The 1860 six-inch Ordnance Survey map is the first documentary evidence for the existence of a building on the village hall site. Designated on the map as number 95, there is a single building on the village green, almost opposite the William the Fourth Public House.
At that time, the owner was William Brockbank (1807-1864). He refers to the building in his will, which was drawn up in 1862:
‘I give and devise unto my son James Wilson his Heirs and Assigns all that my Messuage and Tenement or Inn with the shop and premises opposite thereto…’
Originally a yeoman farmer in the 1830’s, William had moved into the licensed trade by 1841, when he is described on the census as a publican. Ten years later his occupation is recorded as a victualler and then in 1861, a spirit merchant.
The shop dealt with agricultural supplies. In 1855, the Brockbanks were advertised as J. Brockbank & Co, Merchants, of Kirksanton, near Broughton-in-Furness, agents for Thomas Bigg’s sheep & lamb dipping composition (Carlisle Journal, 29 June 1855). In 1860 William Brockbank of Kirksanton was listed as an agent for the Kingston Cattle Food Company (Cumberland Pacquet, 6 March 1860) and in 1863, under the name of William Brockbank and Co., of Kirksanton, near Whitehaven, they let it be known that they could supply reaping and mowing machines (Whitehaven News, 4 June 1863). From this information, it is possible to deduce that the shop was in existence in 1855.
William Brockbank died in 1864, leaving the farm at Low Layriggs to his eldest son, William (1830-1913), and as we have seen, the pub and associated buildings to his younger son, James Wilson Brockbank (1833-1904). William was more interested in farming, but it was he who claimed to have had the idea of opening a brewery (Whitehaven News, 18 May 1899). It was built in the mid-1860s and after a shaky start, the business went from strength to strength.
James Wilson Brockbank drew up his will in 1898. The brewery business had prospered and he was able to bequeath a substantial number of shares, public houses, cottages and other property as well as the brewery to his three sons and two daughters. He left the office and stores to his eldest son, also named James Wilson Brockbank (1866-1951).
‘I give and bequeath to my said son James Wilson Brockbank…..all that my Messuage or Public house called the “King William the IV” with the Outoffices and appurtenances thereto belonging, also the building and premises used by me as my Office and Stores…’
The 1898 Ordnance Survey map shows the shop had been extended to become the office and stores.
James Wilson Brockbank died unmarried, in January 1951, leaving the bulk of his estate to his brother, John Edwin Brockbank. John died in September 1951, also unmarried, and left his estate to the remaining brother, Arthur Hodgson Fox-Brockbank. Arthur, at the age of 71, died in April 1954, was also a bachelor, and having no immediate family to benefit from his wealth, left everything, after legacies to friends and employees, to his godson, Thomas Guy Francis Wilson of Bankfield.
Guy Wilson and the trustees acting on his behalf, decided to sell the brewery and the Brockbanks’ public houses to Mathew Brown & Co. Ltd. of Blackburn, but The King Billy and the building standing opposite were not included in the sale. The office and stores had stood empty and unused since the death of James Wilson Brockbank in 1951, but then, in 1955, Guy Wilson offered them to the village, to use as a village hall. Up to this point, when the villagers wanted to hold a whist drive or a dance, permission had to be obtained from the Brockbanks to use the brewery malt kiln, which had fallen out of use when they started buying in malted barley.
Insurance for public and employers’ liability was arranged by Guy Wilson and then work on the dilapidated buildings started. The first move was to install a door, providing access between the two buildings so that the hall consisted of a large room and a smaller room at road level, an upper storey, which was used for storage and a basement, which became a workshop.
A management committee was set up with four trustees as overseers: Jim Sawrey at Elm Close, Tim Creighton of Kirksanton crossing, and Stanley and Elsie Irving from Raceside. It was agreed that the trustees should always be people who live in the village.
Due to the poor state of the buildings and lack of basic facilities, the committee’s first challenge was to raise funds for improvements. For a period of five years, the hall was used as a village library. A small lottery and gaming licence enabled the committee to hold raffles and whist drives. In the summer, fêtes were held outside and the hall was hired for council meetings and church services. Gradually the Brockbank Hall, as it was known, became a centre for village activities including Christmas parties and Bonfire Night celebrations.
By 1959 enough money had been raised to pay for the installation of two toilets with hand basins. It had been agreed that the drain from the hall would be connected to the septic tank on the village green, which belonged to the King William IV Hotel. The new facilities increased the range of uses for the hall, so like today, it could serve as a polling station and a venue for adult education classes.
Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the hall was constantly in need of repair, so much so that it became obvious that the wall facing the green was cracking, subsiding and parting company with the adjacent walls. In order to have any major building work done, it was necessary to establish the ownership of the hall, but despite several attempts, no progress had been made. However, Guy Wilson died in 1983 and in December 1986, his widow, Ann, conveyed the building to the trustees. The village hall was then registered as a charity with the Charity Commissioners and by February 1987 plans had been drawn up to convert the buildings into a place more fit for purpose and fund-raising was in full swing.
