Topic: Waverley Town Hall - 1908

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Bear Street, Waverley

Waverley Town Hall - 1908

Wanganui Chronicle on 11 April 2007

Historian Diana Beaglehole wrote -

Historic hall deserves another 100 years -  2007

Waverley Town Hall has been attracting attention, and deservedly so.

This is no ordinary hall: it is the oldest of the more substantial and imposing town halls in Taranaki, Wanganui district and Rangitikei. Within this broad area, it is also the oldest purpose-built town hall that has not been extensively modified.

Adding to the hall's significance are its architectural and aesthetic qualities and its pivotal role in Waverley and district's social and cultural life.

The hall was designed by Hawera architect J.E. (Joseph Edward) Roe and built between April and August 1908 by Waverley contractors Macfarlane and Price. The completed building cost over £2,000.00. People in the town and district raised the finance by taking up shares in a company called the Waverley Town Hall Company. Many of the company's directors came from well-known local families such as Brewer, Johnston and Symes.

The company owned and operated the hall until 1 January 1948 when the Waverley Town Board assumed control. In 1987 ownership passed to the Patea District Council and in 1989 to the current owner, South Taranaki District Council.

The hall's architect, J.E. Roe, moved to Wanganui around 1917 and practised there until 1925. He had earlier attended Wanganui Collegiate School from 1884 to 1886. The Waverley Town Hall is one of the very few surviving examples of his work.

The hall is the third town hall to be built in Waverley. The first was opened in Weraroa Road, the main street, in 1871. It was soon deemed too small and a second hall was built in 1879. This hall seems to have occupied the same site in Bear Street as the present hall. It was destroyed by fire around 1906.

Over the years the hall has been used for a wide variety of activities and events. These have ranged from public meetings and civic receptions to concerts, plays, school functions, movie shows, balls and all manner of social gatherings. The hall was at the heart of activities associated with the local war effort during the two World Wars and has been the assembly point for ANZAC Day gatherings since 1916. It was used as a temporary epidemic hospital during the influenza epidemic in late 1918 and served as the welfare distribution centre for the Waitotara district when devastating floods struck the west coast of the lower North Island in February 2004.

A 'Citizen's Ball' was held to mark the opening of the hall on 21 August 1908. Trains from the north and south brought people from along the coast, and a party came by coach from Wanganui. Dancing continued until 4 o'clock in the morning.

In the hall's early years, people arrived for balls and other functions on horseback, changing into their finery in the dressing rooms and back into riding dress to go home.

Movies were shown every Saturday night from the late 1910s to the mid-1970s. Many people had permanent bookings for seats in the gallery. When popular films were screened these people would be rung to see if they were attending. If they weren't, other people would immediately purchase the seats for the evening.

Visiting performers have included the renowned magician, juggler and entertainer 'The Great Benyon', and wrestling matches have featured world title-holder Pat O'Connor.

The hall was the venue for Waverley School's 50th anniversary (1924) and 60th jubilee celebrations (1934), and the main venue for the school's centenary (1973) and 125th anniversary celebrations (1998). For the latter events a large marquee was connected to the hall

Changing social patterns have seen many of the clubs that regularly used the hall go into recess or actually fold. The hall is nonetheless still used for community events, meetings, dancing classes, school performances and private functions.

The Waverley Town Hall was built by the people of Waverley and district to be a centre for the events and activities that enriched social and cultural life in the community. The hall has successfully fulfilled this purpose for nigh on 100 years, and with enlightened planning, restoration and ongoing maintenance, could continue to serve the town and district over the next 100 years.

The hall clearly has the potential to serve the community in new and innovative ways. There are currently no places in Waverley - or indeed anywhere - housing material and memorabilia on all aspects of the town and district's interesting history, and the hall could undoubtedly satisfy the need for this and other forms of public education.

The auditorium is a large space and its walls would be ideal for the hanging of panels with information and illustrative material on Waverley's past and on the hall's crucial role in the town and district's cultural and social life. Walls in other areas, especially the supper room, could also accommodate panels, photos, paintings and various items of memorabilia.

There are numerous places too where life-sized models dressed in clothes from different periods could be positioned, and where display-cabinets, old furniture and similar items could be on view.

The Waverley Town Hall is a local landmark. Its construction reflected people's confidence and pride in their town and district, and the hall has contributed enormously to the identity of the area. It is not, though, just a monument to the past: it is a significant asset that can continue to benefit the community. In so doing, it will provide a vital link to the past for future generations.

This article, written by historian Diana Beaglehole, first appeared in the Wanganui Chronicle on 11 April 2007

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