Emmetts Garden Provides Springtime Inspiration for Gardeners

The National Trust’s Emmetts Garden is only 20 minutes drive from Southborough and its exotic shrubs are currently displaying magnificent springtime colours to energise local gardeners.

In contrast to this weekend’s sadly overcast weather, a fortnight ago (see below) the sun was shining brightly on Emmetts Garden, which is one of the highest spots in Kent.


There is a huge collection of plants – large and small – in six acres of land.


P1150055.JPGEmmetts Garden is an amazingly quiet, peaceful spot – well away from motorway noise and also usually free from the rumble of aeroplanes heading for Gatwick.  It is around 200 metres above sea level (600 feet), so offers glorious panoramic views over unblemished countryside.


A banker, Frederic Lubbock, was responsible for the original planting out of the gardens in 1893-95, while the shrub garden was added ten years later.  Frederic’s elder brother was the ant expert and author Sir John Lubbock.

Emmetts Crop

After Frederic Lubbock’s death in 1927,  the estate was acquired by an American geologist Charles Watson Boise, who handed the estate (minus the house) to the National Trust in 1964.

P1150058Emmetts Garden is free for National Trust members but costs £12 for adult tickets and £30 for a family ticket. It opens every day from 10am to 5pm from March to December.  There is also a small cafe and a large picnic area and childrens’ play area.  You can walk through woodland to Chartwell.

On fine weekend days it does get busy and had to close briefly at around 2pm on the sunny Sunday a fortnight ago. It is quieter in the late afternoon. Here’s how to get there on the non-A21 picturesque route:

Emmetts Map.jpg

It takes 25 minutes by car on my country road route above, compared with 15 minutes if you follow the dreary “google map/satnav” A21 Sevenoaks By-pass route.  But the scenic route is cheaper on fuel! Just put “no motorways” in google maps to avoid the A21.



P1150054.JPGThe rock gardens and pond (above) are fenced in to prevent rabbits digging up the plants. The bluebells and rose garden will be attractions for the coming months, while the Trust also runs Easter egg hunts and – in August – holds open air theatre productions.

Wanted! Old News About Pennington Road

Southborough has a rich history to celebrate and on this blog over the coming year I hope to uncover first hand memories of how people lived in the town over the past 150 years.

In the past decade it has become much easier to trace the names and occupations of the people who lived in every street in Victorian England.

But what is so often missing is the colour – most of the letters and diaries of how people felt at the time – painting a picture of the personalities of Southborough people – all seem to have vanished into nothing.

I’m starting with Pennington Road, as that’s where I live and where I have already rediscovered some remarkable memories and pictures.  A postcard showing the Vicarage Road turn off on the left is below.

Penn Rd VicarRd

So my appeal is this:  If you have anything in a loft or out of print book that can conjure up life in Southborough from the 1840s to the 1930s, do let me know. My email is:


Pennington Road started as Pennington Lane, simply a route to apparently the oldest surviving building in Southborough, Ivy House Farm, described in the official English Heritage listing as a “single bay open hall dwelling of c.1460”.  See below:

Ivy House farm

Below is a map found in Southborough library described as “Plan of Freehold building and other land situate at Southborough in the parish of Tonbridge, Kent.” The plan states that an auction of the lots 1 to 18 shown below was held at the Hand and Sceptre Inn on July 2nd, 1849 at 3 o’clock.

Colour big.jpg

Closer up view….

Colour map 1850.jpg

The builders soon got to work and within ten years a good proportion of what survives in Pennington Road had been built.  This is from a map surveyed in 1869 – exactly 150 years ago!

Penn Rd map 1868 crop.jpg

A second map found in Southborough Library is drawn differently but is also from the 1860s and has the same selection of buildings.

Penn Rd 1860s cu.jpg

Finding out who lived in all these houses has been made easier by the online visibility of the ten yearly census and the Kelly’s street directories.  But it is still not that simple.

In the census of 1861, Pennington Road has no numbering system. The set of terraces next to Castle Street (shown below now and in approx 1911) appeared to have been described as “Edward Place”.

Edward crop

Pen 1

By the census of 1881, houses were numbered but the Post Office had decided to count sequentially starting down the right hand side of the road.  Edward Sheepwash  was a resident of the house on the far right in 1911.  The census calls him a “job master” and his sign is just visible above and reads “Fly and Funeral Car Proprietor. Carriages of Every Description.”

Back in 1881, Mr Sheepwash’s house was number 7 and living there then was a greengrocer called William J. Carpenter. By the time Mr Sheepwash had his sign up, the Post Office had had a rethink and renumbered to the current scheme, so all the houses on the south of Pennington Road had a number double their original ones. Mr Sheepwash therefore lived in 14 Pennington Road.

A great website with the residents from the 1881 census clearly laid out according to the old numbering system (ie half the current number) is here:


Here are some more views of St Thomas’ Church completed in 1860.

Penn Church 2.jpg

St Thomas’ Church was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 4th December 1860, in the presence of the 85 year-old Mrs Sarah Pugh, at whose expense the church had been built and endowed. In 1871 the church was given its own parish, carved out of what had been St Peter’s parish.  For more see:


Penn Church 1

Most of the following pictures come courtesy of Mr Fred Scales of Edward Street who has a magnificent collection of images of Southborough past. So let’s walk further down the road…

pen 4

In the middle of the picture above is the building now known as “The Old Dairy” – another of Pennington Road’s listed buildings.  It used to be two separate cottages and there’s another closer view on the left in the pictures below.  In 1861, they were “Deacons Cottages”. Eliza Collins was a resident in 1861 and – remarkably – for all the following 40 years too, by which time her house had been known as 44 Pennington Road and (by 1891) number 5 Pennington Road. Penn Rd crop v2.jpg

Pen 8.jpg

Off on the right are what I think were once called “Stanley Villas”.  One of them is now number 34 Pennington Road and shown below – many years before the grey render walls were painted white.

