According to various reputable sources, the Guild of the Holy Trinity was responsible for the foundation of the Guildhall circa 1470. As well as acting as a school room, the original hall on the upper floor would have been used for feasts to celebrate the many saints' days.
After the Reformation, a law was passed abolishing Guilds and the Guildhall fell into disrepair. It was bought by John Mildmay (the house on Church Hill is named after him) but it is not clear what he used the building for.
Robert Kempe, of Spains Hall, bought the Guildhall in the 1620s and paid for it to be repaired and, possibly, extended. In 1630, he sold it to various village members for £50. The deeds are still in existence (click the image, right) and show a list of names, many recognised in Finchingfield today, who contributed. The Guildhall has remained in village ownership ever since.
The document of 1630 makes it clear that the Guildhall was to be used as a school or almshouses. Further study of the records reveals that a school was established with Robert Kempe endowing land to support it. This bequest exists today, with land known as Spains Fields, rented to the current owner of Spains Hall, providing an income, 75% of which goes to the Sir Robert Kempe Education Foundation. This charity supports local scholars and students.
It was not until 1658 that almshouses are recorded in the Guildhall. Fragments of a document from this time exist and it is not clear what happened to the Guildhall between 1630 and 1658. The Civil War cannot have left Finchingfield unscathed: the Kempe family were ardent Royalists and Catholic; Cromwell's home in Huntingdon is a short distance away; Stephen Marshall, Cromwell's favourite preacher, was the incumbent for Finchingfield.
Throughout the centuries the Guildhall continued to be used by the village for a variety of functions. Civic administration, poor relief and education seem to have been constants.
The school continued until the advent of state education and by the early part of the 20th century the Guildhall was, once again, falling into disuse and disrepair. In 1907 there was only one occupant in the almshouses and early photographs display a building with patches of render falling off and a general air of decay.
Moves were made in 1938 to put matters to rights. The vicar at that time wrote to the Charity Commission and a new scheme was devised. This unified a number of small charities, based around the Guildhall, naming them collectively, The United Charities of Finchingfield. The Guildhall was vested with the Official Custodian and held in trust for the village of Finchingfield. This is so today.
Outbreak of World War II interrupted the schemes to overhaul the Guildhall and it was not until the1950s that local people were able to begin work on repairs.
By 1954 a museum and library had been created on the ground floor and the 'School Room' became the 'Parish Room'. It was not until 1959 that the first residents moved into the almshouses. For the first time ever, two almshouses were located on the upper floor. Two remained on the lower floor.
Sadly, much of the repair work in the 50s was carried out using modern materials. Today we know how much harm the cement render and concrete flooring is doing to the ancient timber frame. The original hipped roof has been replaced with a pitched one and very few original features are visible today.
This project aims to strip out the harmful materials and to restore the original guildhall on the upper floor. The long history of using the building for educational purposes will continue with provision of a greatly improved library and museum facility.
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Copyright © Finchingfield Guildhall Trust 2012