee thanked the WI for the “Institute’s good work towards providing amenities for the benefit of all Hall users”.
With another accolade to boast: in 1974 Sompting Village Hall was awarded a certificate by newly-created Adur District Council to recognise the charity’s “valuable services given to the local community”.
Lottery and Modern times...
In 1998 the trustees secured National Lottery funding amounting to £31,564 for extensive repairs, including stripping and re-tiling the roof, replacing the oak floor and renovating the outbuildings. There was further refurbishment in 2006, providing new toilets, a new oven and hob, fire-proof curtains and re-decoration, at a total cost of £15, 163. As a personal contribution, Mrs Pat Absolon provided the name board seen outside today.
In June 2007 the Hall held an “Open Day” as its contribution to the second annual Sompting Festival. The event was a great success and its inclusion in the annual Sompting and Adur Festivals in now an important two-day event. The village hall charity launched its first website in 2007 and featured as Website of the Day on Splash FM.
2008 saw the Hall become the first community facility in West Sussex to receive a Hallmark Award, under their ‘village halls quality standards scheme’. In the same year, the Hall also played a prominent role in the regrettably unsuccessful attempt to save Sompting’s last surviving post office.
The Hall’s current regular user groups include: Sompting Village Morris, model railway societies, dance clubs, slimming groups and other local recreational groups. Thanks to a efforts of a small band of volunteers who run the Hall and the charity, users enjoy our spacious and homely facilities for constructive, community-based activities at a fraction of the cost a commercial organisation would charge. Well Done to all the volunteers over the years and to Henry Peter Crofts and Guy Henry Tristram.
It is with gratitude to Joe Kirk who researched and compiled this history of Sompting Village Hall, whilst he was secretary of the charity. This is a scaled down version for web – please contact the hall admin via email if you would like to receive the full version – which includes a lot of detail about local residents over the years and their tales.