No 34 full crop.jpg

It would be fascinating to know who the people in the picture above were.  Without doubt they would have known some of the Gallards – a family that played a huge part in the history of Pennington Road.

Penn Stile .jpgCharles Gallard (1823-1885) was the builder who probably put up many of the Pennington Road houses in the 1850s.  He had a son – also a builder – Charles J. Gallard (1850-1906), who’s bequest funded the Gallards Almshouses, and who left his mark with the many drain covers still in use in Pennington Road today.


Charles Gallard’s first wife died in 1852, but he remarried a few years later.  As a result, Charles J. Gallard had one sister, plus 3 half brothers and 7 half sisters. Among his half sisters was a lady called Isabella Gallard (1861-1952).  I’m pleased to say that – remarkably – I have spoken recently to a lady who gave me a first hand of what Isabella was like.

The lady was Isabella’s niece who moved into 36 Pennington Road in the 1950s when her family came to look after Isabella, then 90 years old. The picture of Isabella Gallard on a horse was apparently from 1909 in Ireland.

Issie only crop

Isabella Gallard was clearly a stubborn lady – she was still insisting in the 1950s that electricity was “far too dangerous” to have in the house and all the lighting in number 36 was still by gas. Her house had a “tradesman’s entrance” although the path started and ended from the same places and just involved the tradesmen walking to the left of the hedge while the ladies and gentlemen walked up a different path to the right of the hedge.

How I tracked down a relative of Isabella Gallard is a story for another blog, but I learnt some fascinating detail and I am hoping – that with this blog – I can capture a lot more.

Further down Pennington Road (but still before Park Road) is the house once called Mount Sandford – now 44. Pictured then and now.

Mt Sandford big.jpg


In the picture taken this week you can see number 44A has been added (far left), while to the right in this picture is a building on the site of the demolished old 42 (formerly 21 and formerly Shenley Villas). Then there is the still surviving Victorian building number 40 (now divided into two large semi-detatched houses 40 and 40A with some huge trees in their front gardens).  Finally, number 38 was demolished in the 1980s and is now Dennington Court flats, whose red roof tiles are just visible on the far right above.

Newspaper articles can play a part in adding colour to the historical facts.  An article from November 6, 1874 in the Courier discusses legal action taken by the local board against the first Charles Gallard “for refusing to pay £9 14s 8d” relating to work paving Pennington Road.

Pen 5.jpgThe article says: “In April 1873 it was determined that the road should be properly paved and flagged and notice was thereupon given to the owners of the land abutting on the road, requiring them to do the repairs in accordance with certain specifications which were deposited at the surveyor’s offices.”

It appears most owners didn’t do the work, so the Local Board did the work itself and then charged the land owners.  Mr Gallard apparently didn’t agree that the Local Board had the power to do this, as he argued “Pennington-road was a highway dedicated to the parish.”

A Mr Stidolph, who was a surveyor of the Southborough roads in 1856-57 spoke in support of Mr Gallard, stating that the road then was “in a very bad state, and Mr Corke, who got stuck fast in the road, talked about indicting the surveyor.”  The surveyor ordered road improvements.

View from Mt Sandford No 44.jpgBut the Local Board solicitor insisted that “the surveyor, putting a few stones upon the road at parish expense did not make it a public road….there must be evidence of dedication.”

The report ends with the bench concluding that this road “up to a gate at the end of Mr Blackburn-Maze’s property” (then number 37 – i.e. the last before the farm) “was a public highway, therefore the Local Board have no status”.

This result appears to be victory for Mr Gallard in avoiding the Local Board’s bills, even though everyone else in Pennington Road appeared to have already paid up to the Council.  The Gallards do indeed seem to have been a stubborn lot.

Finally for this blog is a (unfortunately somewhat blurred) picture of the terraces that were 26-30, now 52 to 60 Pennington Road.

Pen 3.jpg

The pictures conjour up a quieter time without the traffic and aeroplane noise. In Victorian times, the census shows Pennington Road was a mix of terraces for the working classes (carpenters, gardeners etc) and reasonably large villas for the middle class such as retired military gentlemen, widows “living on independent means” and doctors.  The villas all had servants to clean, cook and light the open coal fireplaces.

The newspaper archives also reveal how people of Pennington Road came together in August 1887 as 110 local residents signed a petition which was presented to the Local Board (council).  This petition was in opposition to potential extra traffic on the road thanks to an apparent scheme for a Southborough railway station at the viaduct, accessed via Pennington Road.

The petition read: “The traffic of a station thoroughfare would be extremely detrimental to their comfort and interests, whether as occupiers or owners; that it would entirely ruin the present rural privacy and quiet of the properties on both sides of Pennington-road….it would much deteriorate the value of the villas already built by altering the character of the road and so making them less desirable for their present class of tenants.”

View from Ampthill 46 & 48 Penn. Rd.jpgThe petition argues that the result of a Southborough station would: “be the encouragement of cheap trippers, in any multitude, to visit the Southborough Common; whereas at present most of these disperse themselves among the nearer and larger commons adjacent to the Tunbridge Wells station, and leave Southborough alone.”

The Local Board correctly concluded that the railway had no plan at all to put a station at the viaduct and were aiming instead to put one “in Tunbridge Wells by the Grosvenor Bridge”.  A certain Mr Powell told the meeting: “The Southborough station was a sort of red herring thrown across the tract.”

Scaled-back Southborough Hub Plans Win Approval from Planners

The latest plans for the Southborough Hub were approved by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Planning Committee last week with one Conservative councillor abstaining and the remaining 10 councillors voting in favour.

Nov18 Hub Air

In a social media post, the man overseeing the scheme for Southborough, Ian Kinghorn said: “This has been a long journey to get to where we are today, but at long last the building of the Hub will not only put the heart back into the centre of our town but also lead to the regeneration of London Road, Southborough.”

