It is with great sadness that the Society has learnt of the death on Sunday 4th March of Michael Doyle, one of its longest-serving members. At the time of his death at the age of 83, he was still a very active member of the Society, serving on its Executive Committee, which he had done since 2006, and being a member of the Society’s Scrutineers’ Panel, which each month examines all planning applications to the Council and comments accordingly on them. He was also invaluable as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Society in relation to Council matters, being an almost daily visitor to the Town Hall and attending ‘as a member of the public’ most of the Council and Committee meetings. His attendance was such that it was widely said in the Town Hall that he attended more meetings than any Councillor. He was also a very diligent and active member of the Town Forum and the Hawkenbury Village Association, of which he had been Chairman for a number of years. He had been in- and out-of-hospital since Christmas, but his death was a surprise to his family and friends.
Michael was born and brought up in Cheshire and at the age of 16 in 1950, went to the Merchant Navy Training School to become an officer. He worked for a number of shipping companies, but particularly Cunard, serving on the Caronia, the Mauretania and the original Queen Elizabeth, where having obtained his Master’s Certificate, he was a Deck Officer. At the age of 31 in 1966, he married Elizabeth and retired from the sea, joining the (then) Burroughs computer company (now Unisys), which included two years’ service in East Africa from 1970. Michael and Elizabeth came to live in Tunbridge Wells some 41 years ago in 1977. They had four children – one boy and three girls, one of whom sadly died in 2000. Their children now live in London, Spain and Australia. Michael was quiet and discreet, but was fully prepared to speak out clearly and cogently on issues he felt strongly about. There were an increasing number of these, particularly on the future of Tunbridge Wells, a town which he loved well. We shall miss his incisive and well-informed analysis, his determination not to give up on issues and his good company.
The funeral was on Friday 23rd March at 3pm at the Church of King Charles the Martyr.
We extend our deepest condolences and sympathy to Elizabeth and their children.
It is with great sadness that we have to report the death of one of the former members of the Executive Committee, Frances Avery on the 29th April 2016. Frances was our membership secretary for many years and was instrumental in setting up and organising the delivery of the quarterly Newsletter. Until 2011 she also arranged and supplied the catering for our Garden Parties, Conservation Award evenings and Christmas meetings. Her funeral took place on Thursday 19th May at 13.00 hrs at Tunbridge Wells Crematorium.
DOWN THE MARKET
The Farmers' Market has become an established part of Saturday shopping in Tunbridge Wells and twice a month it sets up in Civic Way with many stalls selling a wide range of local produce. What better a place for the Civic Society to spread the word and offer people a chance to find out more about us, purchase our publications and even join up. Pictured below is Committee member Sue Daniels by our stall with an interested punter.
SAVING THE COURIER ARCHIVE (AGAIN)
Having rescued the bound copies of the papers going back to the 1870s when The Courier moved from North Farm to Calverley Road in 2011, the Society once again stepped in to ensure The Courier's archives are safe. In 2011 the archive was temporarily moved to Tunbridge Wells Cemetery before being moved to storage at David Salomon's in Southborough. This facility is no longer available due to the sale of the property so another solution had to be found. The Trinity Arts Centre stepped in and The Courier lent a van to enable the Society to swing into action again. Pictured below is Roger Joye in the roof area of Trinity with the binders after they had been literally manhandled up several flights of stairs, up a ladder and through a narrow loft hatch. Special thanks are due to Alex Green of Trinity for the storage space, The Courier for arranging the transport, John Cunningham for organising everything and all those members who did the heavy lifting.
- A VISION OF THE FUTURE
The Council is publishing its draft Allocations Plan for public consultation as part of the new Development Plan for Tunbridge Wells. Among the proposals is the area between Calverley Road, Monson Road, Upper Mt Pleasant and Church Road.
A key part of the area is the Civic Centre, the complex of Town Hall, Library, Museum, Assembly Hall, Police Station and Adult Education Centre. These listed buildings were the subject of controversy in 2010 when a previous administration planned to demolish them. There has also been debate about the future of the War Memorial and the forecourt of Calverley Terrace, the surviving Decimus Burton element of the Civic Centre.
