There was a time when it was feared that communal activity in villages such as Penallt would diminish, or even disappear, as private transport became the norm, village schools closed and supermarkets killed off village shops and post offices. Few thought that villages could escape becoming dormitories with their occupants interested in free-time social activities anywhere but in the village. If Penallt is any guide, this fear has remained unfounded. Of course, families visit their parents back home and parents are involved in school activities outside the village. Weekends are often spent busy in the home because the working week claims five days out of seven.
But still in Penallt the Women’s Institute, the cricket club, the tennis club and the bowls club have continued to flourish. Congregations on a Sunday in the Old Church may have dwindled but the church is supported financially and with direct help by parishioners who regard the church as necessary to provide the support and setting for significant times in family and communal life – baptisms, marriages and funerals, Christmas, Easter and Harvest and Remembrance of the Fallen.
Pelham Hall remains the other major focus of communal life. Completed in 1992 with the aid of grants, the present building replaced the original village hall of 1923 which had fallen into disrepair and inadequacy. The new hall laboured under debt but was able from the start to provide new and much better facilities for the village. Eventually the committee achieved the seemingly impossible and found itself able to look forward to remaining “in the black”.
The hall is used by an indoor bowls club and has dressing rooms for cricket and tennis: concerts, weddings, social meetings including the Women’s Institute are all catered for and the staging of the Christmas Bazaar (and the Summer Fete when the weather is foul) is able to take full advantage of the hall’s facilities which the committee has continued to improve.
The fete and the bazaar have their roots of course in the social life of the 19th century when the local gentry spent time and trouble and money encouraging all kinds of “worthy” community activities. In Penallt they ranged from cottage industries, gardening, housekeeping, cooking, carpentry and dress-making to evening classes for “improvement of the mind”, lectures on topical political and cultural subjects and musical concerts. There was a time when Penallt’s musicians were sufficiently skilled – and numerous – to be asked to provide the marching band for parades of the militia based in Monmouth Castle and in 1894 attracted the approval of that noted music critic, George Bernard Shaw whose article on Penallt’s music is quoted in the Miscellany.
A great debt is owed to Virginia and Richard Hartley who open their beautiful garden at Moorcroft for the Summer Fete every year and a more attractive setting would be hard to find. The fete and the Christmas bazaar are valuable sources of income to help maintain the fabric of the Old Church and to contribute to selected charities. Both feature the familiar range of stalls and competitions all designed to extract as much as possible as painlessly as possible. The fete in particular sees a variety of imaginative activities appearing at intervals through the years. We have seen a cat show and such colourful themes as the descent of fearful pirates from among the mock palm trees and the arrival of cowboys and Indians, some in costumes the Wild West never saw.
Meanwhile the cricket club and the tennis club pursue their successful and more sober ways. The former keeps alive a sporting tradition which began in 1888 when the Pelham family enabled teams to play regularly on dedicated ground. The tennis club goes from strength to strength, installing new lighting and maintaining such court facilities as are needed for success in competitions and to encourage a steady supply of young players in training for the day when they can become full members. The club had its origins in 1889 when the parish magazine reported that “a tennis club is being formed with headquarters at Moorcroft.”
A recent addition to the village calendar has been a rally of veteran cars attracting interest and funds for charity from well beyond the parish boundary.
Meanwhile, a long-standing plan to create a recreation ground in the village has been realised, a new Babington Trust being formed to acquire and transform the old school playing field. The ground was cleared and levelled, new boundary walls built, car parking laid down and seats and play equipment installed. Much of the work was undertaken by volunteers and the whole financed by the village. Now with trees newly-planted the area offers space for events such as open-air theatre as well as rest and recreation. The whole operation is a tribute to local enthusiasm and hard work.
[from: Penallt Revisited]