Mr Kinghorn (pictured below from earlier event) continued: “The residents of Southborough and High Brooms should now get behind and support this project to make sure that this community asset works and benefits all the residents of Southborough and High Brooms.”

Kinghorn 18According to Mr Kinghorn, the planning decision means the contractors, Baxall Construction will now start the building of the Hub, even though – it is understood – part of the funding from the NHS has yet to be secured.

The previous plans for a plastic polycarbonate facade have been dropped and the outer shell will now use terracotta coloured tiles, similar to those used on the new Skinners’ Kent Primary School at Knight’s Park by the same developer and architect. There will also be zinc shingle on the Hub and the sports pavilion will have fibre cement cladding.

Among those who voted in favour at planning was the Council’s only representative of the new Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, Nick Pope.  The meeting heard that (excluding councillors) 45 public representations had been received objecting to the proposed development, with only 3 people writing in support.

Planning officials called the scheme “a modern design”. It was stated that changes had been made to allow an articulated lorry to be parked for unloading without blocking access.  Southborough Society was neutral on the plans.


The planners had been sent written evidence from the official statutory consultee group, Theatres Trust, which continued to object to the new scheme arguing its ongoing management had not been appropriately considered. The Trust said it: “only supported the replacement of the Royal Victoria Hall (1950s view shown above) rather than its retention on the basis of the new theatre providing improved facilities and a better outcome for Southborough. This condition has not been met.”

The Theatres Trust stated: “The proposal (latest plan below) contravenes para 92 of the National Planning Policy Framework as the decline in quality and functionality of the site’s theatre provision represents an unnecessary loss of a valued facility. Revisions since the original iteration have resulted in reduced facilities, standards and ancillary space for the theatre. The scheme will not provide a viable and sustainable theatre. ”

New ground floor Feb19 v2The Theatres Trust concluded: “Plans and sections are inadequate to assess the auditorium in terms of capacity, sightlines and disabled provision. There is no space for a café/bar, which will be necessary for the theatre’s viability and insufficient changing room provision. It will not provide the benefits for Southborough that the local community expect.”

A zoomed in plan for the new ground floor layout is shown below suggesting an enlarged kitchen might provide some catering facilities with a hatch to the library and door to the stage area of the Hall. See below:

New ground floor Feb19 cu v2There were 4 speakers opposing the development including Rebecca Clow of Vale Road, who was concerned that no action had been taken in response to the December Town Meeting in Southborough which called for more consultation with the community.

She was followed by Robert Tillotson of Birchwood Avenue who also objected, arguing: “The plan will result in congestion, access and parking problems, particularly for the elderly and sick visiting the medical centre. It is going to be a safety risk….We do not need more retail units in Southborough. We have empty units already.”

Mr Tillotson said the existing library would be replaced with an shared space that didn’t meet residents’ needs.  He said: “There is no quiet reading area with no secure childrens’ area.”

New ground floor Feb19 Hall v2.jpgMr Tillotson continued: “I know nobody who thinks this can be used as a theatre space. The new medical centre provides no extra consulting and treatment rooms than the current site (in Pinewood Gardens).”

Mr Tillotson concluded: “I object to the design and fit of this structure (shown below) in our predominantly Victorian and Edwardian environment. It has no architectural merit.  It looks cheap with nasty cladding and facilities that will soon deteriorate. If this was a private application being made to you, you would reject it.”

Hub Nov18 First

By contrast James Robson from the architects HMY responded: “The key to the scheme is flexibility…We are very proud of our design. We think it is an outstanding piece of architecture – something that the Town with be proud of in the years to come. We hope that we can build it soon.”

Cllr Peter Oakford (pictured below from earlier event), who is a Southborough Town Councillor, a Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and deputy leader of Kent Council explained that the previous Hub proposals turned out to be unaffordable, stating: “The community have been waiting over 25 years for something to happen and I am pleased to say we are now very close to starting work on this site.”

oakford-newCllr David Elliot also told the meeting: “I am convinced that the Southborough Hub will transform the centre of Southborough once built. Don’t stop it now!”

It is also hoped by the developers that the Hall will be suitable for weddings, lectures and film shows, having no fixed stage.

The previous planning meeting on the Hub two years ago could theoretically have stopped the destruction of the Royal Victoria Hall (pictured below in 2016) and was attended by dozens of local residents.  But last Wednesday’s meeting saw only a small number of Southborough residents attend, in part thanks to the fact that it was held during work hours at 5pm, unlike the meeting to consider the previous application, which was held in the evening.


The money for the Southborough Hub has come from the sale of part of the local playing fields for the Crest Nicholson housing development.  The cash is being spent on three main elements. There’s a separate sports pavillion (which will be rented to the local football club), a medical centre (to be leased to the local doctors) with the remaining funds spent on the combined hall/library with a small retail facility (potentially yielding some rent).

Cllr Ian Kinghorn stated that the FA were contributing £ 500,000 to the building costs of the sports pavillion but the bulk of the construction costs – still not made public – will be met by the Hub project. Football club members are raising funds for the internal fittings of the pavillion.

Kent County Council have incurred costs in designing the Hub scheme, but are likely to receive a return when the site of the old Southborough library, which they own, is freed up for new uses or possible sale for development.

The Hub scheme proposers argued that getting a new medical centre for Southborough (shown below) was vital, arguing: “The current St Andrew’s Medical Centre is too small to meet the needs of the local growing population, with many residents currently travelling to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells. The new medical centre will be a separate building attached to the Hub and will help to finance the overall scheme as well as meet the needs of the Southborough population, providing a modern, up to date facility.”

New ground floor Feb19 drsThe proposal also stated: “The landscaped public space to the south of the Hub building provides a focus for the new development with a ‘market square’ capable of hosting small events in a new public realm.”

