In the first instance an acre of land was given by the then Lord Chesham. Two conditions were attached, firstly that the membership was to be non-denominational and secondly that no intoxicating liquor should be sold on the premises.
The building was purchased from Salisbury Plain in the form of two ex-army huts, each approximately fifty feet by twenty five feet to be formed into one building sited approximately one hundred feet back from Water Street. The building was adapted and extended by adding ten feet to the width. The joinery was carried out by William (Bill) Sharples of Little Holt Farm with Harry Lancaster as labourer; Charlie Power laid the foundations, Richard (Dick) Hindle also helped, and the local farmers voluntarily conveyed the building from Hoghton Station.
Apparently the total cost amounted to £900 and on the official opening some £600 had been raised. It was noted that the President was Mr. Thomas Whitehead of Brindle Lodge (a Solicitor and ‘pillar of the church’) with Richard (Dick) Grime from Gorton Brook Farm as Chairman and Mr. R. Cooper of Yew Tree Farm as Secretary.
The accommodation comprised a large dance hall / function room with stage complete with proscenium arch and storage beneath the stage. At the centre of the western verandah was the second entrance used for general access to the remainder of the building. This comprised of kitchen / shop with serving hatch each side, an inner committee room complete with table and chairs to accommodate twelve members accessible from the small vestibule. The remaining room housed a full-sized billiard table with dart board hung on the store room door.
The whole building was heated by two large slow-combustion stoves in the large room and a similar one in the billiard room. The lighting was provided by an acetylene gas plant containing in a wooden shed at the eastern end with a lean-to coke store attached with the ladies toilet adjacent. The gas lighting was surprisingly effective and also provided means of boiling water for tea, though there was for some reason a Valor oil-stove present, possibly for use in emergencies.
When electricity was installed in 1936, this took over the lighting and water heating but space heating by coke still remained. At the front there was a wide gravel path with a lawn on either side, one used as a standard sized tennis court complete with surrounding ball fence, whilst the other side was used for bowling. At the east end were the men’s toilets whist at the rear was a full sized football pitch.
Just before the Second World War, the members operated a fairly successful team in the Preston Y.M.C.A. Football League. They even tried to charging spectators but unsuccessfully due to cheaper access over the nearest fence; even the Rectory fence! Extra land was needed to accommodate the soccer pitch and this was kindly lent free from Bateson Farm by the tenant Mr. Crompton.
The club was open six nights per week from seven till ten o’clock to paid up members for their five shilling per year membership fee. All games were free and the evenings were well attended by young men employed on the local farms, as there was no other distraction such as television. The dance hall was extremely popular holding its weekly Saturday night dances, nearly always a full house, was achieved as the patrons came from all the surrounding district. No doubt these occasions were the start of many a romance. The music was provided usually by Alban Yates’ Elite Orchestra consisting of Alban Yates on the piano, Howard Roberts on the violin, Harry Jones* on the drums and Alan Marsden on the trumpet. All the musicians came from the Withnell Fold area, walking across the fields in summer and winter.
On special occasions a band played, led by Matthew Worsley whose band was resident at the Park Hotel in Preston. The dances were held from half-past seven until eleven or midnight if it was some special event. Some dances during the evening were “lucky spot” dances with prizes, and the success of the occasion was usually due to well practised M.C. in the person of Ted Seaman, who became more enthusiastic after ten o’clock.
In the billiard room during the early part of the evening there was a whist drive going on which was always well attended by many regulars. The cost of entry to the dance and/or whist drive was a shilling (5p), and refreshments were available from the bar. These comprised of a cake, a mutton pie and a cup of tea, all for a shilling; there was also a fair selection of mineral water, crisps, sweets or chocolate, and cigarettes.
Occasionally there was a show staged in the dance hall, maybe a local talent variety; one favourite being a puppet Punch & Judy staged by Mr. Gray, who operated professionally at Rhyl during the summer and lived at Little Radburn. In the mid-thirties, Mrs. Blamire arrived to live in the village from Liverpool; along with her sister Miss Worthington wrote and produced a popular stage show titled “The Cotton Queen”.
One man stood out, Harry Lancaster the caretaker who served the Institute throughout its life for a mere ten shillings (50p) per week. His duties meant attending six evening per week from at the latest 5.30 p.m. until it closed at 10.00 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on a Saturday; Monday and Friday afternoon for cleaning, and in the summer time cutting the tennis lawn by hand-mower, marking lines and erecting nets.
During the War years there were extra periods of opening for Home Guard training sessions and on Wednesday afternoons there was the collection of ladies who met to knit comforts for the troops. Naturally during the War attendance and membership fell, which made the financial position difficult and in order to help the position Mr. Lancaster did the work without pay and helped out in other financial ways. He carried out the duties without a break throughout the years until his death in 1956.
During the fifties the Institute was demolished and the internal fittings, including the full sized billiard table, was given away.
* It is recorded by Ron Blackburn that Eddie Ambrose played the drums in the ‘orchestra’ in later years.
In 1939 on the first Sunday after war was declared, the Parish Institute was opened to receive a busload of expectant mothers who were evacuated from Liverpool to a safer environment due to the possibility of imminent bombing. After a few days they returned to their homes when it was realised that things were not so imminent as expected.
On a Wednesday evening the Home Guard or L.D.V. as there were originally known held training sessions under the command of Lt. Ryder and Sergeant Jack Cranshaw, the latter from Denham Farm in the village.