Queens Hall, Watton
In October 1952 a public meeting was held to discuss how Watton would celebrate the accession of the new Queen. Following discussion the consensus of opinion decided that the town needed a large new dance hall with a stage and theatre facilities. Although the town itself only housed around 1500 residents, at the time the town was surrounded by army and RAF camps, full of service men looking for somewhere to spend their Saturday evenings. The only available venue for dances and amateur dramatics was the local auction room, and its’ affectionate nickname ‘the sweat box’ explains the need for something better! A Coronation Hall Committee was formed and immediately set about raising money with a succession of dances, whist drives and jumble sales. They organised firework displays, carnivals, sheep dog trials, military band displays, a street procession to celebrate Coronation Day and whatever else was needed to engage the whole community. The committee represented a cross section of Watton life, including business owners, the bank manager, local clubs and groups and an officer representing RAF Watton.
A suitable site (costing £250) was located in the Norwich Road, and by the end of 1952 planning permission had been granted. At that post-war time building materials were still in short supply, but the war-time ‘make do and mend’ approach still prevailed. A redundant aircraft hangar was located at Griston and after 10 months of negotiation with the Air Ministry the metal frame was finally purchased.
A team of local volunteers was formed, willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work relocating the hangar. During the following 3 years scores of local people became actively involved in the building process, only calling on professional help when local technical knowledge was not enough, but this was rarely necessary. An important factor at the time was that many local men were ex-service, and were used to the teamwork and discipline needed for such a complex project. It was also the beginning of the concept of DIY, so building your own village hall seemed perfectly achievable!
For the next four years the whole town became involved in raising money, helping with manual work and cooking cakes to feed the work force! A grant of £1900 was given by the Ministry of Education, but there are no reports of other public funding at that time.
By the time of the opening in November 1956 the hall had a polished hardwood sprung ballroom floor and a large stage. The hall was opened with a platform full of dignitaries, and a telegram of congratulation from the Queen. At that event it was agreed to officially name the building The Queens Hall.
In the following few years work continued to improve the stage facilities, provide stage lighting and sound systems and building a changing room behind the stage. The committee have continued to raise money to fund the improvements, and our regular users help to boost the funds with occasional generous donations.