The Highbridge Market House Co. Ltd. paid for the original Town Hall erected in 1885 alongside the Town Square. It had a seating capacity of 600. The hall was entered from the Town Square, steps leading to the upper floor, part of which was used for a number of years as Council Offices for the Highbridge Urban District. It is understood that the Somerset County Council held its first meeting in here in 1894. The main hall on this floor had a stage and a small kitchen.
A rear exit and stairs went down into Bank Street where on its corner, for many years was the local Police Station, which opened for business in 1887, this comprised the usual offices plus a cell for those who had caused a misdemeanour. When the station closed is not known but the police house in Church Street opposite the War Memorial replaced it. The Works Department of Highbridge Urban District Council was in Bank Street until the amalgamation of the Highbridge and Burnham Council took place in 1933.
Within the Town Hall area was an open quadrangle, selling poultry and dairy produce (eggs, butter etc.) these were held in conjunction with the larger open market held on the square. Unfortunately the market ceased in the early 20th Century when the shopping habits changed. The St. John Ambulance Division, which was registered in 1932, met in the Council Chambers of the Town Hall and their ambulance used a garage beneath the building. Unfortunately this facility disappeared when the Town Hall was demolished in 1984. During World War II a voluntary night ambulance, which supplemented the County Service also kept in the building.
Highbridge Town Hall and the Town Square, for approximately one hundred years, was the centre for all local and national celebrations. If it was important to Highbridge – parades, social or political gathering, they happened on the square or in the hall. Businesses held their annual dinners, clubs held their dances and socials, carnivals their concerts, awards ceremonies and dances and the Chrysanthemum Society its annual show. The Town Hall was home to Boxing Club contests, Badminton Club matches, a weekly baby and toddler group, plus countless private parties and was the original venue for the Highbridge Festival of Arts. As time went by the hall was used less and less, it lacked facilities for the disabled, the catering area needed modernisation and finally it emerged that the roof required replacement.
Many heated meetings were held in the Hall during 1982/83 with angry residents and council officers voicing their opposition to the District Council’s decision to demolish the old Victorian Hall. It was all to no avail because; in 1984 the Sedgemoor District Council demolished the building. There followed, over the next two years many public meetings; these were called to discuss what action the people of Highbridge could take to build a new ‘heart’ and, over the ten years, 1984 to 1994 the town moved from “Town Hall to Community Hall.”
Between 1984 and 1986 a public meeting held at the King Alfred School formed a Steering Committee; this comprised local residents and traders. The Executive Chairman owned a Post Office and was a Town Councillor, the Secretary was a resident who had recently graduated, (also being a Town Councillor), a Bank Manager looked after finance and a local solicitor tacked the legalities (free-gratis). There was also an architect and District Councillors in this determined highly active and first class group. Because they did not have a hall in which to meet the group met in a variety of places, a Hairdresser in Market Street was one such venue when the committee needed to sit themselves amongst the driers and salon furniture.
There followed a constant battle to keep the building site clear of litter; every opportunity was also taken to organise Fetes, Jumble Sales, Boot, Garage and House Clearance Sales, the site also being used, on occasions, to publicise their efforts to raise funds and keep the subject firmly in the publics’ mind. Fetes were held on the Towns’ Recreation Ground and no matter the weather, should it be wet, dry or windy the band of willing and hardy workers turned out to meet the challenge. During this time there were several boosts to the funds; a sum of £25,000 was discovered by the Secretary, following information received, and after a bit of research, it was found that the New Community Hall (as it was known) fitted the criteria to release the bounty, a stroke of luck. Another boost was the Secretary becoming Mayor of the two towns and the Mayor’s Supper was held at Salvo’s, this was well subscribed and resulted in more money becoming available for the hall funds.
On 8th June 1986 a Public Meeting at King Alfred School adopted a Constitution for the Highbridge Centre Community Association.
In January 1988 building commenced and Committee Meetings were held at Ilex House, the home of the chairman, it had become an extended committee. Most of the original members were still there, architects, clerk of works and District Councillors, all attended the meetings, and Somerset Community Council Officers who also helped toward the completion of the ground floor later supplemented these. A Grand Autumn Fayre in 1994 marked the Official Opening by Sedgemoor District Councillor Mrs L Cartwright.
The Community Hall as seen today, 2004, has a main hall, frequently used for dances, exhibitions and similar functions, plus a newly completed modern kitchen downstairs; there are two stairways to a first floor suite of meeting rooms (one with kitchen facilities), and of course the usual toilets on both floors. Highbridge now has its Hall back again and, when the title became ‘The Highbridge Community Hall Trust’ it gained a Government Community Initiative Grant, an achievement for which the people of Highbridge can be justly proud.