The full minutes and a clear audio recording of the meeting can be found on the Borough Council’s website by clicking here:  http://bit.ly/2RSWW7V

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

On Monday 11 Feb, to explain more clearly the full facilities of the Hub, I have now added the First Floor plans for the main Hub building below. The three Community Rooms are planned to double up as changing rooms for performances in the Hall:

New First floor Rooms


New First floor doctors.jpg

Meanwhile this is how the football pavilion overlooking the playing fields will look:

Hub Nov18 Soccer

Plus this is how the full site will look – apart from the extra parking in the extended Yew Tree Road car park which is off the bottom of this map.

New Hub Site Plan v2.jpgThe Yew Tree Road car park will have 16 extra spaces, 2 of which will have electric charging points. Plus there will be 42 parking spaces off the map to the right along Salomons Grove facing onto the playing fields, accessed via the Ridgewaye.

Local Priest says Southborough Hub: “Could Turn into a Complete Disaster”

The strong feelings at last week’s first ever Southborough Town Meeting on the latest  Hub plans have not yet prompted a major response on the Tunbridge Wells Planning Portal, where residents’ chance to place objections runs out soon.

Only 27 people had registered comments as of Monday afternoon.

Below is a 3 minute youtube video that gives a flavour of last week’s Town Meeting.  Cllr Nick Blackwell speaks first, then Brian Dury, who chaired the meeting, then you hear the audio of residents’ comments, then there’s some film of people as they left the event.

One of the most outspoken contributions at last Tuesday’s public meeting was from Revd Rachel Wilson, who’s the priest at St Thomas’s Church in Pennington Rd, Southborough. Revd Wilson said: “I can see a lot of potential good in a project like this which is why I am so saddened by this, as it seems to be an enormous wasted opportunity…. it seems to me that if it is not handled well it could turn into a complete disaster.”

Hub Nov18 Library

The first ever Town Meeting in Southborough saw 180 people approve a motion arguing that trust had broken down between the community and Southborough Town Council and calling for the formation of a new advisory group to include theatre and other community groups.

The meeting was called under legislation that allows two Councillors to call such a gathering. Liberal Democrat Councillor, Trevor Poile, and Labour’s Nick Blackwell called the meeting, but it was not attended by any members of the ruling Conservative group on the Town Council.

I have now edited a 12 minute audio file of the highlights. There follows a transcript of the main comments in the order on the 12 minute highlights file.

Glenys Carsworth from Vicarage Road commented: “My principle concern is that it just looks so out of keeping with the local surrounding and it is a particularly unattractive building that I think will just be a blot on the landscape.”

Then a resident of Hythe Close, Helen Robinson, expressed concerns about the safety of the access road that runs into her garages.  She objected to the current green boarding surrounding the Hub site that now blocks her view when trying to drive out from her garage. “How am I going to get in and out of the garage that I rent?  And what about the safety of the young people that live in Hythe Close?”

Sue Pemberton from Doone Bray was the first to get widespread applause when she suggested that all the different functions of the building will clash. She said: “I can see the logic in a multi-use building…but there’s too many different functions in too small a space. You are going to have too many different managers trying to manage the theatre, the library, the dance classes, the surgery. All of the different functions are going to clash. Who is going to take priority? I think we’ll have utter chaos and in the end no one is going to want to use it and they will all go elsewhere.”

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor

Linda Whiteleg said: “I actually live bang opposite this monstrosity. I thought it was going to be a lovely building. Now you are telling me it is going to be pre-fab. I was hoping it was going to be a beautiful theatre – updated – that everybody could use. But it has fewer seats (than the old theatre).” She also expressed safety concerns about the access road and the garages. Finally, she objected to the open plan library and said “there is no quiet place to just sit and look at that book any more?”

Robert Shaw from London Road said that because of the small size of the dressing rooms: “There’s going to be no dance schools using the theatre and no pantomime. You cannot run a theatre on that amount of seats. People always used to come to the pantomime in Southborough year in year out.” That prompted more applause.

Hub Nov18 In Theat

Peter Maresh from Ruscombe Close asked: “Where is the project board and who are these three monsters?” Laughter ensued then the meeting organisers explained that the 3 member board was made up of Ian Kinghorn from Southborough Town Council, Mike Hill from Kent County Council and Lynne Weatherly from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.  Not one of them attended due to prior engagements.

This prompted further resident response: “I work in business and I do projects all the time. Who on earth has appointed this project board and who are they accountable to, because it doesn’t appear that they know what they are doing…How do you get rid of them? Because they are not doing their job. They are not project managing it. They are not taking account of the people who they are doing this for…what qualifications do they have to sit on that board and do a good job? Who checked them out to make sure they could do it?”

The question “How do we find out how much money they have wasted so far?” could not be answered because the finances of the project are still only known to the project board.

Hub Nov18 First

Revd Rachel Wilson from St Thomas’s Church in Southborough said: “I can see a lot of potential good in a project like this which is why I am so saddened by this, as it seems to me to be an enormous wasted opportunity. There could be so much good come out of this and I am particularly concerned about the cost implications as a member of the clergy and as a person who is reliant on social services and social care.”

Revd Wilson continued: “I am appalled by the idea that Kent County Council are spending this sort of money to the detriment of other things. I think it is appalling and as a member of the clergy we need to be aware of this sort of thing as well, because there is enormous potential for good and it seems to me that if it is not handled well it could turn into a complete disaster.”

Hub Nov18 MedicRichard Pepper said: “We are angry people….people are angry because there’s no one with any common sense running these shows.  That’s what’s giving us all here – grief, because we have been users over the years of these facilities.”

Rebecca from Vale Rd said: “There’s so many faults with it.  I’m just very very concerned that whatever our suggestions are, they won’t actually get heard or listened to because the people involved are not turning up to the meetings. Also if you’ve got a show in, what’s the height of the scene docks? I’m looking at a 90 degree angle to get the scenery from a lorry in. It’s ridiculous.”

