Almost exactly one year ago, the Royal Victoria Hall was mid demolition.
In December 2016, with plans to progress the Southborough Hub project further, councillors voted for Southborough Town Council to forward fund Kent County Council £100,000 to demolish the beloved RVH earlier than planned. What was the rush?
Anyone could have predicted that building works rarely run on time and the centre of Southborough would be reduced to a mini version of the Tunbridge Wells cinema site itself blighted with years of inaction. It seemed like a ploy to get rid of the one building that caused such a strong response in the town; there would be no more grief from the public when it was raised to the ground, no going back.
The demolition was eeked out over weeks. As the roof and ceiling were removed the Victorian plasterwork and velvet curtains were exposed to the elements.
As a condition of its status as a heritage asset the hall had previously been photographed. Though I doubt it was documented throughout the demolition process. I was fortunate enough to record the remains of the site before it finally bit the dust. On a bright April morning the grand interior looked dramatic against the blue sky with the sunlight pouring in. Its skeletal structure a testament to its robust Victorian construction.
It’s all gone very quiet on Hub front since and the remains of the RVH now stand as a pile of brick rubble. Its replacement, the once promised ‘state of the art theatre’ now looks like it will be ‘value-engineered’ down to a small hall with whatever Southborough Town Council can scrape together to kit it out. So far it looks as if they have over promised and under delivered.
In November 2017 Southborough Town Council agreed to contribute further £500,000 to the project. No one seems willing to say when the project will be completed and no one will agree to publish a timeline. At the same time Southborough’s High Street has reached its nadir – with 137 London Road the epicentre of graffiti tags and ply board hoardings.
Tomorrow night is the Annual Meeting of Southborough Town Council at Southborough School, starting at 7pm. Here is your chance to ask questions or share your comments. I look forward to hearing something about how the Hub site is progressing.
For the Project Board it will be an ideal opportunity to share with residents the updated plans for the site, talk us through the changes and present the architect’s latest visuals.
Back in 1900, on the 27th January and the opening night of the Royal Victoria Hall, The Courier commended Southborough on its brand new theatre,
“The whole of the work has been admirably carried out, and the building should be one of great public usefulness.”
I do hope for Southborough’s sake that our own Hub enjoys a similarly impressive legacy.