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The Memorial Hall

Shortly after the First World War on January 2nd 1919, 80 residents met at a town meeting and unanimously agreed that a scheme should be created to form a Peace Memorial. The aim was to accommodate both the longed-for peace and also the ‘brave men of our district’ who had fought in the conflict.

After many more discussions, rather than a more traditional memorial, a two-story Peace Memorial building was planned. It was to include a swimming baths; a public library; a hall to hold 500 people; three small rooms; seven dressing rooms and a miniature rifle range in the grounds, estimating a total cost of £60,000.

However in 1921, there was no glimmer of light at the end of the country’s economic tunnel due to the First World War. As a result, it was decided to temporarily put the scheme on hold. These hard economic times lasted well into the 1930’s and then, due to another war plans were shelved further.

In time, we came to the end of the Second World War. Therefore, on February 18th 1946, a packed meeting in Cleethorpes again discussed plans to build a war memorial in our area.

The Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, former owners of the land at the time, allotted the area where the hall would eventually be built. They generously donated the land as a deed of gift to the people of Cleethorpes, subject to the condition that it was used in perpetuity for a Community Memorial Hall.

At the time, a Trust was formed compromising of three Trustees; the Cleethorpes Mayor and the Chairman of the group, known as Alderman Albert W. Cox, who had seen action himself in both wars; the Cleethorpes Town Clerk – Gilbert Sitcliffe; and F.W.Robinson of Summerfields.

Then a fund was set up. For several years, money was raised through public events, such as dances, and the Government announced that the project would receive a substantial grant. Thereafter the scheme was launched with a blaze of publicity.

As a result, hundreds of subscribers pledged sums; shillings and sixpences were collected. Local societies dug generously into their reserves and relatives of those killed gave money in their memory.

The first proposed design for the Memorial Hall was produced in 1956, but it was very different in appearance to the hall we know today and estimated to cost £76,000. For instance, the original design had an ornamental pool in front of the main hall, looking out towards Grimsby Road, backed by a tablet with the names of those who had died inscribed on it.

The original model of the proposed War Memorial in 1956.

The original model of the proposed War Memorial in 1956.

Time dragged on again due to a long period of frustration in an economic climate of credit squeezes, inflation and rising building costs after the Second World War. This meant the Government could no longer fund grants for memorials and so the site grew wild, children played on it, fences sagged and still no hall was built.

Furthermore, due to building restrictions preventing a start being made to the structure, over time the costs for building had risen. As a result, in 1957 it was agreed that the hall could no longer be built to its original design as the estimated cost of building had increased in the region of £90,000.

The big dream seemed to be fading, while drastically plans and drawings were pruned and a number of firms sent specifications.

Finally after minutely examining scores of possibilities, the trust agreed to employ a firm specialising in prefabrication and pre-cast work, at a cost of £30.000.

Although the hall took years to reach fruition, once work began in March 1960, it went ahead quickly despite the wet summer. Opening on the same year, Wednesday 26th October 1960, by Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, the Earl of Ancaster and the Bishop of Lincoln. They unveiled and dedicated two plaques bearing 356 names of the fallen. This included 49 Royal Navy personnel, 82 Army, 53 Royal Air Force, 25 Merchant Navy, 112 Fishermen and Minesweepers and 35 Civilians.

The Memorial Hall under construction in 1960.

The Memorial Hall under construction in 1960.

Quoting Rupert Brooke, the young soldier poet of the First World War, Lord Ancaster told the large audience “`There are today, all too many corners in the foreign field that are forever England”.

Then he said, “But it is nice to think that from now on, there will be a corner in this fine hall in their home town of Cleethorpes that will be forever theirs”.

He then paid tribute to the trustees and committee responsible for bringing the hall to being, and on their behalf, presented the foreman in charge of building operations, Mr. R. Hammond of Manchester, with a silver cigarette case as a token of their appreciation.

Despite the long battle for the hard-won Memorial Hall, reflecting its reason for existence, it nevertheless holds a long tradition of providing countless top-flight entertainment and events. In particular, wrestling was a popular event in the hall during the 1980’s, while the Irish singer, Val Doonican, packed the building when he appeared there in 1994.

The Memorial Hall has proven to be a foundation in the community for many years. Particularly on the night of January 11th 1978 when gales and huge waves punched a series of holes in the resort sea defences, flooding between 400 and 600 homes. People who were made homeless by the floodwater were catered for in an emergency centre based at the Hall.

Today, the Memorial Hall Trust is still registered as a charity and relies on help to pay for it, as the Council does not fund the building.

The Chairman of the Trustees at the time of the Memorial Hall’s construction, Mr. Albert Cox, said that the Memorial Hall must always be used for the recreation and pleasure of the people of Cleethorpes. The building has achieved that with great success for many years and continues to be seen as a lasting tribute to brave servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

More recently, the year 2010 saw the addition of a memorial stone in a pleasant garden next to the hall building, provided by the Cleethorpes In Bloom community group ‘In memory of members of the service who died whilst on peace keeping duties around the world’.