History 1899-1945

In October 2016, the Royal Victoria Hall was given recognition for its role as a “heritage asset” for Southborough. That followed nomination by 15 residents and an assessment by the Tunbridge Wells Borough Conservation Officer, Mark Stephenson.

Being on the list of “Local Heritage Assets” will allow the planners to weigh up the gains from a new development against the loss of heritage if the Hall is to be demolished.  It means public comments on the heritage value can be taken into account.  I (Martin Webber) submitted to the planning website two extracts from Southborough’s history.

The same extracts are copied here so they are a more easily accessible resource. One of my favourite pictures from early 1900s is below (the same photo is given two different tints).

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They are sections of reports from the Courier newspaper in 1899 and 1900 that show the depth of local pride in the town itself at that time and the solid nature of the building.

(1) From 1st November, 1899, ahead of the Hall’s opening:

THE SOUTHBOROUGH VICTORIA HALL

The Victoria Hall, by which the town of Southborough, thanks to Sir David Salomons’ characteristic generosity, will possess a most useful memorial of her Majesty’s Jubilee, is now approaching completion. The carpenters and painters are busily engaged in the final touches, and the District Council (Southborough Urban District Council) and the Tradesmen’s Association are discussing what will be the most befitting manner of declaring open, for public use, Sir David’s most liberal gift…..

It had often been described as a great want at Southborough that the town should have a building for public and social purposes, available for the unrestricted use of all classes of inhabitants. What the residents did not see their way to accomplish, the generosity of Sir David in the Jubilee year rendered an easy matter. The original offer of Sir David underwent several modifications to meet various circumstances, and the matter ultimately resolved itself into the District Council taking over the scheme, which will therefore be controlled by the inhabitants themselves through their duly elected representatives.

While we in Tunbridge Wells are wondering what has become of our Jubilee memorial, which has been lost to the public ken for some time, we must heartily congratulate Southborough on the acquisition of a public hall, which in many respects is far ahead of any hall of the kind possessed by either Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells, so that the half-way town may be regarded as well provided for in this respect for some generations to come.

RVHThe hall, the cost of which Sir David has practically defrayed, adjoins the District Council offices and for the exterior no pretentious architecture has been attempted which would be out of keeping with the existing Council offices. In every other respect, however, the building left nothing to be desired.

The workmanship throughout is of a most substantial character and a credit to the local labour, which it was the wish of Sir David should be employed. The great feature of the building is the stage, which has led to it being popularly known as the Southborough Theatre, although, of course, the building is a hall designed for all public purposes.

While the seating accommodation which is over 600 exceeds that of the Tonbridge Public Hall, and is only slightly under that of the Tunbridge Wells Great Hall, the stage and its appointment are far in front of anything possessed by either of these towns. The seating including the gallery is, of course, quite commensurate with the population of Southborough, while as regards ventilation, heating and internal arrangement generally, the building is a model of the very latest improvement in these matters.

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(Photo above from 1910)

The designs were, in fact, modelled after Sir David’s own famous scientific theatre at Broomhill, which, on a smaller scale, it closely resembles. The plans were really Sir David’s own, and this is equivalent to saying that nothing has been left undone to provide Southborough with an up-to-date building.

The stage, instead of being the ordinary platform of small provincial towns, is equal to the majority of London theatres, having a permanent proscenium with fire-proof, and drop curtains, footlights and top-lights, special provision for arrangement of scenery for theatrical performances, a sunk orchestra, and ample accommodation in dressing rooms. The body of the hall is available for any purpose from a banquet to a dance, not to mention the more prosaic public meeting, while in the gallery is a platform and facilities for lantern exhibitions to be projected onto the stage. The basement provides admirable kitchen accommodation…

Work was commenced in December of last year. Messrs Strange being the contractors… The entrance is to be completed by a covered way, which will extend nearly to the road. Inside are two inner lobbies … and these have a dado of green and blue tiles, which looks very effective…The hall is entered through a massive six foot double doorway, and all the wood-work, it may here be said, is of massive pitch-pine panelling.

seatsThere are also three sets of exits in the Hall, which is lighted by side windows, and all doors are six feet across and open outwards. The Hall, which has noiseless block paving, will seat 500 and another 100 in the gallery, and its dimensions are 150 feet by 40, exclusive of the gallery which is 55 feet by 40, and the stage, which is no less than 40 feet by 25, and is the largest stage area in any building for miles around.

