Sir David Salomons’ Two Theatres

Last weekend we spent the early afternoon walking in the grounds of Salomons Estate, to investigate any similarities between the Science Theatre and our beloved Royal Victoria Hall.

Salomons Estate houses an excellent museum which records the lives of the three David Salomons who made Broomhill their home in the 19th and early 20th Century.

40613Over the last few years the house and grounds have undergone extensive restoration and although institutional elements from its former life as an outpost for Christ Church Canterbury and as a nurses training college – still remain, the grounds are being remodelled, the water tower has been restored and plans are afoot for a new, partly subterranean luxury hotel which will occupy the space once given to a large greenhouse in the produce garden.

Sir David Lionel Salomons, the second of the three Davids as well as being an early advocate for the motorcar (and one of the  first two British owners of a car in 1894) was a scientist, engineer, writer, photographer, architect, inventor and philanthropist.

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Facial hair that would make any hipster weep.

Salomons gave 3000 of the £5000 to build Southborough’s Royal Victoria Hall,  wanting to build a venue “exclusively for purposes of amusement…whether it be stage plays, tableaux vivants, amateur theatricals, concerts, bazaars, dances or other entertainments or meetings, political or otherwise”.

In an article taken from the Courier on 26th October, 1898, you can see the builders who tendered for the contract to erect the theatre. Next to the article is a photograph of Sir David proudly standing  in front of the hall published 29th October, 1909.

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Four years earlier, in 1896, Salomon had built his own ‘Science Theatre’ which at the time was said to be the largest private theatre in the country. The science theatre is now  fully restored and Grade 2 listed although all the original scientific apparatus was removed in 1929 and donated to Cambridge University. The Theatres Trust website describes the theatre thus:

It was a flat-floored room, originally benched, with a gallery supported on columns on three sides. Rectangular-arched proscenium and ante-proscenium, both higher than wide. For the demonstration of scientific effects and theatrical illusions, it had projectors, painted scenery and electrical apparatus for producing the effects of thunder and lightning.

It produced the effects of thunder and lightning! In 1896! I wish I could go back in time when I read about such amazing things!

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Above each column is a hand painted shield bearing the name of a notable scientist.

I was particularly keen to see examples of ironwork here as it would have been similar to the ironwork on the original façade of the RVH. The spiral staircases backstage were most likely manufactured by the Saracen Foundry, Glasgow, who also made the ornamental ironwork on the original RVH frontage.

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Salomons’ Science Theatre and the Royal Victoria Hall share features such as varnished pitch pine, iron work columns and balcony. The traditional Victorian colours of deep oxide red and dark bronze green have been repainted here (although the RVH interior is now painted in garish pillar box red and a flock wallpaper that someone thought was the height of sophistication in 1976).

Upstairs had some interesting early electrical equipment and a very early rise and fall lamp that he had designed and patented (and would be very fashionable today).

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Back down on ground level exists some original Victorian wallpaper preserved behind clear Perspex.

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The museum is small (just two rooms) but packed full of interesting artworks, documents, objects and original furniture, fittings and wallpaper.

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Before entering the inner room with the beautiful domed light well, you notice the elaborate designs above the entrance.

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Walking around the museum and the Science Theatre made me think just how amazing the Royal Victoria Hall could be with a little investment. The RVH was recently photographed to support an application for listing as a Local Heritage Asset, here are some of the highlights. See if you think there are any similarities…

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If you are keen to view more images from the Royal Victoria Hall, Southborough News features them here.

So as we wait to hear if Tunbridge Wells Planning will agree to designate the RVH as a Local Heritage Asset, fingers crossed; it will go some way to convincing the local powers- that-be to think twice about demolishing Sir David’s gift to the people of Southborough.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/southborough-deserves-better-reject-the-hub-plans

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