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.

HipstamaticPhoto-513781579_240313

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781542_118496

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781584_100600

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781589_803913

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781638_125345

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781629_363705

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781553_897267

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781645_314912

 

HipstamaticPhoto-513781562_032211

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colin De’Ath-Traditional Bespoke Tailor

I had my first encounter with Mr Colin De’Ath a few years ago when I took along a much-loved vintage dress  which had developed a hole near the waistband, to see if it was worth mending. Slightly embarrassed, I said ‘I know it’s just a polyester dress…but I really love it’ to which he replied ‘No Madam, not at all. It is of the finest silk!’.

At that point, I thought, this man knows how to treat a lady! (and all of his customers so it seems!)

img_8271

Fast forward three years later and it’s the morning of my wedding. My sister, to be my maid of honour, tried on her dress for the first time as she had flown in from Australia for the wedding. When she went to take it off before her hair appointment, the zip broke. Straight away, I sent her to see Colin and in a huge stroke of luck, they had one long, white zip left. Colin and his colleague fixed the zip while my sister had her hair done, then returned to the tailors and she was stitched into the dress. Saved!

dip1IMG_8318.jpg

I had heard Colin was soon to retire and wanted to know more about the man behind the immaculate shopfront of the Traditional Bespoke Tailors. Anyone who passes through Southborough would notice the eye catching window displays and flower baskets on the footpath setting the tone of the High Street.

Colin recounted about how he had got in to tailoring ‘I was one of these silly people never went to school, used to skip school quite a bit…I lived in Essex, we used to go over the fields and far away and have a nice day out rather than school. I had a five miles cycle ride so it was easier to skip school. Fortunately for me my mother had two brothers who were in tailoring, there was no question of careers advice or anything like that. It was ‘On Monday you have an interview at Saville Row’. I was 15 and I just went up there and signed up as an apprentice, I didn’t know any different, it seemed to have worked, I haven’t looked back at all’.

img_8275img_8289

Colin specialised as a coat maker, but after years of study at the London College of Fashion he broadened his skills to include cutting and fitting of trousers, waistcoats and jackets. When he got fed up with commuting from Essex to London, he moved to Kent and got a job working as a tailor and workshop manager in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells.

Up until recently Tunbridge Wells was able to support eight separate tailors in the town, now Colin De’Ath is the only one left.

Before Colin’s arrival the shop was already an established tailoring business that had moved out from Tunbridge Wells when the rates and rent became unaffordable ‘I didn’t know the man but I knew of him, I came in and told him how wonderful I was and he couldn’t do without me, and I ended up buying the shop. That was in February, 1990′.

Prior to the existing tailoring business at the site it was sweet shop, A. Card Confectioners. Colin told me there had been a fire at the shop and when it was taken over by the tailor it needed a lot of work, so much so that only half of the original floor underneath exists. The woman in the photograph remains unidentified, but if you know anything about her, I’d love to know!

116-london-road116-london-road2scisordip

Benefiting from the affluent surrounding areas like Sevenoaks, East Grinstead, Canterbury and Brighton, Colin has had his busiest year yet, confiding ‘you’d be amazed what people spend…Some customers have their whole wardrobe made here’.

wshopstitchdipimg_8320tailorbookimg_8340workshiorion

I was interested to hear if he had a fashion icon or a particular style he aligns his personal look to? ‘I’m West End. I’m traditional. End of story. It’s as simple as that. I see nothing wrong with it, I have built my business on it. You can say it’s old fashioned if you want to, but there is nothing wrong with it. You see even the white shirt and the black tie it looks really smart, you could go anywhere in that’.

He shares my disdain for the current fashion trend of jeans, trainers and a jacket. ‘You see the youngsters of today, a young man, he’s got trainers, jeans and a t-shirt and as far as he is concerned he is dressed. End of story. Don’t get me on my high horse. My biggest gripe is Saturday night television when they have a star or celeb on and he walks on stage in a nice jacket and a pair of jeans. I could scream!’

