Thornbury and District Museum: History of the Armstrong Hall

January 31 2019
Thornbury and District Museum: History of the Armstrong Hall

WITH plans afoot to redevelop Armstrong Hall, we take a look at the history of this Thornbury venue.

OUR main photograph shows Frank D. Armstrong – the man Armstrong Hall was named after – officially opening it on September 8, 1972. But how did it come to be built and why does it bear his name?

It was as early as 1960 that the parish council began to consider the possibility of making additions in the Cossham Hall. In 1963, negotiations began with the owners of the property on the corner of Chapel Street and High Street but these fell through.

In 1965, a public meeting authorised the council to raise a loan of up to £4,750 for the purchase of 2 Chapel Street, which adjoined the Cossham Hall and had a large garden. A further £5,000 was to be allowed for improvements to the Cossham Hall.

The photo of the plans shows how much bigger the new Armstrong Hall complex was to be when compared with Cossham Hall. It shows Miss Saise’s cottage in the High Street and the garden behind in blue, the Cossham Hall in green and the land acquired with 2 Chapel Street in brown. In the end the plan did not make use of Miss Saise’s cottage, only the garden immediately behind the Cossham Hall.

The type of construction chosen for the site was to keep costs down and to ensure that the build time would be as short as possible. The then chairman of Thornbury Parish Council, Stephen Barnwell, and the finance chairman Peter Birkett led negotiations with the councils, British Rail (for access to the rear of the property) and possible grant providers. A public meeting agreed that the council could back a loan application for £45,000.

Much of the work on the inside of the hall was done by volunteers in a community effort. Members of local amateur dramatic and operatic societies, led by Keith Sullivan and George Excell, designed and installed the stage lighting.

The Gazette of July 1 1972 said the council was going all out to raise £5,000 in 30 days: if this target could be reached within the time scale, the sum collected would be doubled by an anonymous donor. The aim of the appeal was to furnish the building which was due to be completed that September at a cost of £52,000.

The anonymous donor turned out to be Frank D Armstrong, who had been a magistrate in Thornbury for 27 years, latterly as chairman. He donated £13,000 from a family trust and paid for the amplifying equipment. It was decided that the hall should be named in his honour.

Armstrong was a local businessman who was born in the Llandudno area in 1900 and founded the Ribena company.

According to Bristol University, the blackcurrant cordial was invented in 1936 by a Bristol scientist, Dr Vernon Charley, who was working at the Long Ashton Agriculture and Horticulture Research Station. It provided an important alternative source of vitamin C during the war years, when oranges were in scarce supply, and was produced for free distribution to children by the Ministry of Food. Armstrong appears to have been part of the Bristol based company, HW Carter, which produced the drink.

The Armstrong family founded the Armstrong Trust, which gives grants to charities, benefiting for the most part children’s charities, mainly in Dorset and the former county of Avon. Armstrong died in July 1993, aged 92.

Music and theatre to help Armstrong Hall

MUSIC, theatre and a lecture are being staged to help raise funds for the redevelopment of Armstrong Hall.

The Armstrong Arts Group has announced a series of events, starting with a lecture titled Women in Art by Lynne Gibson on April 13 at the next-door Cossham Hall.

Folk group MoMacnMe also play Cossham Hall on June 8, while Bristol Old Vic Theatre School will perform the Canterbury Tales on June 28.

Professional actor-pianist Michael Lunts will perform Roll Over Beethoven on September 28, at a venue to be announced.

For more information call 01454 412272.

Picture: The Armstrong Hall opening ceremony in 1972. From left; Philip Cooper (architect), Stephen Barnwell (parish council), Frank Armstrong, Mrs Barnwell, Joan Cox (chair of the Armstrong Hall Committee) and Miss Armstrong, representing the Armstrong Trust.