For all her 'firsts' Juanita took most pride in acquisition of Allhallows

PUBLISHED: 16:06 02 September 2009 | UPDATED: 00:05 16 June 2010

Juanita Maxwell Phillips at the opening of Allhallows Playing Field, Honiton, 70 years ago.

Juanita Maxwell Phillips at the opening of Allhallows Playing Field, Honiton, 70 years ago.

Copyright Archant Ltd

As World War Two broke out, a short ceremony was taking place in Honiton to hand over Allhallows Playing Field to the people of the town.

As World War Two broke out, a short ceremony was taking place in Honiton to hand over Allhallows Playing Field to the people of the town.

A plaque was erected to mark that occasion.

It is still there today and records the efforts of Alderman Juanita Maxwell Phillips "whose unabounded enthusiasm and personal influence assisted in the purchase of these playing fields... for the benefit of the inhabitants".

As mayor, Juanita had campaigned for almost two years to obtain the field from the former Allhallows School, one of the most revered public schools in England, which moved to Rousdon.

The school sold the field and its pavilions for £3,500.

In the 1930s, Honiton Borough Council simply didn't have that sort of money.

Enter the formidable Juanita, who supported a funding application to the Government and the then new National Fitness Council. Honiton was one of the first councils to take advantage of such grants.

Fears abounded that the field would be sold for housing - unless it fell into public ownership. Even so, strong doubts about its acquisition were voiced by councillors, local businesses and ratepayers.

They feared the cost to the public purse.

On March 29 in 1938, Juanita told a packed public meeting: "Other countries have far outstripped us in recreational provision.

"It is time we realised our responsibilities and, as a town, try to do something to see that the young people of the future have every facility and advantage for keeping healthy and fit.

"Personally, the Allhallows Playing Fields have been a tremendous goal. I hope you are going to exercise your right, as ratepayers of Honiton, and instruct the council to do what you want them to do and that will be to acquire the playing fields for Honiton."

Tony Simpson, secretary of Honiton Senior Council, who has been researching Juanita's life, said: "Even today, there are locals who think her role was critical; some even think she put up her personal money.

"The burden of leadership certainly fell on her as Lady Mayor. But, after six terms of office, she was up to it.

"The public meeting was crucial, since it agreed to back the buy out plan.

"The die was cast and, 18 months later, the private Allhallows field became public property."

A week after that crucial public meeting, Juanita chaired a rousing meeting at The Dolphin Hotel with plans to open up the field for public games.

She said: "All must rally round to make it a success."

At the official handover ceremony in 1939, Mr L K Elmhurst, of the National Fitness Council, which contributed towards the purchase cost, cut the tape with Juanita. She said: "I am today realising one of my dearest dreams; that Honiton should have its own playing fields, which will last for many generations and be of inestimable value, not only for the young people who will participate in the games, but the older generation who will come to watch them."

Mr Elmhurst replied: "Had not some of your citizens worked very hard indeed, we should see this lovely turf dug up for the building of houses."

Thus began Juanita's (successful) fight to overturn a ban on Sunday games.

For all her achievements, as a suffragette, 11 times Mayor of Honiton and the first woman member of Devon County Council, Juanita Maxwell Phillips' most treasured the role she had to play in giving Honiton its green heart.

Find out more about the remarkable life of Juanita Maxwell Phillips tomorrow (Thursday, September 3) at Meadow View Chapel, in King Street. A coffee morning, talk and exhibition will be held from 10.30am.

A second talk will be held a week later, on September 10.

From September 5 to 10 the Celebrating Juanita exhibition will be staged at Honiton Senior Citizens' Centre.

After September 10, it will move to Honiton Library.


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