‘End of an era’ – community says goodbye to ‘iconic’ Martlets Hall

Della Ferrari with friends attending a charity ball at Martlets Hall in 2005
Della Ferrari with friends attending a charity ball at Martlets Hall in 2005

Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill was opened by the Rt Hon The Lord Goodman on Saturday, October 28, 1972.

He had noticed the type of hall was ‘missing’ from the town and said it would be able to ‘serve the community in many important ways’.

Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill closed on June 30. Picture: Derek Martin Photography

Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill closed on June 30. Picture: Derek Martin Photography

As chairman of the Arts Council at the time, he had previously opened the Mid-Sussex Arts Festival, which was held in the town.

And it was not just building a hall that was important – the hall ‘manifested the desire of people to live as a civilised community should live’, he said at the time.

Since it opened in 1972, Martlets Hall saw thousands perform on its stage.

It was also the venue for the annual pantomimes put on by Burgess Hill Theatre Club.

It is a shame to see places I know from growing up but it is well needed – the town has been dead for too long.

Jason Pace

But all this came to an end on Saturday, June 30, when it closed its doors to the public, to allow for the redevelopment of the town centre.

Wilbury Jam performed at the hall on Friday, June 29, the last ever performance at the hall. The band had performed there for 40 years.

They got together to play through some songs in the spring of 1976 but it was not until they hit upon a song about the peculiar habits of birds in Tennessee that something clicked.

More songs followed and on the October 1, 1977, they played their first gig – a harvest supper at Wivelsfield Church.

Graphic of Burgess Hill community arts venue plans. Picture: BHTC SUS-180625-130252001

Graphic of Burgess Hill community arts venue plans. Picture: BHTC SUS-180625-130252001

Success followed and the band started playing to packed audiences from an increasingly wider area.

In addition to Wilbury Jam concerts, the Burgess Hill Lions organised 30 dances, six quizzes, and more than 100 concerts for the elderly at Martlets Hall.

Member Alan Ranger told the Middy: “Well, it is finally the end of an era – Martlets Hall is going to be demolished to make way for a ten-screen cinema, a hotel, lots of flats and some shops.

“Over the years the members of Burgess Hill District Lions Club have made good use of the hall for the benefit of the community.

The Drusilla Duffill Theatre School (DDTS) made its last appearance at the hall on Sunday, June 24

The Drusilla Duffill Theatre School (DDTS) made its last appearance at the hall on Sunday, June 24

“It is estimated that these fundraising events have raised in excess of £60,000 for local charitable causes.”

Residents and groups have shared their memories of the historic hall.

Resident Della Ferrari told the Middy: “I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. My friends wanted to do something to cheer me up. Being a big F1 fan they decided to fundraise to send me to the Italian Grand Prix.

“A charity ball, named the Pit Pass Project, was hosted at Martlets Hall and a fabulous night was had by all – thanks mainly to the support of the then manager, Michael McGinley.

“If he’s still around, please pass on my regards. He was very kind to us all.”

The Drusilla Duffill Theatre School (DDTS) made its last appearance at the hall on Sunday, June 24.

Wilbury Jam performed at Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill for 40 years

Wilbury Jam performed at Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill for 40 years

It had its end of year showcase, prizes and graduation. Special guest Virginia Lewis Jones, Dame Vera Lynn’s daughter, was there to adjudicate dancers and present the awards.

The dance school performed at Martlets Hall since it first opened.

Principal Vikki Harris told the Middy: “DDTS has not been so successful for so long for over 63 years for no reason.

“We are committed and dedicated to providing high quality teaching and safe dance technique nurturing the children for a bright future in whatever they do.

“It’s not just about being on the stage, it’s the technical lighting experience and backstage careers that have been fostered by the opportunity to work at The Martlets.”

Residents responded to the closure on the Middy’s Facebook page. Many also shared their memories from over the years.

Rosemary Simpson said she took her children to see the ‘excellent pantos put on by Burgess Hill Theatre Club’.

“We went every year for a number of years when they were young,” she said.

“There were also some very good gigs by 60s and 70s artists, including Steve Harley, and Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent.”

Bryony Sinclair taught a Clubbercise class at the hall every week for three years. She said it was ‘so sad to see such a great venue go’.

Alex Maskell also said it was ‘so sad’, describing it as ‘such a fab venue’.

Jason Pace said Burgess Hill ‘needed a revamp’ and added: “It is a shame to see places I know from growing up but it is well needed – the town has been dead for too long.”

Srini Dokku also said it was ‘good things were finally moving’.

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