Some years ago a study by well-known architects showed how the Town Hall could be adapted to modern needs. There are no major structural problems with this, which would sharply reduce the running costs of the building, and enable it to conform with forthcoming legislation on sustainability.
The Civic Society has suggested that the Town Hall interior could be modernised, with much better use of space, public access and new uses, as a centre for public bodies as well as the Council. Together with a refurbished Assembly Hall it could be a base for revenue-earning conferences and events. The Leader of the Council has suggested similarly extending and transforming the Library, Museum and Adult Education centre as a cultural and educational centre.
Philip Whitbourn OBE, who has studied these buildings for some years, has taken these ideas, and suggested how the Civic Centre as a whole could be reshaped to create a dynamic new heart for the town in active use by a wide range of the community, and yield an economic benefit. The necessary structural changes would enhance the listed status of the buildings, and give them new viability at the heart of Tunbridge Wells.
The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society publishes Dr Whitbourn’s thoughts as a contribution to current debate. You can download the document by clicking on the link below:
- WE HEARD FROM YOU
Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete our membership questionnaire. You can download the detailed analysis by clicking on the link below:
A GARDEN PARTY TO REMEMBER
The Society's 2012 Garden Party was held in the splendid surroundings of Holden House in Southborough. 157 members and guests enjoyed the hospitalilty of our hosts Alastair & Julie Levack whom we wish to give our very grateful thanks.
THE CHAIRMAN AND THE COUNTESS
It really was a case of Royal Tunbridge Wells on Thursday the 31st of May when Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex visited The Pantiles as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Following a walkabout on The Pantiles and a visit to the King Charles the Martyr Church, the Royal couple met local dignitaries in the old Kings School Hall including our very own chairman John Forster.
CIVIC VOICE IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS
On 10th February 2011, ten members of civic societies across Kent met for a day-long workshop in Tunbridge Wells at The Royal Wells Hotel. The workshop, commissioned by Civic Voice, was facilitated by Ipsos MORI. After hours of deliberation, discussing a range of aspects of localism and the provisions of the Localism Bill, the participants presented their conclusions to the Minister of State for Decentralisation (and our Tunbridge Wells MP): Greg Clark. You can read their report by clicking on the link below:
Civic Voice have issued a press release which you can also read by clicking on the link below:
Address given by the Chairman Alastair Tod
BEST PLANTER AWARD
This year Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has reintroduced the 'Tunbridge Wells in Bloom' competition which was last held in 2003. The objects of the competition are to 'bring back the sparkle to Tunbridge Wells'. Your committee supported this initiative and was one of eight local organizations sponsoring and planting a container in the Calverley Precinct as reported in May. Our planter which is pictured above is situated beside Barclays Bank and our summer planting was awarded a Commendation in the 'BEST PLANTER' category of the competition .
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has itself provided the flowers for the winter planting which was carried out on Saturday 2 October 2010 and pictured below you can see our Chairman planting up one of the Council's three tier planters.
The Chairman of the Civic Society, Alastair Tod attended the Town Forum on Thursday 29th July 2010. He has issued the following statement:
I came to the last meeting with numerous questions to ask about the Town Hall. I didn’t ask them because I thought it would be possible to react to the Council’s plans. Instead we were told there were no plans. Since then of course the Council has announced its decision to buy the Land Registry, and we have seen the Town Centre Area Action Plan proposals.
The TCAAP identifies about 20 key town centre sites. Of these 12, more than half, are described as suitable for a `mix of town centre uses`. This mix includes shops, offices, hotels, pubs, bars, public assembly buildings, and housing – in fact practically every possible use. The Plan makes no difference between the Town Hall, the Kent and Sussex and the Cinema site. The Plan makes no distinction between sites occupied by listed buildings in active use and those that are vacant.
So I don’t expect to get answers to my questions but I will just state what some of the key ones are:
Why is the Town Hall site even being considered for redevelopment? It seemed earlier we were being asked to give up our Town Hall in exchange for a pot of gold. But we now know there is no pot of gold – the commercial terms are terrible. So what’s the deal?
What are the practical advantages of collocating functions at Hawkenbury which could not be obtained on the present site? Where there is a real synergy – such as with some functions of KCC – why can’t they be brought together in the present complex where there is surplus space, for example in the police station?