Paul from Parkhouse Gardens said: “This whole thing beggars belief to be honest. The outside of the building looks architecturally uninspired. The inside of the building has far too many competing interests for it to be feasible or practical to use. I also have a point about flat roofs – they are a disaster long term…hopeless you know…they should be ditched and put sloping roofs instead. But I am very very concerned about the amount of money that’s been wasted already. Two years of wasted work.”

Nov18 Hub Air

John who’s wife runs the Southborough School of Dance said: “Having listened to the architects during the last meeting at the library, the architects did not seem to know exactly the needs of those people who want to use the theatre. I think it would be a good idea to write to all these people who used the Royal Victoria Hall and ask what is it they need when they come to hire the hall.”

Michael Howes from Holden Road asked: “Cllr Blackwell and others seem to be very critical of this plan and I agree it is not perfect – but what is your alternative? And if it is more elaborate than this plan, how are you going to pay for it?”

Cllr Blackwell responded by saying the finances are still secret and so discussing alternatives is difficult.  But he argued that the Hub could potentially be improved if the planned retail space became a bar and the library was retained on its current site and replaced in the Hub by bigger theatre changing rooms. He also said further consultation work was needed to see if theatre was still viable at all in Southborough.

Angry Town Meeting Calls for More Consultation About Southborough Hub

The first ever Town Meeting in Southborough saw 180 people approve a motion arguing that trust had broken down between the community and Southborough Town Council and calling for the formation of a new advisory group to include theatre and other community groups.

The meeting was called under legislation that allows two Councillors to call such a gathering, but it was not attended by any members of the ruling Conservative group on the Town Council.

Liberal Democrat Councillor, Trevor Poile, and Labour’s Nick Blackwell called the meeting.  Cllr Blackwell is shown below counting votes in support of the motion.

Hub Meeting Dec18.jpg

The motion approved stated:  “This Town Meeting believes that the Hub Project Board could have done more to give residents of the town a greater involvement in the project, not only in the overall design and provision of facilities but also in the sharing of the financial aspects.  Failing to do this has caused a breakdown of trust between the community and Southborough Town Council”.

The motion continued: “We want our Hub to be a vibrant and successful facility so that it can play its rightful role at the heart of our town. This can only happen if the views of town residents are heard, respected and acted on.  We have asked the Chair of our meeting to send you our questions, comments and suggestions and we would like a detailed response, including how you will take forward our ideas.”

The motion’s third paragraph reads: “In future we are asking for more effort to build our trust and confidence in the project. We would like you to work with the Chair of our meeting to set up an independently led advisory group that includes representatives of churches, schools, theatre, sport and other community organisations to ensure that the Hub will meet our present and future needs.”

The motion concludes: “At these last and crucial stages of the project we expect regular and better communications from you about the Hub, including a serious attempt to contact and involve people who are elderly, housebound or have no internet access. We would also like you to be open with us on the project costings, publish a current business plan and let us see that the Hub has a sustainable future.”


The meeting took place after the Town Council’s own Planning Committee on Monday voted to advise rejection of the Southborough Hub plans at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Planning meeting expected in January. The Southborough Town Council is a “statutory” consultee but can only advise the Tunbridge Wells Planning Committee which has the final say on planning issues

Only one Conservative attended the Monday Town Council Planning Committee and he couldn’t vote in favour because he is the councillor tasked with coming up with the plans (Ian Kinghorn) and so wasn’t deemed to be independent on this issue. Cllrs Poile, Munn and Lewis voted against leading to a 3-0 vote rejecting the current Hub plans.

At Tuesday’s Town Meeting, residents were urged to put in comments on the Planning portal before the deadline of 13th December.

Nov18 Hub Air

Sue Pemberton from Doone Brae was greeted with widespread applause when she said: “I can see the logic in a multi-use building…but there’s too many different functions in too small a space. You are going to have too many different managers trying to manage the theatre, the library, the dance classes, the surgery. All of the different functions are going to clash. Who is going to take priority? I think we’ll have utter chaos and in the end no one is going to want to use it and they will all go elsewhere.”

The audio from the whole meeting is posted here in four parts. The first two are mainly Nick Blackwell and Jason Reeves explaining the plans (27 mins and 23 mins) with some initial questions:

Lynne from London Road said: “I actually live bang opposite this monstrosity. I thought it was going to be a lovely building. Now you are telling me it is going to be pre-fab. I was hoping it was going to be a beautiful theatre – updated – that everybody could use. But it has fewer seats (than the old theatre).”

Most of the questions are here in two sections here (Pt 3 27 mins and Pt 4 is 29 mins). The vote is at the very end.

Public Meeting on Tuesday as Critics say Southborough Hub will be a “Dysfunctional Building”

Southborough’s first ever “Town Meeting” will be held next week to find out what residents think of the newly revised Southborough Hub scheme to spend £10 million on a new hall, library, medical centre and football pavilion.

The Hub replaces the demolished Royal Victoria Hall Theatre (pictured below in May 2017). But critics say the new Hub fails to meet the Town Council’s promise to deliver a new “state of the art theatre” and will have little shared community space.

RVH demolish.jpg

The Town Meeting has been called by one Labour and one Liberal Democrat councillor and will be held at the Southborough Primary School TN4 0SJ at 7pm on Tuesday 4th December 2018.

A member of the public will chair the Town Meeting as the Conservative mayor, Conservative deputy mayor and the Council’s Hub project leader, Ian Kinghorn, have all declined to attend due to “prior engagements”.

Town Meetings are governed by an Act of Parliament.  It is the last chance for residents to hear all about the plans and discuss the proposals before the Tunbridge Wells Planning Committee meets to decide whether to approve the scheme.

