Those of you who have read the last group newsletter will know that it contained an item by David about his memories of our meetings at St Botolph’s Hall. Unfortunately, as newsletter editor, I couldn’t quite squeeze all of David’s copy in, even though I enjoyed reading it myself! As our first meeting at Northfleet School for Girls is coming up soon I thought that now would be a good time to publish David’s memories in full.
After some 27 years, the Group will say its final farewell to St. Botolphs Church Hall on Wednesday 11th December 2013. Can we really have been there that long? Yes, it appears our first meeting at St. Botolphs was one Wednesday evening in September 1986, the actual date and the identity of the speaker have been lost in the mists of time. However, our indefatigable programme organiser Penny Leeves does have on record that, just over a year later on 27th October 1987, our first ever afternoon meeting was held at St. Botolphs, when our old friend John Buckingham gave a presentation entitled “Birds of Town and Gardens”. Until 1987 the group had held only evening indoor meetings, but the addition of meetings on Tuesday afternoons proved popular, and of course they have continued ever since. In more recent years afternoon audiences declined somewhat at St. Botolphs, and so we moved on, first to Millbrook Garden Centre and then to our current location at the Woodville Halls.
Gravesend R.S.P.B. Local Group was formed in 1977, and from the outset, a programme of monthly indoor meetings was arranged to augment our twice monthly outdoor field trips. For the first few years our indoor venues changed quite frequently. We flitted from a Church Hall in Singlewell Road, Gravesend, to the Gerald Miskin Hall out near the A2, and then to All Saints Church Hall in Perry Street, before finally settling at St. Botolphs.
Our long tenure at St. Botolphs has given rise to many fond memories, but also to some not quite so happy ones! Four Group Leaders have presided over meetings there, David Arnold, Peter Heathcote, Malcolm Jennings, and most recently Jeff Kirk, and all will have their own memories and stories to tell!
The early days at St. Botolphs saw quite large audiences, with 70 or 80 not being unusual. Our first Group Leader, Jim Martin, had acquired a film projector from his employers, and film evenings were regular features of our indoor programme in the early years at St. Botolphs. The hall was often over-flowing on these occasions, with audiences sometimes exceeding a hundred. Our projectionist was Phil Farnham, a school teacher who had some acquaintance with projectors. Alas, the equipment was old and Phil struggled with frequent “technical hitches”. On one occasion he could muster pictures that were only about a quarter of the proper height, leading to ribald comments from the audience that it was like looking through the slits of a bird hide!
Other occasions which ensured a “full house” at St. Botolphs, were the excellent suppers and social evenings which David and Rosemary Arnold used to organise. Delicious buffets were provided by some friends of David who ran a catering business, and David’s quizzes and entertainment were always great fun, especially the dots in the distance which David could always identify with absolute certainty!
The facilities offered by the hall have not always been entirely to our liking. We struggled with the curtains and on occasion had to provide our own blackouts. The heating too left something to be desired, with loudly clanking radiators emitting little if any warmth. It has been known for some of our more mature members to be forced to leave meetings at half time, despite their thermals!
As with many halls, parking has not been easy at St. Botolphs, especially when there were clashes with other local events. I can recall arriving one afternoon only to find a funeral in progress, and had to join a long cortege following the coffin up the steps. Fortunately the procession went on past the doors of the hall! During one period, I think in the late 1990’s, there were problems with vandalism in the car park. Several cars were broken into and the committee organised vigilante patrols, when armed with torches and whistles, we took turns to police the parking area. I even have memories of being provided with hand warmers on cold winter evenings!
Despite the ambient temperatures, the committee always tried to provide a warm welcome at St. Botolphs, none more so than Penny Leeves, who in addition to organising the indoor events programme, always had a nice hot cuppa and a biscuit on offer during the mid-session interval. For many years Penny was ably assisted by Jean Bailey and more recently by Pat Kagan. They all deserve our grateful thanks, as do Geoff and Cynthia Wright and Joan West, who for so many years were the “welcoming committee”, sitting at the door cheerfully taking our entrance and raffle monies.
One final abiding memory for me from St. Botolphs takes me back to a dark and miserable winter’s evening in (I think) 1990. An elderly lady arrived at the hall with a dead bird that she had picked up from her tiny town garden on Windmill Hill in Gravesend. It was very small and looked like a sea-bird, but “what exactly is it?” she asked. The preceding few days had been very stormy and must have accounted for the arrival in a Gravesend back garden of this tiny gem of a bird from the sea. It was a Little Auk, and to date it still remains the only one I have ever seen!! Beat that Hall Road if you can.