Why is the Council planning to spend about twice as much on relocating to Hawkenbury as it would cost to modernise the Town Hall? The survey done twenty years ago demonstrates that the structure is fully compatible with open plan working, air conditioning, computer cabling, disabled access etc, and could house about 300 staff without the need for hot-desking.
Finally, if the Town Hall is unsuitable for use as a town hall how could it be suitable for a department store, for which it is said to be the only suitable site? The buildings are listed, but if demolished the site available for redevelopment is only 1.5 acres, smaller than the present Cinema site, and much smaller than the Cinema site would be if extended to Lonsdale Gardens. The alleged structural problems on the Cinema site of building over the railway tunnel were resolved when consent was given for the now abandoned Padlake scheme.
It is understandable if people have lost sight of what a town hall is. A town hall is where our representatives take decisions in public about the future of our community, and where the technical staff who support them are available to advise and inform. These are not functions that can be diverted to a gateway, let alone tucked away in a back office in Hawkenbury. This affects all residents of the borough, not just Royal Tunbridge Wells. Having a single accessible centre open to all will become even more important with the Government’s plans to give more responsibility to community organisations.
As a result of the foresight of our predecessors we have a fine civic complex in the ideal location. We will not be forgiven in future if we give this away in exchange for an enormous debt.
The sad sight in the Calverley Grounds at lunchtime on Tuesday, 6th. July 2010, as the bandstand is finally demolished. Scroll down to our earlier article for the reasons and the background story behind this action.
DANIEL BECH 1950 - 2010
Daniel Bech died suddenly and unexpectedly on the morning of Thursday, 17th. June, aged 59, at his home in York Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Daniel was born in Luxembourg. He was a polyglot, in terms of both languages and intellectual disciplines. Twelve years ago, he and his wife, Katharina Mahler-Bech, chose to settle in Tunbridge Wells. They came to love the town – its style, its setting, its ambience, its history – and were frustrated at the way in which the Town and its Borough Council undervalued, undersold and under-promoted its potential and as a result, did not try to control or direct the development of the Town. Consequently, they both became increasingly active and vocal in Town issues and over the last ten years, their views have played a significant part in the discussion of Town issues.
His death will be a very great loss to the Town, the Community and the Borough, particularly at a time when Tunbridge Wells faces probably the greatest challenge in its corporate history, when his meticulously-researched and challenging approach to the current situation and proposed changes would have ensured that glib, superficial justifications of the proposals would not have been tolerated.
One of his strengths was that he was not English and he could therefore see issues from a different point-of-view based on his international and cosmopolitan experience. His approach was both academic and scientific, but he was also a realist and a practical man in devising solutions. He gave freely of his time and knowledge and many organisations in the Town benefited from this. In particular, the origination of the Civic Society website was entirely due to him, as were those of other societies and organizations.
His challenging approach often brought out new thinking and a new approach in others. He served on the Civic Society Executive Committee for two years but was impatient for things to happen faster and as a result, he changed to the new Town Forum where he became a leading protagonist. His concept of the ‘Grot Spot’, an alliterative description which will hopefully be recognised as his devising by the Oxford English Dictionary, is now part of the Tunbridge Wells ‘political’ vocabulary.
That he and Katharina, chose to come and live in Tunbridge Wells is an event for which we should all be grateful and which leaves Tunbridge Wells very much in their debt.
The Society would like to extend our deepest sympathy to Katharina for her loss of a remarkable man.
The developer whose proposals for the Cinema site were approved in 2008 (or his bank) has placed it on the market, at a valuation believed to be around £15m. The Society responds with mixed feelings. The presence of a derelict cinema and shops in the heart of the town for nearly ten years is a serious embarrassment, but we had reservations about the approved scheme. The developer was apparently listening to us on possible improvements when the scheme received unexpectedly rapid approval.
The design which won the RIBA moderated competition was of modest bulk and did contain a public square, but the approved proposals seemed to represent a step back from this.
We queried the bulk of the offices dominating adjacent property, the loss of public access, the use of materials such as yellow brick, and the architectural treatment. We queried the architects’ claim to echo local features with a notional `square` at the hotel entrance (supposedly replicating Bath Square in the Pantiles), arbitrary flint panels (flint is not a Tunbridge Wells material), and ashlar sandstone facing on the offices (to `balance` the rusticated stone facing of Lloyds Bank). We were disappointed that in spite of this claim no attempt was made to respond to the rhythm of the fine neo-classical facades of the east side of Mount Pleasant.
