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Historic Emery Down hall where 'Alice in Wonderland' presided over meetings celebrates 100 years since project began

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AN historic hall with links to the real Alice in Wonderland marked nearly 100 years since the project to create it began by inviting in the community for a celebration of its past.

The village hall in Emery Down, near Lyndhurst, was built to hold the first meetings of the local WI group – of which Alice Hargreaves, who was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s hero in his famous book, was president in the early 20th century.

This week trustees celebrated its centenary with a free barbecue for villagers and an Alice in Wonderland exhibition in the hall.

Emery Down and Bank village hall (50752159)
Emery Down and Bank village hall (50752159)

Peter Power, chair of trustees, said: “We are always mindful of the unique history of this very special hall and in particular, its direct link to Alice in Wonderland.

“Two key themes were to reunite our community post-lockdown and welcome new villagers. To help this, name badges for everyone were obligatory and this really helped.”

Peter Power opening the 100th birthday celebrations
Peter Power opening the 100th birthday celebrations

At the time, Ms Hargreaves was head of the local WI. It formed in 1920 and the first meetings were held at the home of two sisters in the village.

But as the branch grew to 50 members, the women decided they needed a place of their own to get together.

Alice Hargreaves - nee Liddell - at the age of 20
Alice Hargreaves - nee Liddell - at the age of 20
Alice Hargreaves in her elder years
Alice Hargreaves in her elder years

The hall was the idea of WI members Mary and Charlotte Chamberlain, who were first cousins of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

They bought a small piece of land in Emery Down about 100 years ago and later created the Arts and Crafts-style building. Ms Hargreaves, who lived nearby, performed the opening ceremony of the hall in 1927 with a golden key – which sadly has since gone missing.

The WI continued to meet at the hall for over 70 years until the branch closed due to dwindling numbers in 1997.

Fortunately for the local community, the Chamberlain sisters had drawn up a deed of gift when the hall was first built, transferring ownership to future trustees.

In the deed it was stated that if the hall “ceased to be used for the purpose for which it was founded” it was to either become a village hall, or something that would benefit the locals of the area.

It has since hosted a huge range of events and continues to be a meeting place for many organisations.

After the celebration Mr Power thanked local groups who had helped with the celebration, describing it as a “wonderful event, greatly appreciated by all local residents”.

This article was amended on 3rd September 2021 to clarify the anniversary date.

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