The original plans were for improved toilets and a weather-proof basement room downstairs. At road level, there would be a kitchen in the smaller room with a serving hatch through to the main area, which would be enlarged by building an extension onto the South-East end. However, when quotes were received for the work, amounting to £26,277 for rebuilding the wall and changing the roof plus a further £11,008 for a possible extension, it was clear that an alternative strategy would have to be found. It was estimated that it would cost £8,000 for materials alone to deal with the wall and the roof. Then a group of men in the village volunteered to provide their labour, contact others who could give their expertise and skills and by doing so make the project possible. Without their generosity and donations of materials, advice and money from others, the work could not have been done. Grants were obtained from Copeland Borough Council, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., Millom Without Parish Council and the Rural Development Commission as well as fire doors and an external door donated by the Round Table. During the alterations, indoor events were held in Silecroft Village Hall and various venues in Millom.
The work began in August 1987. The building had to be cleared and then the demolition began. The roofs were removed, followed by the top floor, the middle dividing wall and finally the outer wall facing the green, using a JCB belonging to one of the villagers. Then the demolished wall was rebuilt and a new roof constructed to cover the entire hall. There was a large room at road level, with the kitchen at the north-east end. Access to the basement was changed and the basement room was made into a more usable space. The toilets were altered to provide a second cubicle for the ladies.
By the summer of 1988, the hall was back in use, although some work remained, which was completed as funds became available.
The trustees, being changed when circumstances required, continued as owners of the village hall. Then, when one of them moved away from the area and another died, it became more difficult to replace them. In 2002, the committee decided, with the permission of the remaining trustees, to vest the ownership in the Charity Commission, which is now the designated custodian.
The Brockbank Hall c1985
courtesy of C.M. O’Connell
Kirksanton Village Hall in 2017
courtesy of A. Harrison and S. Cawthorne
Another change, which began in the 1980s was the alteration of the name from the Brockbank Hall to Kirksanton Village Hall. The former title continued to be used into the 21st century, but the latter was preferred as it located the building for anyone wishing to make a booking.
The beginning of the 21st century saw an increased awareness that public places should be accessible to all, especially the elderly and disabled. The stairs down to the toilets were difficult for some and those in wheelchairs could not access the facilities. It was thought that an extension with a toilet suitable for the disabled, at road level, would address the problem with the stairs and that a separate kitchen would be more hygienic.
Plans were drawn up and planning permission granted. It was decided to apply to the National Lottery, but when the application was turned down in 2004, enthusiasm waned.
In 2016, the committee decided to try again with new plans and another application to the Big Lottery Fund. The village was given the chance to make comments and an energy audit was done. Planning permission was given and a grant of £4,000 obtained towards the cost of new windows. Then in March 2017, the committee was informed that the application to the Big Lottery Fund had failed once more. However, this time, after taking advice as to how to proceed, the committee decided to apply again. The third time proved to be lucky and in March 2018, a grant of £60,800 was made available. Grants of £25,000 were also received from the Copeland Community Fund and Orsted (formerly Dong Energy). Smaller grants came from a further fifteen sources, which enabled the committee to set higher standards and obtain equipment that would make the village hall suitable for events many years into the future.
Duddon Valley Contractors Ltd. submitted the successful tender and began work in June 2018, only to find that the village hall was built on a raised beach, so an engineer’s report was required before work could continue. Then, a villager reported that they thought a bird was nesting in one of the trees due to be felled, so a tree survey was done and work suspended until the baby pigeons had fledged.
For several decades the outflow from the toilets to the septic tank on the green had caused problems and Whicham Parish Council, who own the green, let it be known that there were serious issues with the arrangement. It was decided that there were sufficient funds to install a new septic tank and soakaway, making the village hall independent of The King Billy for sewerage.
On the upper level, the disabled toilet room was placed adjacent to the kitchen, which was fully fitted with a cooker, fridge, microwave, dishwasher and hot water boiler. An additional sink was installed in the basement for the Art Group to clean their equipment. Wi-fi was enabled plus a loop and sound system with a projector and screens for both meeting rooms.
A new floor was laid in the main room and patio doors fitted to the basement room, giving easy access onto the green. The interior walls were re-decorated and the village hall was ready for use once more.
On the 20th April 2019, the village hall was thrown open for all villagers and users to come and view the new rooms and improvements. Then, on the 18th May it was re-opened officially, by the explorer and TV presenter, Paul Rose.
Saturday, 18th May 2019
Paul Rose with Members of the Village Hall Committee
courtesy of C.M. O’Connell
Paul Rose re-opens the Village Hall
courtesy of C.M. O’Connell
Kirksanton Village Hall in 2019
courtesy of S. Cawthorne