RVH bits.jpg

The old Royal Victoria Hall had dedicated dressing rooms, a bar and 350 seats.  The new hall planned in the Hub can only seat 250 people for theatre productions while dressing rooms will have to double up as council meeting rooms.

Councillor Trevor Poile of the Liberal Democrats and Labour Councillor, Nick Blackwell, are both concerned by the verdict of the national experts on theatre provision, the Theatres Trust, which said recently “it did not have confidence in the long term viability of the Hub” based on the latest plans.

A joint statement from Cllr Blackwell and Cllr Poile said: “The Southborough Community Hub is part of the biggest public investment that this town has ever seen and will affect the lives of generations of people living in the town for years to come. As Town Councillors, we believe that efforts to inform and engage residents, taxpayers, and potential users in its design and purpose have been unambitious and inadequate which will have a negative impact on the success of the project.”

Nov18 Hub Air

The new building (above) will be wood framed with a terracotta coloured cladding facade and some zinc shingle. The only public consultation with the project team available to discuss the revised plans was held from 5-6pm on a Tuesday evening at the end of October.  The previous plans approved by planners in 2016 were abandoned as they turned out to be too expensive.

In a statement on Friday to Southborough News, Cllr Blackwell said:  “Many people in the town believed that whatever replaced the Royal Victoria Hall would be a real community hub. A central space within the town where people could come together; a social space that could be used by people of all ages. Our new theatre would be “State of the Art” and “the envy of other towns” according to local Conservative councillors. And the project would be signed sealed and delivered by Christmas 2016.”

Cllr Blackwell continues: “Sadly these promises have failed to materialise. An inability by the project Board to reign in the budget has now meant that the scheme that achieved planning consent in March 2017 has been scrapped and replaced with a cheaper “value engineered” alternative with more shared spaces and no box office, bar or café. Cllr Oakford told our Southborough Town Meetings a couple of years ago that he didn’t care what the building looked like. The latest plans bear this out. It looks like a 60s secondary modern with aspirations. Zinc and terracotta cladding do nothing to disguise the uninspiring utilitarian design.”

Hub Nov18 First

Cllr Blackwell then argues: “The library doubles up as pop up bar area. The committee rooms double up as changing rooms. The Project board admit that none of the hiring scenarios have been modelled or considered. Theatre and user groups have not been asked whether their productions can financially support a reduced seating capacity of 250 from 350. It is a dysfunctional building that can’t do what it supposed to do.”

Cllr Blackwell continues: “The build will be a series of out-of-keeping prefabricated boxes that have been condemned by the Theatres Trust as not fit for purpose and not financially viable in the long term. We have no business plan and we have now been told that Southborough Town Council is not to expect any income from the hall as the management will be outsourced to the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall.”

Cllr Blackwell argues: “The whole process has been beset by poor management and a project that has overreached the skillset of those involved. For KCC this has only ever been a cost cutting exercise to sell off our playing fields and library site for housing. What we have been presented is the worst case scenario. Few of us on Southborough Town Council envisaged it would be quite this poor. Despite boasts of record amounts for the sale of the playing fields it is obvious the money has run out. The project Board spent years employing Pick Everard architects and working up a design that is never going to be built. We still don’t know how much money has been wasted on the aborted design.”

Hub Nov18 In Theat

Cllr Blackwell concludes: “We do know that Southborough Town Council has been required to contribute an additional £500,000 (from the sale of the former Speldhurst Rd Allotments) and that the funding from the NHS for the medical centre is unconfirmed and still at risk. It is still not too late to change the decision and produce something that will be an asset to the town rather than an underused financial drag.  We need the maximum number of people to attend the Town Meeting and to see the plans for the first time and express their views. I would urge everyone who cares about where they live to turn up and get involved.”

In the last few days, there have been new alterations to the internal plans with the small kitchen reportedly being moved next to library, with a servery from the kitchen so that drinks can be served in the library (coloured brown below) which will be turned into a bar for theatre events. This latest scheme is not in the current drawings (below) and will apparently mean less storage for the theatre.

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor

Meanwhile former mayor David Elliott is the only person to have commented on the new planning application on the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council portal.

Councillor Elliot said: “We’ve been working towards revitalising the centre of Southborough for nearly twelve years now and we are almost there…..The Southborough Hub will transform the centre of Southborough once built. Don’t stop it now. I fully support this application. It would be a tragedy for Southborough if the funding already allocated for this project in these difficult times were to be lost forever if this planning application is not approved.”

You can comment on the TWBC website until 13th December at:


Pictures of the old Royal Victoria Hall demolition in 2017 are taken with permission from the blog “castles on the ground”:

Unseen demise of the Royal Victoria Hall

RVH balcony

This was the same site pictured in the snow in April 2018.

RVH rubble in snow jpg

Council Responds to Public Concerns About Southborough Hub Design

The Councils designing the Southborough Hub have responded to public comments and it appears the plans may be changed to incorporate a larger kitchen or bar.

A new planning application is scheduled to be submitted in November 2018 with an outcome early in 2019 prior to start on site in 2019.  Compared with the original plans, the new plan sees “a major reduction in circulation space within the building but keeps all other elements as closely aligned to the previous submission”.

Nov18 Hub Air A new document on the Southborough Town Council website written by the project manager, Jonathan White, explains that: “the new designs have shifted the main hub building to the north ensuring that the town square can be made larger and accommodate more activity.”

The following additional questions and answers from the council have been published:

Q: There is no café/bar in the new proposals
A: Internal designs are being considered which if approved, would move the kitchen area adjacent to the library space and include a hatch in to the library. This would allow for a café and a bar subject to operational requirements.