This leads me to probe him if he ever pops out to the corner shop on a weekend in comfortable tracksuit. Unsurprisingly – he doesn’t. Tracksuits have no place in the De’Ath wardrobe and has only recently softened his stance on wearing jeans. ‘I usually wear cotton trousers rather than jeans, I haven’t got a pair of trainers. I don’t wear trainers, I wear nice soft suede shoes…If I go out with friends, they know I invariably dress up, clean my shoes, I always put cufflinks in’.

img_8283

Colin proudly showed me a photograph of his son who has continued in the family line of business and is currently working in Saville Row for Dege and Skinner. To Colin’s disbelief, he tells me he has seen him ‘come out of work without a tie which I was horrified!…He dresses down, tight jeans, incredible…terrible…awful!’ Everything is said with his lovely, kind, dry sense of humour.

What is next for Colin De’Ath? Definitely a break. Holidays, possibly a cruise down the Panama Canal. Asked what attire would he chose for the holiday? “I will be definitely sporting some tailored shorts!”. I would expect nothing less. End of story.

atnight

Colin De’ Ath Bespoke Tailors, Hardman & Hemming
116 London Road,
Southborough,
Royal Tunbridge Wells,
Kent
TN4 0PN Telephone: +44 (0)1892 526 051

http://www.bespoke-tailors.co.uk/

http://hardmanandhemming.co.uk/

All text and photographs are copyright by Castles on the Ground, 2016.

Sad to say goodbye

Nick purchased the house in November, 2007. It had most of its original features still intact which ticked all the boxes.

Here are some images of the house that Nick took when he was waiting to hear if his offer had been accepted. The previous owner had lived there for most of her life, the house having been last modernised sometime in the 1950’s, most evident in the pastel pink and blue kitchen and bathroom.

You can see from the images it needed a lot of work including new mains sewerage, treatment for rising damp and woodworm infestation. The top floor of the house had no electricity. The workshop in the back garden was original to the house but had large holes in the roof.

The carpets were ripped up to reveal wide, almost untouched 6″ floorboards, the original doors and cupboards were hidden under layers of plywood. Beneath the accumulation of wallpaper and thick varnish was the original match boarding in the dining room.

No photographs were taken of the sitting room, once the room had been skimmed and decorated which looked like this…

IMG_0980

Then this…

IMG_0014

The fire surround propped up was an ebay find (we buy A LOT from ebay), we bought this and another one from a similar property in Sevenoaks for £20 and a smaller one f0r 99p.

At this point we had no car so we carried them on the train and then walked up from High Brooms station with them on our backs, it was a bit like being in stocks, I am sure we looked quite odd!

This was the sitting room in its final state.

IMG_3968

IMG_3960

IMG_4748IMG_4651

The dining room went from having 1950’s patterned carpet, boarded over doors and cupboards and layers of yellowed white gloss paint…

buildings 006

IMG_4652

The view from the dining room and kitchen started to change as new fencing and garden was added and the brick shed transformed into a studio space. The outside courtyard had  concrete paths which we replaced with gravel and eventually painted the new fence a dark drainpipe grey.

IMG_0302IMG_2428

The render outside of the kitchen was blown, so it was chipped off and re-rendered.

The shed originally had one door on the side, but we added two wooden casement windows to let in more light, a Velux in the ceiling and then opened it up at the front with some glazed pitch pine hospital doors salvaged from a hospital in Yorkshire, (eBay again).

IMG_1293

IMG_0051IMG_0059IMG_0062IMG_0060

IMG_2431

IMG_2427

At the end of the garden you can see the other fire place surround we bought that I mentioned earlier. Later we planted more climbers to the side fence and a Boston Ivy to disguise the huge wall that was built after the original brick wall was demolished to build a row of terraces on Castle Street.

IMG_2557

IMG_2433

_MG_4722

IMG_3221

View from the end of the garden towards the house.

buildings 009

The original kitchen and bathroom were removed and the dropped ceiling removed to reveal two more ceilings underneath. After these were taken down it exposed a higher ceiling which made our kitchen seem more spacious.