Round the Hall is a solid pitch-pine dado, and above this decorative colouring in terra cotta. The ceiling is of pitch-pine panelling with a large sunlight in the centre, and surrounded by a cone or frieze in blue. At the stage the provision for a sunk orchestra can be boarded over to give the extra floor space when required, and over the well-modelled permanent proscenium is to be the Royal Arms, to use which the special permission of Her Majesty was sought, and graciously given.

big-inside-rvhThe stage has the great technical advantage of being raked, and there are all the necessary accessories for dealing with scenery, which can be brought into the building by 10 feet doors at the back of the stage…and at the rear of the stage is a green room with dressing rooms on either side for ladies and gentlemen respectively.

stageThe stage arrangements are so complete that until Tunbridge Wells has its new Opera House built we shall really be inferior to Southborough in accommodation for the histrionic companies which favour us with visits. But as the Victoria Hall is for a variety of purposes, the basement has been fitted with every possible convenience for catering and a kitchen of 40 feet by 40 is provided, which will, we imagine, be the envy of local caterers, of whom we have heard cooking in the open-air with gasstoves on stormy nights.

The lighting is at present by gas, as Southborough does not yet enjoy the advantage of the electric light, which the Tunbridge Wells Council are now offering her, but the heating apparatus and the ventilation are as perfect as can be desired. Messrs Suggs, of London, were the contractors for the gas fittings, and Messrs Rental and Gibbs, of Liverpool, for the hot water apparatus.

The whole of the work has been admirably carried out, and the building should be one of great public usefulness.

(2) From 26th January 1900

SOUTHBOROUGH ROYAL VICTORIA HALL

COMMEMORATION OF ITS OPENING

To commemorate the opening of the New Royal Victoria Hall, at Southborough, a public subscription dinner was held in its precincts on Wednesday evening when there was a large company present.

All having partaken of the excellent spread placed before them, “The Queen” was proposed and loyally drunk.

Revd C. Darroch…. congratulated Southborough on the magnificent Hall, and hoped it would tend to promote good fellowship and usefulness amongst them for many generations (applause).

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The Mayor on rising to propose the toast of “Sir D. L. Salomons and Success to the Royal Victoria Hall”, was given an enthusiastic reception. He said that he considered it an honour that they should entrust the proposing of that toast to one outside Southborough, especially as it related to their best friend in Southborough (applause). Before he alluded further to him, they would know the reason he could not be there that night, for he had been struck down with sorrow in losing a daughter, and he (the mayor) was quite sure the sympathy of everyone was quite warm towards him and his family, and they all hoped he would recover that health and pleasant way that he had with him (here, here).

In Sir David, Southborough and the district had a great friend (applause).

The Chairman was given a hearty reception….

He (Mr Gallard) had as they all knew been a member of the Council for a great number of years and he would leave him to give them the historical part….

Mr Gallard said he was not aware when he came there that he was to give a historical lecture. He became a member of the Local Board in April 1875, and he had been so ever since (Applause)….

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When he looked back to what Southborough was 30 years ago, he thought of the paving, which was simply made with local gravel. They had no proper system of drainage and no water supply. When he looked at what they had done, he considered that for so small a place as Southborough there were few to equal it (applause). He was proud to think they had done so much in a quarter of a century.

A responder to one of the toasts that night had referred to the taking over by Tunbridge Wells of Broomhill. He could assure them that if they attempted to do so they in Southborough would oppose it with tooth and nail. In conclusion he could only say that he hoped to do what he could for some years to come in the interest of the place. (applause)

Mr Cripps asked to be first allowed to say how very much they who came from the neighbouring towns felt the kindness and hospitality with which they had been treated on this the first public dinner held in their new Victoria Hall. Let him say also how much they congratulated them on the possession of so admirable a building, and a hall of so admirable and excellent acoustic properties.

The last toast of the evening was that of the Press, and the singing of the National Anthem brought a most enjoyable evening to a close.

(3) VICTORY IN EUROPE DAY 1945

Here is a picture kindly put in the public domain by Shirley Neve of the celebrations in the Royal Victoria Hall in 1945.

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