Q: The kitchen being proposed is too small!
A: Internal designs are being considered which if approved would enlarge the kitchen area

Q: Will there be a disabled toilet and a baby change area?
A: Yes, there will be disabled toilets on both levels of the Hub, there will also be a baby change facility

Q: Toilets are all unisex!
A: Toilets remain as individual cubicles that will be allocated as Male, Female, Disabled, and Unisex in a flexible arrangement to meet equality requirements and optimal operational efficiency.

Q: There are insufficient toilets to meet the current standards
A: The building meets the current toilet standard requirements

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor

Q: Will the hub building be fully accessible for disabled people?
A: Yes, the building will be fully accessible and will meet part L and M of the building regulations

Q: There is no lift to the second floor of the main hub building
A: There is a lift to the second floor of the hub building and it can be found in the west wing of the main hub building adjacent to the stairs

Q: There is insufficient space in the facility for when there are large theatre performances
A: The space in the library will be used flexibly with bookshelves being able to be moved out of the way to accommodate for larger gatherings – the library and the theatre will work together to minimise any disruption to their clients

Q: There is no segregated room for children in the new library. Does this not raise child safety issues?
A: There will be a children’s area in the new library space but the service does not require them to be segregated. Library furniture can be used to give the area a more defined space for children. There are no child safety issues with this proposal

Q: How will the theatre work if the community rooms which double as changing rooms are already booked out?
A: The operator of the hub will ensure that the hall/theatre requirements and the rental of the community rooms can work in harmony to maximise the use of the facility (Second floor plan shown below – part of medical centre is to right of plan)

Hub Nov18 First Floor

Q: The noise from the theatre will impact the library area
A: Libraries are aware of the impact the theatre may have on their service and will work with customers to ensure any disruption is minimised

Q: If the building is open at night people will steal from the library
A: The library service are happy for people to use the self service machines out of hours to borrow books from the library even when staff are not present. Theft of library stock is very rare

Q: The community rooms have been shrunk from the previous designs
A: The new community rooms are larger than the previous designs at 141 square meters excluding storage compared to 81 square meters in the old designs

Q: Are the Theatre Trust comments being addressed?
A: The Theatre Trust has raised the same comments as they previous did for the prior submission and once again these are being picked up and a response has been sent to them. They are a statutory consultee as part of the planning process and we will continue to work with them to ensure the best outcome for the facility. They have also raised the issue of the café and that has been picked up separately within these FAQs.

Q: The community rooms have large glazed areas that will mean they are not suitable to act as changing rooms for the hall/theatre
A: The project will ensure that the necessary blinds are in place to give the privacy required.

Hub Nov18 Upper RmQ: There are insufficient changing rooms
A: The community rooms are very large and can be split up to provide further changing rooms if required

Q: The building will be built using timber and pre-fabricated panels. This sounds like a cost saving exercise and how long will the building last?
A: The design life of the product is over 60 years however if maintenance is done properly the building will last forever as with any other building which is well maintained

Q: Where is the storage?
A: There are numerous storage areas throughout the facility including a large store adjacent to the hall able to take the stage and seating

Hub Nov18 In TheatQ:  The hall can only accommodate 250 people. This is too small.
A: The hall can accommodate different setups up to 350 people

Q: What cladding is being proposed for the facility?
A: The cladding being proposed is a mixture of red terracotta cladding and a zinc based tile. There will also be some brick work at lower levels

Hub Nov18 First

Q: STC office is out of the way, not prominent enough and not accessible.
A: STC office location has been agreed by the Council and it is fully accessible

Q:  You have not consulted with anyone on the designs?
A: A list of consultation discussions over the whole period of the project is available on the STC website

Q: Will there be any disabled parking for the GP surgery?
A: Yes there will be two disabled spaces provided adjacent to the GP surgery, these are in addition to a further two spaces being provided on the Ridgewaye Car Park as well

Q: Parking is inadequate when football clubs are present
A: An additional 40 parking spaces are being provided adjacent to the recreational ground to reduce the parking issues. In addition to these, a further 19 car parking spaces will also be provided via an extension at the Yew Tree Road Car Park.

Q: Will the library have fewer books than before?
A: The library will have just as many books as before

Hub Nov18 In LibrQ: Can we please have another name than the Southborough Hub?
A: It is anticipated that prior to opening a name will be given to the facility

Q: Will the pharmacy be going in to the retail unit?
A: The partners are in negotiation with a number of potential tenants about who goes in to the space. The existing pharmacy in Southborough is not at risk from this development.

Q: Medical centre waiting area is too small.
A: The space being provided meets the NHS requirements

Q: There is no kitchen in the medical centre?
A: The space being provided meets the NHS requirements

Q: The building will cost Southborough lots of money to run and locals will end up subsidising it. When can we see the numbers?
A: The hub has a number of income streams notably from the GP surgery, retail unit, library and others which seeks to offset the running costs of the facility. The aim will be to ensure that STC are no worse off than they were before. The detailed numbers will be released once all agreements have been signed securing the income as doing so before hand would undermine the councils negotiating position.

Q: Why is there no air conditioning in the building?
A: Tinted glass, air handling units and large ceilings will ensure that air conditioning which is expensive to run and maintain will not be required.

Q: Who will run the centre?
A: The operations of the facility have yet to be agreed but will ultimately lie with Southborough Town Council with input from Kent County Council and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Q: How much will the Southborough Hub development cost?
A: The total cost of the entire scheme including residential investment is c£30M. The Hub capital build costs are anticipated to be around £10M.

Q: How much did you get from selling the land to Crest Nicholson?
A: The sale value of the land has yet to be finalised as Crest are delivering part of the infrastructure works which will be offset against the land value once completed. Roughly speaking the land sale will pay for two thirds of the Hub buildings with the remainder coming from partners, grants and investment from the NHS.

New Hub Images Released as Theatre Experts Warn of “Grave Mistake”

The latest images for how Southborough’s new Hub have been released, just as the national experts on theatre provision called the decision not to include a cafe in the complex “a grave mistake.”

