September 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Gislingham Village Hall and there will be a special celebration on Saturday 12 September to mark the occasion. So this month it seems timely to write about Phillip Watson the “project manager” for the building of the Village Hall, and his son, John Watson.
Phillip Watson and his family moved to Gislingham in the winter 1946 to The Grove on Finningham Rd where his son, John Watson and his wife Margaret still live. Phillip worked for Lloyds Bank initially in Diss and then in Stowmarket. When the family first moved in to The Grove, the large plot of land on which it sat was not the beautiful garden it is now but was used as a small holding to supplement food as rationing was still in force. As well as growing vegetables and fruit, the family kept pigs and chickens so they never went hungry. The house itself was very basic with no mains electricity. Power for electric lighting was provided by a single cylinder engine at the side of the house. During WWII there was no village hall in Gislingham and the old school was used for dances to raise money for the war effort. Following the war, dances continued to be held but to raise funds for a village hall. The land for the Hall was provided by John, the 7th Lord Henniker, but all the work was undertaken by volunteer local labour and people can still remember men coming off the fields at the end of the day and setting-to digging foundations, laying concrete etc to build the Hall. The whole project, including fundraising, plans and work schedule was coordinated and organized by Phillip Watson. As a mark of gratitude, the Parish Council presented Phillip with an engraved silver bowl. Later he returned the bowl to the Parish Council with a request that it be awarded annually to any person in the village that had voluntarily contributed to Gislingham Village life.
That request has been honoured, the present joint holders of the bowl being William & Jean Kemp.
Phillip’s son John has inherited his father’s love of engineering and his grandmother’s love of gardening. He and his wife took over The Grove in 1975 and had to strip it back to basics in order to bring it into the second half of the 20th century. That project took them until 1985. At the same time, John was head of the Design and Technology Department at Diss High School. As one of his hobbies John utilised his engineering skills in building an AC Cobra sports car from scratch. However, the most visible of John and Margaret’s spare-time labours is their magnificent garden. Stretching over more than two acres it is has beautiful areas of tranquillity in small sitting areas and the exuberance of spectacular flowers in well stocked borders and beds. The family tradition of growing fresh produce has also been retained with a very productive vegetable and fruit plot. Perhaps the jewel in the crown is the large pond that they created in 2000. The site had been just a hole in the ground where clay had been dug out to make bricks to build the house. It had then been used as a horse-pit for bathing horses but now it is a superb self-sustaining pond; a home for many fish, water-fowl and spectacular water- lilies. The garden is so stunning that for 3 years it was open in support of the Red Cross and it has also been open for Gislingham Open Garden days.
John also followed in his father’s footsteps by contributing to the community when he chaired something called the Self-Help Entertainment and Friendship (SHEAF) organization which involved the villages of Gislingham, Mellis and the Thornhams and organized joint sports days, dances and other joint events.
All-in-all Gislingham owes a lot to the Watson family. Our village would not be the same without the Village Hall and all the activities it hosts from Vareity Club shows to Toddler Groups, Parish Council meetings to the WI, to name just a few. It is right and proper that the Watson name is commemorated through the presentation of the Watson Bowl every year.