Robert Arkenstall was a 17th century farmer. In his will, dated 1st April 1640, he left his daughter land in the area for when she attained the aged of 21. In the event of her not doing so, the money was to go to maintain a free school. It is believed that she died early as in 1698 a school was established (there were not sufficient funds to establish the school prior to that date).
In 1723 a subscription was raised, £130, to buy the Blue Bell Public House and convert it into a separate school, on the present site. The school took boarders and pupils came from as far afield as Whittlesey and near Kings Lynn.
In January 1945 the Women’s Institute asked the Parish Council to investigate the possibility of having a village hall. This matter was discussed at the Annual Parish Meeting where 50 people attended, voting 31 in favour and 2 against. A fund was set up and representatives of organisations were invited to join the Parish Council on a committee. The organisations invited were:
- Women’s Institute
- British Legion
- Young Farmers’ Club
- Girl Guide
- Football Club
- Cricket Club
- Tennis Club
- Bowls Club
A fete was held and made £215 19s 2p. With various issues stalling development of a hall over the next few years, the fund grew, with the Pie Centre Committee, (who supervised the making and distribution of food during the food rationing between 1939 and 1946), gave their closing balance of £212 4s 11p, and the proceeds of the sale of the Grunty Fen allotments (£463 10s 0d) being added.
Then, in 1968, a letter from the Robert Arkenstall Educational Foundation, the owner of the school property, invited the Parish Council to consider future use of their buildings. At the public meeting called to discuss suggestions, it was proposed that the feasibility of using the site as a village hall should be investigated. A valuation of the property was obtained (£2,000) and although higher offers were received, the Dept. Of Education and Science (who were the body in charge of such matters at the time) said that if a charity was formed the sale at the valuation could proceed.
An architect was engaged who drew up two plans, one costing around £20,000 and the other at £15,000. When the plans were presented at a public meeting, with 150 people present, a member of the public stood up and said “if we are going to have a hall we want a good one, so forget the cheaper option”. When the £20,000 scheme was put to the vote a large majority voted in favour of it, but 10 people voted against it and demanded a Parish Poll. When this was held 470 voted in favour and 190 against it.
That autumn a meeting of representatives of organisations and members of the public was held and a committee formed. This consisted of 25 representatives and 8 members of the public. The first meeting of the management committee was held on 20/11/1970 with David Fairchild, a local farmer, elected as chairman.
Donations were received and fundraising started which enabled us to complete the purchase of the old school in July 1971. Charity Status was received later which enabled the Parish Council to hand over the fund they held, which now stood at £2,000.
When applying for grants it was suggested that our scheme was too ambitious and that we should consider a less expensive scheme. By juggling figures the committee were able to keep grant bodies happy and still continued as planned. All the time the committee was organising fundraising events, at one time having one event every 10 days.
Eventually, despite having brick shortages and other problems, the centre was opened in 1973 with the first meeting being that of the Women’s Institute, who, some 38 years earlier, had raised the question of building a new village hall.