The statutory advisory group Theatres Trust said it did not have confidence in the long term viability of the Hub based on the latest plans.

The new images have been on display at Southborough Library over the past week. The old library will be demolished when a new library is built together with a Hall/theatre, meeting rooms and medical centre in the new Hub (shown below).

Hub Nov18 First

Hub Nov18 Library

The view below is from the London Road looking south towards Tunbridge Wells with the new council meeting room overlooking the A26.

Hub Nov18 London Rd

The Theatres Trust have written to Kent County Council, who are overseeing the work on the Hub.  The Trust said: “We are increasingly concerned that the project is proceeding without a decision on who and how either the Hub as a whole or the theatre component will be operated.”

The Theatres Trust letter continued: “This is all the more important as the current proposals indicate that all front of house and back of house support facilities are to be dual use. There needs to be a clear vision about the purpose of this cultural facility and how it will be used to inform the design, layout, access and technical needs and also to ensure that this can operate effectively and serve as a viable and sustainable replacement to the Royal Victoria Hall”.

The Trust then says: “We strongly recommend the various parties involved in this project make that decision now and involve an operator in this design phase.” The latest ground floor plans are shown below:

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor.jpg

The Theatres Trust notes that the planned capacity of the new theatre (shown below) has been reduced from 350 to 250 and it asks that “community groups are involved in this discussion to ensure that the auditorium size…is sufficient to allow them to cover the cost of the productions.”

Hub Nov18 In Theat

The Trust’s bluntest words are over the decision to reduce the costs of building the Hub by axing the original plans for a daytime cafe that could double up as a bar in the evening during theatre intervals.  It lists a number of places including Chester which have seen library usage rise strongly thanks to a neighbouring cafe.

The Trust says: “There is no provision except for a coffee machine within the library.  We feel that is a grave mistake….A cafe will help provide daytime animation to the building and entice people to spend more time in it….theatres reply on bar income as an important income stream and potentially undermining the viability of the venue.”

The Trust expresses concerns that the dual use of dressing rooms as committee rooms will create clashes, but it does welcome the addition of windows into the Hall to make it more attractive for daytime events.

The project team at Kent County Council have indicated they feel the involvement of officials from the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall in the plans means that advice from local experts has already been taken into account.

Further images are shown below showing the library and medical centre looking north from ground level:

Hub Nov18 T & Medic.jpg

From the same point but looking right over the Ridgewaye fields:

Hub Nov18 Medic.jpg

This is the inside view of the library:

Hub Nov18 In Libr.jpg

The First floor plan includes two potential meeting rooms for Southborough Town Council:

Hub Nov18 Upper Rm

Hub Nov18 First Floor.jpg

This is the pavilion for the soccer club:

Hub Nov18 Soccer

Finally, a view from above:

Nov18 Hub Air


Southborough Hub: “Design is Great” says leading Conservative

The most prominent Conservative on Southborough Town Council has described the latest hub plans issued on Friday as “great” and perfectly meeting the design brief.

Councillor Peter Oakford (pictured below) who sits on Kent County Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Southborough Town Council also confirmed that space has been left for a retail unit to generate income for Southborough.

Peter-Oakford crop

In a statement to Southborough News, Cllr Oakford said: “Personally I think the design is great. With so many local authorities, NHS organisations and CCGs selling off under utilised buildings that they can not longer afford to keep, the new hub meets the flexible design brief perfectly.”

He continued: “Every element of the facility – other than the actual STC office – is a multi use flexible space that will ensure maximum utilisation of the building and therefore financial security and, as I have said before at no extra cost to the tax payers of Southborough and High Brooms.”

Cllr Oakford added: “The pharmacy is an idea at this stage, not anything that has been confirmed but would be a natural fit with the medical centre. The space is a retail unit which will be leased out by STC but the architect added the word pharmacy for demonstration purposes”.

Meanwhile there have been dozens of comments on social media about the new plans. Concerns include lack of news about the building’s outer cladding and appearance, lack of facilities for the type of theatre productions formerly held at the Royal Victoria Hall, a lack of a separated children’s library and a lack of a new formal public consultation before the designs go for planning approval. Others expressed their hopes for new modern facilities.

Southborough’s Hub Has New Shape

The Southborough Hub is to built with a rectangular footprint according to new plans issued to the public on Friday, with the previous “circle and two blocks” layout having been abandoned.

The new plans were outlined at a Southborough Town Council meeting on Thursday, although no artist impressions as to how the building will actually look are available. It is still not clear if brick, concrete or any form of plastic cladding will be used for the outer shell.

Although the plans for a cafe have been abandoned, a retail unit/pharmacy is still incorporated, which presumably it is hoped will yield some rental income for the council for its 94 square metres.

Southborough News has used photoshop to try to clarify the plans published on the Southborough Town Council website, colouring the new Hall in pink, the doctors’ surgery in yellow and the library section in green.  (see below).

Large Area blog

The new footprint appears to cover almost the same area as the Royal Victoria Hall before its demolition two years ago.

The dimensions of the stage in the new hall are given as 9.25 metres by 9 metres.  The total size of the hall is 342 square metres. Here is the ground floor in more detail:

Hall blog

The Hall’s changing rooms are located between the hall and the A26 which runs to the left on the diagram. There is a kitchenette shown which is 14.5 square metres, plus a workshop that is 26 square metres.

Dressing Rooms blog

The library is shown with views of an open space to the south with shrubs or trees and the A26 to the west. (see below)

library blog

This is the first floor plan published showing the location of two community rooms of 68 and 73 square metres, plus Town Council offices and a balcony to the Hall:

First Floor blog.jpgThe new scheme will require fresh planning permission.  The previous layout that went through the planning process two years ago is shown here at:

Overall plan

6 pdfs are available on the council website, with 3 of the Hub (all shown here) and 3 more detail the football pavillion.