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Historic Barley

Town House

Town House

 

For Plans, measurements and other photographs of the Town House, click here.

 

History : Facilities : Rates of Hire : Letting Conditions : Weddings : Contact : Home Page

History

The Town House (which means Community or Peoples House) is one of the oldest buildings in the village.  The building has belonged to the village for nearly 500 years.   It is now the village hall and must be one of the oldest village halls in the county, if not the whole country.

The Town House is described in Norden's late 16th century Survey of Barley as 'The Court House of the Manor of Mincinbury, formally in the occupation of the vill or inhabitants of Barley, situated opposite the church there, which the lord now uses to hold the manor courts of Mincinbury'.  This was one of three manors at the time, but the 'lord' was not to have possession of the Town House for long.  Evidently the people of Barley had protested against the attempt of the new lord of the manor to usurp their rights.

At a court held at Buntingford in 1609 the jury decided that the Town House was to be used 'for the poor inhabitants, for their marriages, to collect and cause by meeting, the gifts of the charitable people to be obtained towards the help and relief of the poor inhabitants within the said town ..... and also for a school house, and so it has been for time out of mind until the late Sir John Spencer Kt, Alderman of London, has made claim to the said house'.  Sir John and his heirs were ordered not to 'vex the parishioners in their holding'.

The Buntingford charities inquisition of 1638 gave the Town House date as 1530 and stated 'the saide house hath been tyme out of mynde used and ymploied for the keeping of maides marriages therein and for the hangeing up of the Town Arms therein, and for the chief inhabitants there to mete and consult of the affairs and common busynesses of the Town of Barley'.  The Rector stated that 'keeping of maides marriages' meant homes for spinsters and not wedding celebrations.

Cutting the Cake in the UndercroftIt is thought that the Town House replaced a former building which had stood there for about 400 years.  This may have been provided by Alfwen, wife of Ethelstan, who had been nurse to King Edgar, as the village or guild hall.  It was rebuilt with funds thought to have been made available by William Warham, Rector of Barley at the turn of the century and later Bishop of London, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord High Chancellor, who founded a school in it to teach Latin to poor boys, and so it had educational connections from an early date.  Tradition says that he was very attached to Barley and this is probably true as he is believed to have had a good deal to do with the early work of the Town House.

In 1726 Daniel DeFoe wrote a book on his Tours of Britain.  In his description of the Town House he wrote: upstairs there is a large room for entertainment feasting and merriment; a small room to the side for the preparation of food with a spit, large cauldron and dripping pan; a room at the end of the main room which contained a bride bed and good linen, for the couple to spend their first night to consummate their wedding!

The building continued to be used as a school, though learning seems to have been at a low ebb in 1779 when the schoolmaster complained that as only two free scholars came to the school he had a bare two shillings a week 'which is, in a manner of speaking, a starving situation'.

Though used as a school during the 17th century, hardship caused by the Civil War and the Napoleonic Wars later meant that any extra mouths to feed aggravated the already heavy burden of the Poor Rate.  The Town House ceased to be used as a school and became a workhouse.  Any 'foreigners' who were likely to be a charge on the parish were sent back to their native villages.

Wars indeed caused a lot of family distress and this was aggravated in Barley by the pulling down of the cottages in Little Chishill to avoid the Poor Rate, but the census of 1841 shows most of the people living in the Town House at that time to have been born in Barley, so even if the cottages were destroyed it is doubtful if the tenants were re-housed in Barley.

However, at one time men, women and children were herded together in the big room, with a madman, on one occasion, chained to the wall at one end.  There were 28 paupers accommodated there at one time and in 1853 36 people were living in the Town House as a workhouse when the Rev R A Gordon was appointed Rector and he had them accommodated elsewhere, possibly in Royston, where Heath Lodge had been built in 1835 to cater for the surrounding villages.

School matters were little better in the middle of the 19th century, over half the people getting married being unable to sign their name.  Considerable alterations to the Town House were made so that it could be used as a school again and it had 140 scholars when it reopened.  An interesting relic of the building's use as a school was the second lower stair rail on the staircase nearer the church.

Towards the end of the 19th century difficulties arose over the continued use of the Town House as a school.  On one occasion ink froze in the inkwells, in spite of two large fires.  The authorities wanted to pull down the Town House and build a new school on the site.  Luckily this was rejected and the present school came in to use in a building next door to the Town House on 22nd April 1895.  However, the Town House was pressed into educational services as recently as the 1940s when evacuees from London swelled the numbers.

"The Scholars attending Barley Schools left their old quarters in the 'Town' House and walked in procession , headed by the Royal Standard and Union Jack flags to the present School.  The Rector - the Rev J Frome Wilkinson - addressed them on the importance of learning as a means of training them for a useful sphere in life, the observation of punctuality, and regular attendance, attention to school duties and obedience to their teachers.  The children then settled down to work."

The rooms underneath were last occupied about 1870 when the occupants were moved out as they were apt to set themselves or the building on fire.  The small room was added late in the 17th century and was used by the boys and girls for their cloaks and hoops when the Town House was used as a school.  It was enlarged in 1863 by means of a fund raised among farmers and landowners with a substantial contribution from the Rev Gordon.

A second staircase was put at the back of the Town House and dormer windows added when the small room was enlarged, but this staircase was replaced by the one at the end nearest the present school in 1910.  A drawing of about 1850 shows a staircase in the middle of the south front facing the road.  This must have been removed when the dormer windows were put in.