Here is how the kitchen looked post renovation…unfortunately there are no images of it as a work in progress. Two new wooden casements were installed and new floor boards to match the rest of the house, and completely re-plastered and probably one of the smallest Plain English kitchens ever made! The worktops are iroko and cupboards were painted in Farrow and Ball ‘Blue Gray’. 

The kitchen was the one thing we splashed out on, knowing it would be where we spent most of our time.

IMG_4746

The main bedroom looked out towards Pennington Park and was again stripped back completely before decorating. In both second floor bedrooms the fireplaces had lost their mantle and were boarded up, so we uncovered them and made mantles for both. The fireplaces had lovely patterned detailed around the edges. So from this…

buildings 046

To this…

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 20.42.57

IMG_4756

The bed is French, turn of the century, chest of drawers from a local charity shop and green resin lamp from Marianna Kennedy. After a few different colours we settled on walls  in ‘French Gray’.

The bedroom opposite became the bathroom. The centrepiece being the roll top bath framed by the sash window. The bath was luxury! I am definitely missing it now, you could really sink in to it and on any moonlit evenings or when it was snowing I loved having the window open and being in a hot bath. From this…

buildings 047buildings 049

To this…

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 20.43.28

IMG_4750

The tiny front garden was planted out with ferns, gillenia, epimediums, geraniums, woodland sedges and astrantias. Climbing up the house was Mme. Alfred Carriere and white wisteria. Later we added to the planting some ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, their huge pom-pom flower heads got quite a few comments from passersby.

IMG_2434IMG_2435

The house was finally finished and then we decided to move. A house nearby with a bigger garden came up and two weeks later our terrace house had sold and we were moving…

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.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-09-58-44

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.

fullsizerender

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….

fullsizerender1

fullsizerender2

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

fullsizerender3fullsizerender4

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?

ikkful6lsizerenderfullsizeren8derujjjjuu

u

Views from Mount Ephraim…

fullsizeren7der2fullrsizerenderfullsrrizerender1frullsizerender3

fullrrrrrsizerender2

The old Homeopathic Hospital.

7

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

4fullsizere7nder1

fullsizerendher1

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.”

sboro-pcardsborophoto

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?

A short history lesson…

Before writing about the renovation of 18 Pennington Road, Southborough, it only seems right to share what we subsequently discovered about the history of the property first.

Pennington Road owes its name to a Dr Robert Rainey Pennington (b. 1766 d.1849) a surgeon practicing in London who had acquired land in the area.

The terrace was built somewhere between 1820 to 1830. Although the original title deeds were lost somewhere along the way, we have collected a number of documents and photographs which fill in some of the history of the house and the road.

These are some albumen prints of Pennington Road and nearby London Road from about that time. Most of the terrace was shops and small businesses – indeed I have been told that it looked much like this up to the 1970’s.

$_57

Our house is the second last house on the terrace towards St Thomas’ Church

$_57-1

The end of Pennington Road where it meets London Road. The Imperial Public House is not much changed. The lake has since disappeared along with the Wesleyan Church that was built in 1871.

In the 1881 census, Philadelphia Hubbard and her spinster daughter, Mary lived at the property, which at that time was actually number 9 Pennington Road. Mary Hubbard was a dressmaker which explains the hundreds of pins we found underneath the floorboards in what later became our bathroom on the first floor.

We know a man named Richard William Dance, a retired harness maker and sadler lived at our property from the 1870’s; he died in 1918, followed by his wife, Jane, in 1925. The property was then bequeathed to their daughter, Mrs Florence Jane Ravilious.

This would explain the brick built outbuilding at the rear of the property, probably used as his workshop; it is the only house in the terrace with an outbuilding that was built at the same time as the house.