Our impatience to see a key site developed was tempered by feeling that the design did not do justice to a location opposite Decimus Burton’s Trinity and the Priory, the Town Hall complex and Lloyds Bank, all of them listed. The sale valuation probably inhibits development of the site during the present downturn, and we wait to see if a new developer comes forward with revised designs. There is an obvious danger that an inflated valuation will generate proposals for over-development.
The Society has been concerned for some time by the Council’s expressed wish to abandon the Town Hall. The Gateway was opened in 2008 for counter services, and the Town Hall has since been closed to the public, although still in use for staff and Council meetings. The Council maintains the building is costly to run and heat, and not capable of being adapted to modern requirements.
The Town Hall complex is almost unique as a complete grouping of civic buildings from the 1930s, dominating the town centre, designed by the then President of the RIBA Sir Percy Thomas, and listed Grade 2, in a restrained composite of neo-Georgian and art deco styles. An architectural survey commissioned by the Council some years ago suggests it could be modernised to accommodate security controls, computer cabling, air conditioning, and disabled access at reasonable cost, and without altering the external character.
We hear that the site of the Town Hall (and possibly the rest of the complex) have been offered to the Council’s regeneration partners as a redevelopment site. And the Cabinet has resolved to negotiate to buy the Land Registry building at Hawkenbury.
Like many others we are deeply concerned that this point has been reached without any publicity or debate in the Council. Tunbridge Wells is exceptionally lucky to have a fine civic complex in the town centre, where it could be accessible to the whole community for representative, ceremonial and administrative use. We believe that by the time the proposals of the redevelopment company are known the fate of the Town Hall will have already been sealed.
The Chairman has written to all members of the Council, to Greg Clark MP and to the local press to ensure the facts are generally known, and to help achieve proper public debate before the issue is decided.
The Government has agreed to the Council’s request to demolish the bandstand in Calverley Grounds. The striking original was severely damaged by a bomb in 1940 and temporarily rebuilt under wartime restrictions. This somewhat makeshift feature is much-loved and was the subject of a campaign to preserve it last year, not just as a structure but as a venue for events and for informal use by the public.
The Council calls it unsafe; the Society disputes this, but has been refused access for an independent expert. However we feel it is not worth major investment, and have set our sights on securing a proper replacement, both as a permanent landscape feature, and as a base for a range of public entertainment – not just band concerts. We agreed on this principle with the Council last year, and offered to lead a fund-raising campaign for a bandstand of traditional pattern, but not a replica of the elaborate original – and incidentally only the bandstand not the adjoining pavilion.
With consent for demolition given the Council is shortly clearing the site for other uses. Before any long-term developments they plan a public review of the use of the park, with particular attention to the form and site of a performance stage. They have kindly offered to set aside any parts that could be used in a reconstruction, and we are now looking for a site to store the terra cotta facing of the base. The cast-iron columns are also thought to be historic but were not part of the bandstand itself.
With the Council’s wish to co-operate over a replacement we have withdrawn our opposition to the demolition of the present structure.
ROYAL TUNBRIDGE WELLS IN BLOOM
The Civic Society keenly supports the revival of Tunbridge Wells in Bloom, and sponsored the planting of a container in the Calverley Road precinct. Along with teams from other town organisations a group of volunteers undertook this at the end of May in the presence of the Mayor and the Town Crier. The Civic Society planter has now been entered in the competition for best container.
The Society is watching with close attention the emergence of policy on planning and local government of the new Government. As no great admirers of the present over-complex, over-regulated system, we urgently want to see the processes simplified, opened to local control, and reflect what can actually be done with local resources.
In 2009 the Conservatives published a Green Paper `Control Shift` which contained the following main proposals to strengthen local democracy:
* abolish targets and reward communities directly for local growth;
* cut their obligations and give local government a power of competence;
* give people power to hold referendums on local issues;
* enable local spending priorities to be decided locally;
* abolish regional government and regional planning.
