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Despite the worldwide depression taking hold, the Empire State Building is completed and opens on May 1, becoming the tallest building in the world. It is a 102-story contemporary Art Deco style building in New York City. Nearer home, Abbey Road studio opens in London, and Somerset drew their 3-day match with the New Zealand touring cricket team. Here in Stoke it was quite a year - a new village hall, a new vicar, a new church organ, and the official start of the village Womens Institute group.



The newspaper report on the first annual meeting is reproduced here. Note the way the women were referred to - all by their husbands' names Mrs Gilbert Musgrove, Mrs Walter Hill, etc. And, of course, they had to have two men to act as tellers for the election of committee members!




February saw the induction of a new vicar in the village. Stanley Lano Coward had been at St Mary's Bridgwater for the previous seven years, and was to become a very popular village leader (and excellent organist). Some older residents still remember him with affection (2022). He certainly came highly recommended by the bishop: "He has not been found wanting in the many positions has had to occupy, and he will never forget, and I shall never forget, the terribly tragic circumstances that came into his latter time at Bridgwater. Mr. Coward, as a young man, had to face tremendous difficulties due to that tragic event; he had to arrange everything when he was left by himself in the parish, and had to meet the difficulties arising out of that sad disaster. Mr. Coward, to use a common phrase, 'came out top,' and I shall always admire him and be grateful to him for how well he did his work in trying and difficult circumstances. Therefore, I think you in this parish are to be heartily congratulated having one who has had the experience he has had, and done right well in every position to which he has been called." (We do not know what actually happened).



Elizabeth Williams was the daughter of Jacob Williams, who had moved to the village to start a bakery business, in what is now know as the 'Old Shop', in 1840. As the business developed into a general store, she and her sister Henrietta worked in the shop while their brother Albert followed his father's career in the bakery. When Jacob died the sisters became partners in the grocery business, and in the 1880s went into the drapery business, and took on the new village Post Office. Albert married and started his own family, moving into Jessamine House. Henrietta and Elizabeth lived in the family home until they retired in the 1920s, when Elizabeth moved to The Cot (now Long Cottage), a property also owned by the family. Harry Chedzoy rented the house and shop until Elizabeth died in 1931.

The Williams family also owned the land and outbuildings down Huntham Lane to, and including, where Harvest Cottage now is. At some point they had built a store for their various businesses, and it was this building that was to become the new hall for the residents of Stoke. Not only did Miss Williams donate the hall, she paid for the conversion, and the addition of kitchen and toilets.

The Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser reported on the opening in its issue dated Wednesday 11 March 1931



    "A new era in the social life of Stoke St. Gregory has been embarked upon owing to the generosity of Miss E. Williams of The Cot, Stoke St. Gregory, who has met a long-felt want, by providing a hall for the use of the parish. Previous efforts to raise funds for building a hall have not matured, and the social needs of a widely-scattered population becoming more and more apparent, Miss E. Williams' kindly disposition and thought for others again found expression in an act of benevolence that will be fully appreciated by residents of all ages. Miss Williams decided to recondition and extend a substantial brick building, formerly a storehouse, at the cost of several hundred pounds, and an admirable hall is the result. At its formal opening on Monday afternoon there was a crowded company. The hall is conveniently situated in the centre of the village, near the Parish Church and Day Schools, and has seating capacity for more than 200 persons. Cloak rooms and a refreshment room have been added to the original building, which has been excellently adapted by Mr. A. W. May, contractor, of North Curry. The ceiling is fitted with most effective black and white panels of Sundala board which is fireproof and waterproof, and there is a matchboard dado round the room. A sum of about £68 handed over from the Sports Club has been spent in furnishing the building, including the provision of seats, lighting, and a movable platform.

The Mrs Forrest Groves, who opened the hall was in fact an old resident of the village. Those who attended the ceremony would have known her as Daisy Pullen, daughter of the headmaster of Stoke School.


It would be so good to put together the story of our old village hall. Have you any memories? Have you any photos? All those wonderful times we spent in there? Please get in touch with Dave Evans

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