Audlem Public Hall, affectionately known as the "Town Hall", was built in 1904 as a commercial venture by three partners believed to be two local businessmen and Greenhall Whitley, the owners of the Crown Hotel. Together they formed The Audlem Public Hall Company Limited.
Tenders for the construction of the new building were advertised in May 1904 in the Manchester Courier. By December the Wellington Journal reported that the Hall was used for "Baptists' tea and entertainment"
The Hall was built on land owned by Greenhall Whitley adjoining the Crown Hotel and was officially opened in 1908 by the Duchess of Westminster. Why it took four years to open is a mystery. The prices for admission to the Opening Ceremony, which was spread over three days, were:
Wednesday 2/- and 1/-
Saturday 6d.all day
The Opening Ceremony was intended to raise £300 for the local school "in order to meet the requirements of the Board of Education". The programme states "The Stallholders prefer Bank Notes. Change will be given if greatly desired". This was, no doubt, the start of Audlem Public Hall's long history in connection with community fundraising.
Among the many activities that took place in the Hall in the early years were Dancing Lessons, Auction Sales, Badminton, Cinema Shows, Snooker and "Children's Welfare" — believed to be a baby clinic where babies were weighed and advice given to new mothers. This welfare activity continued in the Hall up to the 1970s. It is interesting to note how many of those early activities are still carried on in the Hall today.
The Hall housed the village horse-drawn fire engine and volunteer firemen were summoned by the ringing of a large bell, located at the top of the building. You will notice that the garage doors of the present hall are painted fire engine red in recognition of its previous role. Inside the garage there are still the wooden tracks laid in the floor upon which the tender was stationed.
Other notable events that took place in the Public Hall during the first half of the last century include
By 1938, however, it was obvious that The Audlem Public Hall Company Limited "could not by reason of its liabilities continue its business" and the company was liquidated in March 1939. No doubt the financial viability of the Hall was adversely affected by a covenant placed on it (by Greenhall Whitley) that stated the building should not be used for the sale of "beer, wine, spirits or excisable liquor". Did people bring their own refreshments?
Liquidation of the company brought a new lease of life for Audlem Public Hall, however, as it was sold by the Liquidator for six hundred pounds to four local Trustees; they being Francis Edward Hicks (clerk in Holy Orders), James Kendall (retired builder), Richard Matthews (architect and surveyor) and William Eric Smith (solicitor).
Management of the Trust and premises was undertaken by an elected Committee. Among those organisations that had the right to appoint representatives onto the Committee were the Parochial Church Council, Court "Pride of the Town" of the Ancient Order of Foresters, "Loyal Victoria" Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, The British Legion and the Women's Institute.
The "new" Public Hall was recorded in the books of the Charity Commissioners on 1st May 1939 — four months before the outbreak of the Second World War.
During the War, the Public Hall gained even greater importance in the community acting as a rest centre for the Home Guard and Fire Brigade. Morale was uplifted with socials and dances, and even concerts given by locally stationed German POWs. The Hall received a notable improvement in its facilities in 1945 with the building of "permanent lavatories" (much to the relief of many), just in time for the Grand Victory Concert Party in 1946.
The Public Hall continued to be the social centre of the community with teas, dances, the Firemen's Annual Christmas Party for the children as well as the famous Annual Flower Show where flowers, vegetables, jams and home-made baking were displayed downstairs and artwork, photographs and calligraphy shown in the upstairs Snooker and Committee rooms.
A kitchen was added in the 1970s (where the bar is now) by Cliff Taylor a local builder and, with the restriction placed on the sale of alcohol rescinded, a temporary bar could be installed in the space by the front bay window.
In 1979 the Public Hall was rewired at a cost of £1,720 with help from a grant of £750 from Audlem Parish Council.
A new kitchen was built in 1982 by Tonks thanks largely to the generosity of Harold Buckley a local entrepreneur who owned Corbrook House, and the old kitchen was converted into a bar. The main entrance to the Hall was now adjacent to the car park and not via the steep steps from Cheshire Street.
In 1989 Audlem Public Hall Management Committee was registered as a Charity
(No. 519458) by the Charity Commissioners.
By now, however, the finances of Audlem Public were in a parlous state. Whilst income from hiring the Hall was just about keeping pace with running costs, there were insufficient funds to ensure the necessary improvements to a building, fast approaching its centenary.
A public meeting was held in April 1998 to discuss the future of Audlem Public Hall. The Disability Discrimination Act, due to be passed in 1999, threatened the future of the Hall as the toilets at that time would contravene the regulations. The options presented by the Management Committee at the meeting were:
The overwhelming recommendation from the 50 people who attended the meeting was that the Public Hall should be redeveloped.
A Parish Council working party instigated a proposal to apply to the Millennium Fund in order to develop the Public Hall but this did not succeed.
In 1999 the Management Committee had plans drawn up by Bill Campbell, a local architect, and costed. These plans included new toilets (with disabled access), taking the stage back to increase the size of the hall and the stage itself, a downstairs meeting room and changing rooms and showers to the rear of the Hall. The Plans were approved by Crewe and Nantwich Council in 2000. Costs, however, had risen significantly from an initial estimate of £325,000 to over £500,000 and hopes of the "new" Hall were dashed when the application for funding was rejected by the National Lotteries Charities Board in 2001.
It was realised then that the pragmatic way forward was to carry out essential repairs and improvements and so, from 2002 until 2015, over £155,000 was raised through fundraising and grants in order to:
During this period of repair and renewal the Public Hall was cleaned and maintained without a resident Caretaker: the decision had been taken by the Management Committee to rent out the Caretaker's accommodation, with the intention that money from the rent would cover the cost of cleaning the Hall. Instead, this work was carried out by the Hall's Chairman, Geoff Stretch, and his wife Olive, without charge.
The effect of this, together with the investment made in improving and updating the Hall, meant that income increased with additional bookings, expenditure was reduced as there were no cleaning costs, and the Hall's finances consequently improved considerably.
This gave the Management Committee the confidence to progress to the next phase of development — the Annexe.