IMG_8266

A conveyance document dated 31st March, 1930, tells us Mrs Florence Jane Ravilious was married to Thomas William Ravilious, a coach builder of ‘Fairlight’, Portman Park, Tonbridge. It was Mrs Ravilious who then sold the property on to Mr William Edward Sheepwash, a ‘motor-car proprietor’ of number 14 Pennington Road.

IMG_8267 (1)

Sheepwash’s offices were nearby at number 14 Pennington Road and his carriages and stables were directly behind Pennington Road in what was Castle Street Mews. The carriage works later became a car mechanic’s workshop which were then demolished in 2011 to make way for four terrace houses.

The wall of the old carriage works and stables was our back wall in the garden and despite our objections to the planning authority, it too was demolished. Part of the original wall can be seen still behind the house on the corner of Pennington and Castle Street.

st thomas postcard front

An Edwardian postcard of Pennington Road which would have been taken at the same time Sheepwash was resident on the terrace. Our house is next to ‘Martin’s Bootmakers’. 

After doing some digging around I found a few interesting cuttings about Mr Sheepwash including a wedding mishap and a thwarted burglary. I can’t believe anyone would be cheeky enough to not only set alight his barn, break in to his house, steal money, but also take buns and cakes too. They were naughty boys.

Unfortunate Sequel to a Wedding: Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser, 5th December, 1901. 

Tonbridge – Naughty Boys: The Courier, 9th of January, 1913.

Sheepwash was also the President of the R.A.O.B. in Southborough. The what? you say. The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, a fraternal charitable organisation that was founded in 1822. Their meetings were held at the Imperial Hotel. Here is another cutting from the Kent and Sussex Courier dated 27th February, 1925.

RAOB

William Edward Sheepwash died in 1945 and the house was bequeathed to his widow Hetty Madge Sheepwash (who later re-married and became Hetty Madge Barnes). It was sold to Charles Frederick Alexander in 1966.

And it was Charles wife, Ivy, who was the last resident before Nick bought the house in 2007.

This is what the house looked like when it was purchased.

buildings 069

That is Nick’s Dad holding his torch, looking up at the roof. Little did he know just how much work he and Nick would be doing over the next year(s)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southborough boot fair treasures

We don’t often get to our local boot fair at Mabledon, actually, we have only been once before. Last time, there was a chap selling new old stock Bakelite switches and doorknobs. This would be ideal for us now as we have recently moved in to a 1930’s house with all the original Bakelite door handles and locks and it would be nice to have matching light switches. No such luck.

We admired the houses on the way…

IMG_8183.jpg

IMG_8186

IMG_8192

IMG_8201

IMG_8213

IMG_8219

For the most part people were selling old clothes and toys but we did find a few interesting pieces for a bargain price.

bootfair1

bootfair2.jpg

The above left was the postcard collection which we bought from. I got some old postcards of Southborough high street from each end and we bought a whole album each that had some great images inside.

IMG_8222.jpg

IMG_8230.jpg

IMG_8231

Below are some images of our finds taken in our 2nd bedroom on the mantle of the thirties fireplace. Nick has scraped back the paint to reveal greens and pale pinks and the distressed look is providing some interesting texture to photograph with, I will be sad to see it go. Although he is creating many other areas of the house with that look at the moment.

IMG_8237IMG_8241

1930’s collectible cigarette silks.

IMG_8242IMG_8243IMG_8244

IMG_8245

Always fond of a kitsch postcard.

IMG_8246IMG_8248

IMG_8251

I love these postcards printed in Berlin with this quite harsh coloured tint.

IMG_8252IMG_8253

IMG_8254

Aside from the graphic design, I like the sentiment as my family and friends are in Australia.

IMG_8255IMG_8257IMG_8258

IMG_8259

People used to pin prick the windows to make the light shine through them.

IMG_8260

IMG_8262

Novelty pop out postcard of Wales. Why don’t these still exist?

IMG_8235

1840’s blue and white platter with pretty crazing.

IMG_8233.jpg

Ceramic jug made in England, bargain price of 50p. Would look pretty with cut flowers from the garden.