The Society broadly welcomed this. In early 2010 the then Opposition produced a further document `Open Source` relating more specifically to planning, proposing:
• to give control and initiative over plan-making to local communities;
• to give incentives to local communities to achieve a major increase in development;
• to scrap the present Local Development Framework for local planning;
• to permit any `sustainable` development complying with a local plan;
• to abolish centrally determined housing targets;
• to give new rights to neighbours to comment on development, and appeal against consents.
The Society was much less enthusiastic about both the approach and the specific measures in the second paper. Among other points we noted the stress on `local communities` in place of elected local authorities. At the time of writing we await specific proposals from the coalition, but we note the success of Greg Clark’s campaign to remove private gardens from the category of brownfield land. In the absence of housing targets it is not clear what this will mean in practice, and the Society would deplore any increased pressure on the Green Belt.
GEORGE WHITEFIELD RESTORED TO GLORY
The Civic Society working in partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has recently restored the George Whitefield Memorial in the grounds of the Kent and Sussex Hospital. The sandstone monument (pictured above before and after) is square in shape and about 3 feet high with moulded plinth, moulded cornice and ball finial. The inscription to one face states ‘near this spot stood and preached that eminent servant of God George Whitefield at the opening of the original chapel built by Selina Countess of Huntingdon July 23rd 1769’. An attached flat tablet refers to Emmanuel Church which has since been demolished. The monument had fallen into disrepair over time and was hidden by overgrown shrubs but has now been restored and is now visible and easily accessible from the Mount Ephraim road entrance. Its importance was recognised and it was Grade II listed in June 2000.
Civic Society Executive Committee member Bryan Senior (pictured below left in foreground, courtesy of TWBC) who headed the project says:
‘The Civic Society is happy that its partnership with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has led to the disappearance of another of the town’s ‘grot spots’. Thanks also to Bell’s Yew Green Chapel and congregation and the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion Trust for their contributions and to the Kent and Sussex Hospital for clearing and re-turfing the surrounds. The approach steps, suggested by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, add to the appeal of this historic little Grade II monument’.
WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR?
We are pleased to announce the release of monograph no. 11, Tunbridge Wells in the Second World War and the Years of Austerity 1939-1953. Written by Ann Bates, this is the first history of Tunbridge Wells in the Second World War and after, drawn from the archives of the Town Hall, military War Diaries, local newspapers, and personal memories and oral history. It reflects the paranoia of the time - the fear of gas attacks, aerial bombing, spies and Fifth Columnists - and the almost daily fear of invasion, coupled with the hardships - rationing, blackout, gas masks, air raid warnings, conscription, Home Guard ARP and fire watching duties - and the new role of women in wartime. Retailing in the shops at £9.95 it is available to members at the special price of £7.50 through the usual channels. You can see more details by clicking on the link to the Publications page on the menu to the left of this page.
THE PANORAMA ON MOUNT EPHRAIM
John Cunningham, when President of the Society, proposed that a panorama of Tunbridge Wells should be constructed to commemorate the centenary of the granting of the designation ‘Royal’ to the town in 1909. In 2007 Richard Still volunteered to manage the project and permission to use an ideal site on Mount Ephraim was given by the Lord of the Manor of Rusthall and the Conservators of the Commons.
The Panorama Monument consists of two boulders of Wealden sandstone supporting an explanatory stainless steel plaque depicting the expansive view across the town from the site. The designs for the plaque and the supporting structure were produced by members of the Committee of the Civic Society – Bryan Senior and Gill Twells. Funds for the project were provided by The Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Targetfollow group Ltd, AXA PPP healthcare, The Friends of the Commons, and the Civic Society.
The Panorama Monument represents a happy and productive collaboration between the Society, the Council and other commercial and voluntary bodies in Tunbridge Wells.
The official unveiling of the Panorama by the Marquess of Abergavenny took place on 25th September 2009. The Monument is located on Mount Ephraim opposite the Royal Wells Inn. Please go along and see for yourself this permanent legacy to the town by the Civic Society.
The unveiling by the Marquess of Abergavenny assisted by Alastair Tod the Chairman of the Society
The Marquess and members of the Society admiring the Panorama
The team responsible for the construction of the Monument
Members of the Committee of the Society selecting suitable boulders at the Quarry at West Hoathly
The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society - Registered Charity No. 276545