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Published on April 13th, 2020 | by The Town Crier

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Paddock Wood Masonic Hall: From The Charleston to Karate, The Black Bottom to Birthday Parties

Paddock Wood Lodge started in 1921 with 25 founders, meeting in the Parochial Hall. Dinners were served in the Club Room of the Kent Arms, now the John Brunt VC, or for larger gatherings in the Boys’ School Hall.

By April 1924 numbers had increased such that these venues were inadequate and it was decided to build new premises.  In October that year a company, the Paddock Wood Freemasons Hall Ltd., was registered with the object of erecting a Freemasons’ Hall and Club, and building commenced. Two of the first directors were John Podmore, of Moatlands, and Alfred Harland, of Church Farm House, Paddock Wood, headmaster of the Boys’ School, whose memorial window is in St. Andrew’s Church.

A site north of the railway line adjacent to the Railway Hotel, later known as the Hop Pocket, was purchased for £350, and the foundation stone was laid by the Provincial Grand Master, Colonel Cornwallis, on 9th February 1925. The architect was Ashley Killby, and the Pembury-based builder was Ernest Penn.

As well as Masonic activities, from the outset it was intended that the Hall, equipped with a stage hidden by roller shutters, should be available for community use, and provide accommodation for a licensed Men’s Club as the Parochial Hall’s use was limited, no dancing or consumption of intoxicating drinks being allowed.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Hall was in constant demand for Brotherhood (a men’s Christian club), Women’s Institute and British Legion events, concerts, the Scout Troop pantomime, Empire Day celebrations, Lambert & Symes’ auctions, sales of work, Horticultural Society Shows, the annual Tunbridge Wells Equitable Society children’s party, Girls’ United Club displays, plus whist drives and dances for the football, cricket, tennis, badminton and rifle clubs. Virtually every week the Hall resounded to the music of Tom Sinden’s Syncopators, the Puck-a-Pu Dance Band or the Paddock Wood Jazz Quartette, on at least one occasion with an exhibition of the Charleston and Black Bottom.

It was also the venue for meetings of various bodies such as the Hop Growers and Rural Community Council. It was at meetings there of the Parish Council that it was agreed to buy the first recreation ground; where plans to celebrate the 1937 Coronation were drawn up; and where Dr. Sealy received a presentation for his 28 years service as the village doctor.

In 1938 Air Raid Wardens met there for the first time, and during WW2 the Hall was designated as a Rest Centre in case of casualties from air raids and the Masonic Temple above it was equipped as an emergency hospital, but fortunately they were never required. Throughout the war years it was the venue for numerous fund-raising events in aid of providing comforts for the troops and prisoners of war, and it was there local residents went to collect their ration books. After the war it accommodated a mobile cinema showing weekly films, the first of which was “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man”, starring W. C. Fields.

Over the years many improvements have been made, including a complete renovation of the dining hall, a modern kitchen, plus a bar and lounge. The Men’s Club, now a Social Club open to all, still welcomes members old and new, and as it has for over 90 years the Hall serves the local community by providing a popular venue for private parties, dance classes, martial arts, quiz nights, lunches, tribute acts, charity events, the Breathless Choir, Spiritual Development and the Royal Naval Association meetings.

As for Masonic activities, Paddock Wood Lodge, which celebrates its centenary in 2021, continues to meet there, together with Stanley Wykeham Lodge, founded in 1948, and Bradley Lodge, founded in 1964.

Don Foreman, Heritage Paddock Wood


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