Litlington, Lullington and West Dean Village Hall
The village hall was built thanks to a single donation by Mr R C Brown, in memory of his wife Maud. He lived in Clapham House in Litlington and had farmed in the area since the 1920’s. The purpose built hall replaced a corrugated iron army hut, and was officially opened in 1953.
The Hall’s official title is the Litlington Parish Institute. Mr Brown’s deed of gift specified that there are to be three trustees, broadly representing the parish, the church and the ladies of the parish, and that the three trustees should be supported by a management committee. When the Litlington parish was extended, it was agreed that the hall should be used for the benefit of the three Cuckmere villages of Litlington, West Dean & Lullington. This arrangement continues to this day, with the management committee drawing representatives from the three villages. The Hall was registered as a charity in 1962.
When Mr R C Brown died in 1977 he bequeathed a piece of land behind the hall for the purposes of a playground, together with £500 for the Trustees to spend appropriately. The playground was duly created and equipped in 1978/79 and officially opened in 1980. A portrait of Mr Brown, painted by Penelope Pilkington (who later married Dick Ellis) hangs on the south wall. Dick Ellis was the first chair of the village hall committee, and held that position for the first 44 years.
Who painted the canvas in the Village Hall?
A 15 foot wide canvas of ploughing and horses working in the fields, surrounding the east doors, is the dominant feature of the Hall interior. The artist’s signature – F. C. Bond – is hard to find. Who was he? This is the wrong question. The artist was Florence Cynthia Bond, born in 1895 who died in 1985.
The nearby Wilmington Village Hall contains a similar painting surrounding a window. How could massive paintings of this size become integral parts of at least two village halls?
The answer lies in the period after the Great War when the country was dotted with unused army huts erected hurriedly for troops. These were appropriated after 1918 for many useful purposes – scout huts, meeting places, village halls etc. They were almost all of uniform size and shape.
We know that in 1922 Florence Cynthia Bond was enrolled in the Eastbourne School of Art. She obviously thought the interiors of these huts were perfect to accommodate her large canvases. Her offer to the Trustees of the Wilmington Army Hut was accepted and the painting hung. In 1993 the painting was transferred to the new Wilmington Hall.
Unfortunately there are no traceable records in the history of the Litlington Village Hall to provide similar proof. But we know that the present Village Hall replaced an Army hut on the same site in 1953, and the painting must have been transferred, with it’s shape being adjusted by Cynthia to fit around the shape of the openings.
Cynthia worked as a Sussex artist until her retirement in 1959. Two oils: A summer Plough Team and Cottages on a Beach painted in 1923 are noteworthy.
The development of the Hall over the years:
A Post Office room was opened next to the stage, and the hall has been used for very many functions over the years; the WI, a youth club, a lending library, flower club, choir practice, harvest suppers, whist drives, staged entertainment, jumble sales, BBQ’s; the Clapham Lane Stalls was first held in September 1943, when fruit and veg from Clapham House was sold at low prices to buy ‘comforts’ and parcels for village menfolk, at that time there were 25 in the Services plus 4 PoW’s in the village. These Produce Stalls continue to this day, now running weekly through the summer months, selling produce, raising money and acting as a pop up social hub in the parish. The Litlington Kindergarten began operating from the hall in 2010 providing a service for families in the valley and beyond, but sadly shut its doors in 2016
The record of grant awards from very early days is testament to the widespread support of the objectives of the hall as an excellent resource for this rural community. The first was a grant of £75 from East Sussex Education Authority toward the purchase of stacking chairs back in 1953. A disabled toilet was installed in 2005 with support from Wealden District Council.
In 2009 the recognition of the importance of the village hall in the Parish Plan provided the catalyst for reinvigoration. The car park was resurfaced in 2012 and then the next year an ambitious building project, to create a patio area and direct access to the playground, as well as restoring some of the flint walls, was realised with huge community support, both financial and in kind. The whole project cost over £30,000 and Capital grants were secured from the South Downs National Park Sustainable Communities Fund, the Veolia Environmental Trust, Wealden District Council and the Parish Council towards the costs. Two successful applications to the National Lottery Awards for All fund have enabled the committee to continue to invest in the hall and grounds, most recently retiling part of the roof. Two projects now under review are to overhaul the kitchen and to address the acoustics of the hall.
Today the hall hosts a selection of regular classes, including yoga & sewing plus a coffee morning every Thursday. It is well used by the parish for social functions, as well as private functions. It is also used for Parish Council and Parish meetings, as well as elections, the Beachy Head Marathon, a number of South Downs walks, and is a vibrant and financially viable hub of rural village life.