The Local Government Act of 1894 decreed that all villages of 300 or more inhabitants should have a Parish Council and Woodgreen’s first Parish Council was elected in 1895.
A room to hold Parish Council meetings was desirable and in December 1897 a special meeting was convened ‘to discuss the matter of erecting a ‘Reading and Assembly Room for the benefit of the Parishioners of Woodgreen and others’. The land and building are thought to have been donated by 2 village families.
‘Reading Rooms’ were established throughout the country during the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. The Church and landowners endeavoured to provide facilities for the working classes for recreation and to provide an alternative to the public house. Newspapers and books were made available to encourage literacy and self-education in the working community.
Over the years, Woodgreen’s Reading Room has had a variety of uses in addition to being the venue for Parish Council meetings. For example, it was used to store a wheeled bier, a handcart used to transport bodies to the cemetery. This was purchased by the Parish Council in February 1929 for £25,”fitted with oak rails & standards.., to be stored in the Reading Room pending a storage shed being built adjoining it”. During World War II, the Homeguard held meetings and stored equipment in the Reading Room. Later, the room was used as a youth club in the winter evenings.
The Reading Room was seriously damaged in July 2017 following a vehicle accident. It has now been repaired and was officially reopened on Saturday 4th April 2020.
Parish Council Highlights
Much as today, the early Parish Council meetings dealt with the perennial problems of overgrown hedges and the ongoing maintenance of roads and tracks including, even as far back as 1913, the need for the cutting of trees that spoilt the view from Castle Hill. In the early days, the councillors also had the added responsibility of running the village’s refuse tip in an old gravel pit.
It was acknowledged that there was a great need for a village cemetery. It took several years to identify a suitable site: part of an old gravel pit. Official permission followed and later provision allowed it to be fenced with iron railings. Arrangements required a need for consecrated ground for the burial of Church parishioners on the left with unconsecrated ground on the right for all other burials, including the Methodists. Sadly, the Parish Council’s attempts at planting decorative trees, on several occasions, did not have the desired effect as they died in the stony ground.
The poor condition of the Reading Room was a key topic. However, with the advent of War, attention turned to the War Effort and a need to salvage metals and other items.
A letter from Ringwood Rural District Council was discussed – it called for a scheme for providing work for the unemployed after the War had ended – items suggested included better electric light facilities, better and purer water supplies, more Council Houses where needed.
Thoughts turned to arranging a combined religious service on the Common for Sunday 13 May 1945 in celebration of V.E. Day as had been suggested by the King – a parade would be held beginning at the Village Hall and followed by marching to the Common with bands playing.
A ‘Festival Bus Shelter’ was built – the Parish Council agreeing to take it over once it had been completed.
The Council agreed to the provision of a water supply at the Cemetery.
The Council was occupied with the major task of relocating gypsy families to more permanent accommodation as the remaining Forest camps were cleared.
Thanks to John Brewer for the historical review of the Woodgreen Parish Council minutes.