Hall history lesson

PUBLISHED: 11:29 14 June 2007 | UPDATED: 12:32 04 May 2010

BATTLING ON. Soham Hall Community Trust members are fighting to prove land ownership lies with the community.       Photo: HELEN DRAKE

BATTLING ON. Soham Hall Community Trust members are fighting to prove land ownership lies with the community. Photo: HELEN DRAKE

SOHAM'S parish hall, which is being sold to developers for housing, was under threat over 80 years ago, the Ely Standard can reveal. Campaigners battling to save the hall for community use have discovered a letter written in 1922 by the vicar of St Andrew

SOHAM'S parish hall, which is being sold to developers for housing, was under threat over 80 years ago, the Ely Standard can reveal.

Campaigners battling to save the hall for community use have discovered a letter written in 1922 by the vicar of St Andrew's Church who was fighting to protect cash for the hall before it was even built.

The Rev John Rust wrote to the Ely Diocesan Board of Finance asking it to accept ownership of the fund for fear it would be spent elsewhere.

At the age of 81, he was worried that if he and his fellow trustee, aged 84, should die the Parochial Church Council would find another use for money. He said in the letter written on June 10, 1922: "Some members of the church council have already suggested a temporary use of the money for other purposes.

"Now, considering my own age, I am anxious to make sure that this

money will be used only for the purpose for which it was collected, namely, the erection of a church hall or parish room.

"I am myself desirous (if it is possible) to transfer the money in trust to the Diocesan Board of Finance, in order that it may be applied only to the purpose mentioned in the trust deed."

Campaigners are adamant that the letter proves the hall site should be kept for the community use, despite the fact that the current Parochial Church Council has accepted a £500,000-plus bid from Godmanchester-based developer, Amber Homes which plans to build housing on it.

Proceeds from the sale will go towards repairs and renovation work for historic Grade I listed St Andrew's Church.

Campaigners are now searching church records to find out who actually owns the land.

Soham Hall Community Trust member Liz Jugg said: "We don't want to spend money buying back land that already belongs to the community. We are trying to confirm ownership."

She added that a recent meeting on the future of the church hall proved there was strong support in the town for keeping the site for the community.

"People feel we should push through," she said.

But Chris Palmer, St. Andrew's churchwarden, said the land ownership issue was investigated several years ago when the site was originally put up for sale.

"At the time the hall was built the vicar was made sole trustee and it was left that he could do with it as he wished," he said.

Amber Homes director Neil Roe confirmed the company was "going through various procedures" in relation to the sale of the church hall.

But he added that a planning application was not imminent and refused to give any indication of timescales.

The church hall is believed to stand on the site of a former monastery and could include a Saxon burial ground. Archaeological work will have to be carried out as a condition of any future planning permission.

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