A further use was found for the building when a manual fire engine was housed on the ground floor in 1913.

A sketch of the Town House dated about 1835 shows a central chimney stack in addition to those at each end.  This was later removed, but it is from the time when the ground floor was divided in to living quarters, each with its own fireplace.  The twin fireplace in the smaller downstairs room and the dividing wall are the remaining evidence of this use of the building.

The church connection with the building and its history has continued until very recently when the Rector, Canon Locket, an architect prior to entering the Church, was responsible for the last refurbishment of the ground floor or Undercroft in 1980-81.   The work of a dedicated band of village people augmented that of the builders in a transformation of a derelict ground floor into the comfortable rooms that are to be seen today.

Outside Town HouseThe maple flooring was matched upstairs by a similar finish when a new floor was laid in 1993.  The end of 1994 saw the completion of more radical improvements to the Town House facilities, to meet the requirements of health and safety legislation but also to provide more pleasant and practical amenities, work which was recognised with a Civic Award and marked by a framed certificate on the inner wall of the larger room downstairs and a plaque on the front of the building.

These improvements included: more male and female toilets - plus one for the disabled, replacing the internal stairs with a landing at the top, re-equipping the upstairs kitchen and constructing a new small kitchen downstairs, the construction of an additional store, a new rear access with wider doors and the widening of an internal door - bringing all downstairs floors to the same level.

In 1996 the Town House was the first village hall in the country to be licensed for civil marriages.  On 11th May the first marriage took place.

Philip Wilde

 

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For Plans, measurements and other photographs of the Town House, click here.

Facilities

The Town House is on two floors.  The ground floor or Undercroft has two rooms, the main room, a smaller side room (committee room) with a small kitchen attached.  Also downstairs off the main entrance area are the toilets, male, female and disabled.   Upstairs on the first floor is the main room, which spans the entire building.   Off this room is a larger kitchen.  There are noise limiters in both main rooms.

Undercroft

Main room - licensed for civil marriages
Capacity: 100, 60 can be seated for eating, 70 seated for civil marriages
Tables and chairs available

Committee room
Capacity: 20 max, suitable for small meetings
Tables and chairs available

Kitchen
Small electric cooker, fridge, large larder, sink, wash hand basin, cupboards, urn, basic crockery available

Upper Floor

Main roomFather and Bride in Undercroft
Capacity: 120, 100 can be seated for eating
Tables and chairs available

Kitchen
Large electric cooker, fridge, catering size double sink, preparation area, cupboards, basic crockery available

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Rates of Hire

  Barley Residents Others
 Upper Floor    
 Daytime( up to four hours ) £30 £60
 Evenings (1800-2200 ) £55 £110
 Evenings (1800-2400 ) £90 £270
 
Undercroft Charges same as Upper Floor    
     
Committee Room £6.0 £12.00
 
Whole Building    
 Evening £210 £420
 All Day £275 £600
 
 Extra Charges    
 Civil Marriages £220 £300
(plus building rental as applicable)

 

For evening bookings which have a disco or live music and whichare due to finish later than 11.00pm there will be an extra charge of £100 to cover caretaking costs.

 Special Rates

Local organisations/charities by arrangement with the Letting Officer.
Business bookings by arrangement.

 

 Hall Capacity

Upper Floor 120 ( 100 can be seated for eating )
Undercroft 100 ( 60 can be seated for eating )

The Town House reserves the right to vary these charges from time to time.
The Town House is a registered charity.

 Special Rates

Local organisations / charities by arrangement with the Letting Officer.
Business bookings by arrangement.

Deposit

A deposit, returnable only after the event will be required on confirmation of booking.
The Town House reserves the right to vary these charges from time to time.
The Town House is a registered charity (No 1038681).

For Plans, measurements and other photographs of the Town House, click here.

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Letting Conditions (Download)

 

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Weddings

The Town House is ideal for a wedding reception or the ceremony itself.  With the Undercroft licensed for civil ceremonies, accommodating up to 70 guests, you can have the reception afterwards and dance the night away upstairs without expecting your guests to travel.  The beautiful 16th century building is ideal for the wedding of your choice.   You choose the caterers, flowers, photographer, we provide an attractive and romantic setting.  For help with your wedding needs ask the Lettings Officer for suggestions of local businesses who are tried and tested and know the Town House.

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Musicians in the Undercroft

Contact the Letting Officer

Mrs Alison Stacey
2 High Street
Barley
Royston
Herts
SG8 8HZ

Alison's Email: alistacey2004@aol.com

Telephone 01763 849488

For Plans, measurements and other photographs of the Town House, click here.

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Pictures by Courtesy of Gordon Brown(notTHAT Gordon Brown!)

FIBA, LBIPP, LSWP

Gordon Brown has specialised in photographing people for over 30 years and has established a reputation for high quality, natural wedding and portrait photography at realistic prices, coupled with a truly personal and professional service.

Many hundreds of wedding couples have been carefully and creatively captured through the lens of one of his Hasselblad and Nikon cameras.  Portrait assignments are handled in his superb 600sq ft studio or in the grounds of his countryside home at Bilden End, just off the B1039 mid-way between Royston and Saffron Walden or at an alternative location by arrangement.

Gordon Brown is well known for high standards of integrity and professionalism and is pleased to supply details of many assignments recently handled.

The Studio
Bilden End
Chrishall
Herts
SG8 8RG

Tel:01763 838886
Fax:0870 7062010
Web Site:
www.gordonbrownphotography.co.uk 

 

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