This has got to be the best way to shop! Out in the sunshine buying antiques for less than what it would cost you new (and it would never be as nice).

 

All text and photographs are copyright by Castles on the Ground, 2016

 

 

The more things change…

There has been a lot of change recently in Southborough and Tunbridge Wells, lots of old, interesting buildings being demolished to make way for housing and other developments. The old Kent and Sussex Hospital and the Dairy Crest site and the being two notable examples.

Hospital1937

Postcard from the 1930’s.

IMG_5165

Images of the Dairycrest site partially demolished recently. I never knew it had this pretty arsenic coloured tiling inside.

IMG_5162

IMG_5163

But the closest example to me (personally and geographically) is the Royal Victoria Hall in Southborough which is in a sorry state but by no means a lost cause.

The hall officially opened on the 17th January, 1900 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Local philanthropist Sir David Salomons donated £3000 of the total £5000 (with Southborough Urban District Council meeting the additional cost) and it became the first municipal theatre in England.

The Theatre Trust describes the aim of the hall ‘to provide theatrical and other rational amusements to people who could not afford to go to theatres in the adjoining towns‘.

The Trust describes the theatre in its original form…’A red brick, rectangular building with a low fly tower and, originally, a chapel-like facade set back from the road. A pretty cast iron porch was removed (and purchased by a Councillor who thought its removal regrettable) and replaced by ‘modern’ canopy. The auditorium was designed with a scenic stage, permanent seating in a straight-across end balcony (on two decorative columns) and a flat floor. Square reeded proscenium arch with decorative panels featuring swags and drops either side. Panelled dado with red flock wall paper above reaching to deep plain coving and decorative ventilation grilles’.

rvhoriginal

wanps-0144

Imagine the council offices restored to their former glory; trees out the front, people with a sense of civic pride…

royalvictoriahallwithcanopy001

Determined to stop the closure in 2012, the Friends of the Royal Victoria Hall was formed and lead a concerted campaign to safeguard the future of the hall. A petition with over 11,000 signatures to save the hall and a sound business plan to keep it open was presented but then dismissed by Southborough Town Council at a packed out meeting, as loud cheers and horns honked outside to show the support for the RVH. Never before had the council had such a protest outside.

IMG_1430

IMG_1443

IMG_1470

IMG_1456

Sadly, it all fell on deaf ears and unsurprisingly when 11,000 voices are ignored, that the turnout for the public consultation would be poor. That is a lot of people, me included, thinking ‘what is the point?’.

369 out of 11,000 residents in the town responded to the choice of two options; part-retain or new build in the public consultation in 2015. Of the 369 respondents 58% opted for the new build, so the 214 people of Southborough and High Brooms have spoken! *note the sarcasm here* The decision was made to go with the new build option which has been described by some as ‘cheap and nasty‘ and ‘like something from the planet Zanussi‘.

11407742-large

I like how the above image shows a couple of perplexed members of the public staring up at their image reflected in the giant orange disc.

 

pic-hub

Then then Mayor, Cllr Oakford scoffed at the business plan put together by the group at that meeting saying it would not meet standards he would expect in his previous career in the oil industry; strange as to date there is no business plan or financial projections at all for the Hub despite planning permission currently being submitted.

A local resident, Martin Webber, has published some excellent interviews with residents and Town Councillors on his detailed blog, Southborough News.

You may think this is an improvement on the original theatre, but I’m all for conserving the historical aspects of our town. It’s what gives us soul and makes us unique and attractive. 

Where I’m from (check out About) this would be considered a beautiful and valuable asset to a town worthy of respect and restoration. There are plenty of examples of where buildings have been restored and it has clearly added value to the street scene, like the recently opened One Warwick Park in Tunbridge Wells.

One-Warwick-Park-Launch-7.jpg

Photograph from Times of Tunbridge Wells

Best case scenario is Southborough Town Council actually start listening to residents’ concerns and even it the Hub takes a few months longer to change the look of the building at least it could be something the town can be proud of.