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The eastern part of Folly served as Farringdon Village Hall
Massey's Folly is not a building one would expect to find in the heart of a Hampshire village, towering over the surrounding cottages. A Victorian confection of red brick and terracotta tiles it sprouts in all directions and incorporates countless architectural features.
The Folly is certainly not the most beautiful building in the county but it is regarded with affection by some, but not all of the local inhabitants, many of whom attended or sent their children to be educated in the Farringdon Primary School and have enjoyed the dances, shows, meetings and other social events that were staged in the Village Hall over the years.
The building was conceived in the eccentric mind of a former Rector of Farringdon, although the building was never completed in his life time.
The Reverend Thomas Hackett Massey built a number of unusual additions to the village during the 60 years he spent in Farringdon (1857 - 1919).
Ordained in 1853, the young deacon worked in the Diocese of London before coming to All Saints as Rector in 1857 with his wife.
He soon showed a penchant for building. He rebuilt the Chancel of All Saints Church and erected a Gothic rectory (Now 'Farringdon Place' pictured on the left)
Not content with that he turned his attention to Stone House, which had been a private school up until 1844. He bought the property, which is thought to have burned down, and began to build.
Employing just one bricklayer, one labourer, and one carpenter the rector spent the next 30 years creating Massey's Folly from red brick and terracotta tiles manufactured at Rowlands Castle brickworks.
It is surprising that the building was completed at all as the Reverend Massey made a daily inspection of the construction and, if the design or execution was not to his liking, the offending brickwork would be knocked down and would have to be rebuilt, sometimes more than once, until it met his approval.
The bricklayer Henry Andrews (1838-1924) lived in Old Acre Road in Alton Newtown until he moved to Berry Cottage just down the road from the Folly. Massey left the cottage to him in his will.
Nicknamed 'Tinman' by the local schoolchildren, Andrews was the old man of the team,and worked until his seventies on the task. Until his move to Farringdon he walked with labourer Frank Bone from Alton to each day to work on the building.
Frank (1871-1936) married an Alton girl named Minnie they had seven sons and lived for many years in Orchard Terrace, Alton.
Carpenter George Robert Gilbert (1867-1930) was the son of village policeman Robert Gilbert. They lived in the double house, now Gilbert's Cottage and The Haunt.
George Gilbert, a rather dapper character, had known the old rector since he began work as the garden boy at the age of 12. He joined the Massey household when his father was posted elsewhere. He was to work for him for the next forty years. Although he was first employed as a carpenter, in later life is thought to have acted as Massey's agent collecting rent.
It was Gilbert who had to destroy Massey's clothes after his death and look after his dog.
The building was never finished during Massey's lifetime and lay boarded up for years after his death in 1919.
No one can be sure why he built the folly, although there are various versions of the story existing in village folklore.
One suggests that Massey believed local towns would spread across the Hampshire countryside, Farringdon would be in the centre of this new urban sprawl and the Folly would become the Town Hall of this new city. If this is true, perhaps Massey had an inkling of the number of houses that would be built in the village after his demise.
Another version of the story attributes the unusual design of the building to Massey's desire to impress a local widow who had returned from India, suggesting the design was Massey's interpretation of Indian architecture, erected to both impress the good lady and remind her of her days in the Raj.
In an interview with a reporter from the Alton Gazette the Rev Massey, was asked what use the building might be put to, he replied to the effect " It will be a tea room with a red globe on the Tower that will turn green when the tea is brewed" which suggests that he had little regard for the press and a sense of humour.
Harry "Titch" Norgate (now deceased) was a young lad when Massey was still alive and used to recount how the lads pushed the Rector into the ditch on more than one occasion and that Massey responded by throwing pennies at them. Probably not the wisest action under the circumstances but perhaps this tale reveals more about some of the youngsters at this time than Massey himself.
The Rectors eccentric behaviour, he often used to preach behind a screen so that his dwindling congregation could not see him and would never allow himself to be photographed, was tolerated by his fellow villagers, most of whom regarded him as a relatively harmless nut case.
Some years after his death, The Hall gained a new lease of life when the executors of his will donated the building to be used as the new school and village hall after the, old school in the Street, was condemned.
The whole village joined together enthusiastically staging fetes, concerts, whist drives, dances and jumble sales to raise the £1,800, a considerable sum in those days, required to refurbish the building.
It opened in July 1925. Farringdon Men's Club met there every night from October 1927 to 1946 except in the summer when the billiard room was open on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
Membership cost 3d a week and the men were expected to abide by certain rules, gambling was strictly forbidden, members were to 'refrain from using obscene language' on the club premises and there was to be 'no partaking of intoxicating liquor' at the club.
Fees helped pay the caretakers wages of 2/- a week and a farthing paid for daily newspapers.
Records show that the billiard table was recovered and recushioned in 1928 for the princely sum of £12 and a new set of balls and cues bought for 12/-.
A second hand table was bought the following year for £20.
Pauline Hoare was headmistress of the school for many years and taught more than one generation of village children until her retirement, a couple of years before the the village school closed in 1987. The School end of the building was sold to RIBA, who then resold the building and relocated towards the end of the last century. For a considerable time,this part of the building remained empty and neglected.
In January 2007 the Village Hall Management Committee had to close the Village Hall when it became apparent that ther were serious structural problems in the roof. After temporary repairs were completed the Hall reopened
In the mean time the First Friends Nursery , after a brief exile in Alton, returned to the privately owned part of the building that once housed the Village School. After some frantic work to remedy years of neglect Karen and her team moved back into the Folly in June 2007 and remained there for some years.The Nursery was put up for sale as a going concern but with the future availability of the Folly in some doubt the First Friends closed and that part of the Folly has been unoccupied.
The Village Hall was still the focal point of social life in Farringdon, the venue for the evening meetings of the local Ki Akaido club, Country Dancing and various other village activities.
It was the venue for the Horticultural Society Shows and regularly used for parties and various other private and village events in Farringdon.
Local dramatic activities have continued to pack the Folly, the Original Farringdon Follies Music Hall productions at the turn of the century (2000 not 1900!)inspired the formation of the Fabulous Farringdon Follies company who have produced three very successful show over the years, a Farringdon Version of Cinderella in 2009 and two Christmas Cabaret productions which also played to full houses.
Plans to save and refurbish the Folly were being cordinated by the Massey's Folly Preservation Trust and the Farringdon Village Hall Committtee, but in 2012 the Management of the Village Hall and that part still managed by the Village Hall Trust was passed to the Farringdon Parish Council.
At a public meeting held on February 26th 2014, the decision to put Massey's Folly up for sale was put to the vote and the overwhelming majority of those present (39) voted to proceed with the sale, there was one vote against and one abstention.
After protracted negotiations between the interested parties Massey's Folly has been sold for development and was handed over to the new owners in July 2015
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