Rural History

Research Article

Common Meeting Places and the Brightening of Rural Life: Local Debates on Village Halls in Sussex after the First World War

Keith Grieves

In the burgeoning literature on war memorials and the commemoration of the war dead in Britain after 1918, the growth of village halls in rural areas has not been extensively analysed. K.S. Inglis has alerted us to the dichotomy of monuments to mourn the dead and amenities to serve the living. He noted that where a preference was made for utility over monumentality, local war memorial committees did not confine their attention to commemorating those who died on active service and made the Great Sacrifice, but also had in mind those who served and returned. The complex locally-determined processes of negotiating ways which would bring solace or comfort to the bereaved, through the creation of an object of mourning, has been examined with great care and detail, but analysis of urban-centred initiatives predominates.

Consequently, the linkage which might be made between the experience of war and the participation of ex-servicemen in village war memorial debates, the demise of old elites and the quest for improved social and material conditions in rural areas, the diminishing support for parish churches as the focal point of community life and the emergence of undenominational social centres, all point towards the need for further examination of the proceedings of local committees, where parish records allow. As British participation in the Great War contained the powerful rhetoric of a religious crusade and was not connected to the improvement of social conditions until the publication of war aims in January 1918, many committees gave priority to the creation of sacred objects of mourning, with much use of exhortatory moral language and Christian iconography.