Six foundation stones were laid on 11 September 1886 for the George Williams Memorial Hall, also known as the old YMCA building. It was the home of the Young Men's Christian Association in Bridgwater, providing a place for activity and accommodation. The stones were laid by local dignitaries, S.J. Stanley M.P.; Elbert Monro, former president of the New York YMCA; J. Storrs Fry, president of the Western District YMCA; Alderman A Peace, Mayor of Bridgwater; Alderman F. J. Thompson, and finally by William Hurman, president of the town's Young Men's Christian Association, who later become mayor in 1888. He was presented a silver trowel on the occasion, which can now be seen in the Blake Museum. The ornate building, described as being executed in the classical style 'freely treated', was designed by Messrs W. G. Havershood and Fawckner of London, Newport and Cardiff, and built by local builders under H. W Pollard. In all the building cost £3600.
The building was dedicated to the memory of Sir George Williams, the founder of the YMCA. Williams had served as an apprentice draper in Bridgwater during his youth, before moving to London in 1841 and founding the association in 1844. A branch was established in Bridgwater in 1868, which was initially located on the Cornhill. Hurman, who laid one of the foundation stones in Bridgwater, was a draper and connected with William's time in the town. He had been one of the leaders of the effort to build the hall, which had first been mooted in 1884.
The building was completed a little over a year after the foundation stone was laid, opening on 16 October 1887. The mayor of Bridgwater, Alfred Peace, led a procession from the town hall to the new hall, where they were met by Hurman. He handed a golden key to Mr Creese of Teddington, honourary secretary of the first ever meeting of the YMCA in 1844. He opened the hall, then the dignitaries went into the lecture hall, where a hymn was sung, a prayer given, and a short speech made by Creese. Then George Williams himself gave a speech, remembering his time in Bridgwater.
The hall was built on the location of the old Globe Hotel, which had been destroyed by fire in 1875, the ruins of which had standing derelict for a number of years. The frontage on Eastover extended to 45 feet, with almost double that, 83 feet on Salmon Parade. It was built from Bridgwater brick, with yellow Ham stone dressings and white brick in the piers. The ground floor contained a reading room, library, the office of the secretary, a 130-seat meeting and lecture room, a junior room and gymnasium. Upstairs was a 460-seat lecture room, along with a parlour and a number of class rooms.
The YMCA was forced to move out of the building as it was too costly for their means, so they moved to a new site by the canal, near St. Matthew's field. The much-loved building was demolished in 1968. The destruction of this building was one of the greatest losses to the town in the twentieth century.
Sources Bristol Mercury, 7 October 1887
Squibbs,P.,Squibbs' History of Bridgwater (1982)
Lawrence and Lawrence, A History of Bridgwater (2005)
Fitzhugh, R., Bridgwater and the River Parrett (1993)