Unseen demise of the Royal Victoria Hall

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Where We Live?

This week was the last week to support or object the proposed plans for our town centre in Southborough, the so-called ‘Hub’ (I just can’t bring myself to use the word).

The planning application involves the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and the erection of unsightly, unsympathetic building clad in polycarbonate. The campaign to save the hall was given an unexpected boost this week with support from renowned architect, Ptolemy Dean:

‘I think it is a shame that the replacement scheme is so poor when something more thoughtful and careful might have been created that incorporated the existing building, which would have still satisfied the council’s brief, but enabled something of the old character to survive.’

It was so pleasing that it made front page news locally, you can read the whole article here.

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After a few late nights this week writing our planning objections and then reading through over the other comments on the planning portal, we decided we needed to get out and get some fresh air.  Perfect weather for a walk into Tunbridge Wells, passing the beloved hall on the way.

My previous post here has more detail about the campaign to save the hall and Southborough News has excellent and up to date coverage of the development.

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This is the old Fire Station, parallel to the Council Offices, currently used as a groundsman store. Built with local High Brooms brick. This could be a beautiful building for a market, artist studio….

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St John’s church were having a ‘Party on the Green’. 

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We had been in Amadeus Antiques a few times but in the last year or two it seems to always be closed. The building’s exterior remains largely unaltered, it has beautiful ironwork, a generous balcony to the front and side and all original windows.

Sadly the side of one front bay window is slowly rotting away and the ledge is now detached from the window, leaving a wide gap. This is a property on my wish list! Oddly the  four Regency period shops are listed buildings. This one isn’t – I can’t think why.

Alastair Hendy are you looking for a project in Tunbridge Wells?

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Views from Mount Ephraim…

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The old Homeopathic Hospital.

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Pretty hand painted signage from the old Rose Hill school site on London Road – almost gone.

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Lovely little garden/homeware shop, Le Petit Jardin, near the Pantiles. It boasts the largest sash window in Tunbridge Wells.

 

Arriving back home after the walk, I looked again at an old postcard and a photograph of the Royal Victoria Hall taken almost one hundred years ago. What happens when we have destroyed everything that gives our sense of place? When a town becomes a commuter dormitory and a quick fix housing quota?  Ian Nairn, the melancholic Architectural Review writer, was eerily prophetic when in 1955 he railed against substandard town planners and anonymous buildings:

“The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns … Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.”

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We are so fortunate to live in a town and borough with such a rich architectural heritage, writing in Country Life in 2010, Ptolemy Dean hits the nail on the head:

‘By placing no value on its civic buildings and what they represent, the authority is about to perpetrate an attack on the very civilization of the town, which these public buildings, for all their stuffiness, serve to uphold admirably. If there can be any doubt about the extent of local official ignorance of the true values of urban living, then this was proved six months ago, when road signs were introduced onto the main routes into the town that proclaim: ‘Love where you live.’ One is tempted to add: ‘…before your elected local authority entirely destroys it.’

 

Six years on – are the powers that be,  ready to listen?