Category Archives: Fun Palaces

The Church of King Charles the Martyr, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Church of King Charles the Martyr, Royal Tunbridge Wells

The site of Tunbridge Wells was empty fields until Dudley, Lord North (1581-1666) came upon a chalybeate (iron-bearing) spring in 1609 while staying at a lodge in nearby Eridge for his health.  He publicised the therapeutic powers of the waters –

These waters youth in age renew,

Strength to the weak and sickly add,

Give the pale cheek a rosy hue

And cheerful spirits to the sad.

– and attracted royal approval when Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of King Charles I visited in 1630.

The Lord of the Manor, Donagh MacCarthy, 1st Earl of Clancarty (1594–1665), enclosed the spring and built a meeting hall “to shelter the dippers in wet weather”.  Nevertheless, when Queen Catherine of Braganza took the waters in 1664, her court was accommodated in tents.

The spa’s first assembly room was in fact the Church of King Charles the Martyr, built as a brick chapel of ease in 1684.  Its unusual dedication memorialised the executed monarch, whose death was until 1859 remembered as an Anglican feast-day on the anniversary of his execution, January 30th.

The land for the church was given by Viscountess Purbeck and the fundraising and subsequent building programme was supervised by the MP and entrepreneur Thomas Neale (1641–1699) as part of his nearby development of shops and inns.

The fine plaster ceiling of five domes was installed in 1678 by John Wetherell, who had worked for Sir Christopher Wren at Greenwich.  Five years later a further dome was installed to the north, opposite the original doorway.

This building quickly became too small for either an assembly or its congregation.

In 1688-1690 Henry Doogood, Sir Christopher Wren’s chief plasterer, took down the west wall, replacing it with the tall columns that still stand in the middle of the nave, and doubled the size of the interior, duplicating the plaster ceiling with, as Pevsner remarks, “more bravura” than the original.

Strict social separation was maintained between the high-status worshippers in the body of the church and the tradespeople and servants above:  the oak-panelled seventeenth-century galleries were originally accessible only from outside.

Ironically, when the then Princess Victoria, aged sixteen, with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, visited in 1835 she sat in the north balcony which was at the time close to the pulpit and the altar.

St Charles the Martyr became a parish church – with an unusually small area, 65 acres, much of it common land,– only in 1889, when for the first time the interior was oriented to the east by the architect Ewan Christian.

The three-decker pulpit was removed and the seating reversed to face the present-day chancel, removing the anomaly that the communion table stood at the side of the church, out of sight of most worshippers.

In this refurbishment the Credo and Paternoster boards by William Cheere were brought from the church of All Hallows, Bread Street, in the City of London (built 1681-84;  demolished 1878).

The Church of King Charles the Martyr is a highly unusual building and well worth a visit.  The greeters are particularly welcoming:  http://kcmtw.or

New Filey

Filey, North Yorkshire: The Crescent

Filey, North Yorkshire: The Crescent

Of all the holiday resorts on the Yorkshire coast, Filey has always had a very special appeal.

Visitors began to arrive in Filey from the beginning of the nineteenth century.  A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1806 described it as “well-adapted as a summer retreat for soothing the mind, and invigorating the body”, though there was hardly any overnight accommodation.

The Filey Enclosure Award of 1791 allocated most of the land to a few prominent landowners, which enabled Charles Edge, a Birmingham architect and surveyor, and John Wilkes Unett (1770-1856), a Birmingham solicitor, to buy thirty-five acres of land to the south of the existing village.

Edge and Unnett drew up plans for the layout of the Crescent, with the ornamental gardens that separate them from the cliff-edge, in 1838, and encouraged the building of elegant classical terraces.

Initially, visitors came to Filey by road:  in the 1820s two stage-coaches operated, each on alternate days, six days a week.

Local sailors and their wives recognised that catering for tourists was at least a supplement to the unpredictable fortunes of the fishing trade.

Yet the long-standing inhabitants continued to live in Old Filey, around the church, while the affluent newcomers congregated exclusively in New Filey, where they were offered a degree of informality in civilised surroundings.

The Hull-Scarborough railway opened in 1846 with a characteristically fine station, but excursionists were not encouraged.

In the later nineteenth century and up to the First World War this relatively small resort attracted a constant stream of visitors of high social standing and net worth. Charlotte Brontë visited in 1849 and 1852;  Sir Titus Salt came in 1871, and Frederick Delius was a regular visitor from 1876, when he was fourteen, until 1901.

Members of the local nobility were attracted by the quiet, discreet atmosphere – the Earl of Feversham of Duncombe Park, Lord and Lady Middleton of Birdsall and the Howards from Castle Howard.  From further afield came the families of the Dukes of Devonshire, Newcastle, St Albans and Westminster, the Marquis of Ely, the Earl Fitzwilliam, the Earl Waldegrave, the Earls of Bessborough and Wharncliffe.  High-ranking clergy visitors included William Thomson, Archbishop of York (1878) and Dean Farrar of Canterbury (1888).

Filey was also the discreet resort of British and foreign royalty.  Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria’s cousin,  made the first royal visit in 1873:  he was followed by the Queen’s son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (1880), her grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence & Avondale (1890) and her daughter, Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll (1899).

German relatives of the British royal family also visited – the Prince & Princess Louis of Battenberg (1900) and Ernest Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his family (1910).

Indeed, well into the 1930s Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, who was married to the Earl of Harewood, used to bring her young sons for holidays to Filey.

It’s still a quiet, discreet place to hide away.  Mackenzie E C Walcott, writing in 1862, commented,–

You need not dress smartly as at Scarborough, at Brighton, Hastings, or Dover;  you are not inconvenienced by incursions of noisy excursionists;  and you may saunter along the cliffs or highways without interruption by an idle crowd, gaping and staring, and quizzing.

This is still true – except possibly the requirement to dress smartly at Scarborough.

Ironically, Filey’s major claim to fame in the holiday industry was the Butlin camp, started in 1939 and completed as RAF Hunmanby Moor.  Derequisitioned promptly in 1945, it flourished to the extent that it had its own branch line and railway station.  The camp’s maximum capacity was 11,000 holidaymakers, and it ran successfully into the 1970s.  The railway branch line closed in 1977 and the camp lasted until 1983.  The site was subsequently redeveloped.

It’s a fair bet that most of the thousands of visitors to Butlins never went near Filey itself.

Another gap in the Promenade

Imperial Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man:  demolition, August 31st 2018

Imperial Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man: demolition, August 31st 2018

Photo:  John Binns

Just because a building doesn’t reach the criteria for listing and protecting as a historic structure doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saving.

Nearly a year ago I wrote about to the loss of the Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno, which, though listed Grade II, was completely demolished after an inadequate survey failed to show that a scheme to retain only the façade was in fact impractical:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=5311.

More recently, my Isle of Man friend John spotted the demise of the long-derelict Imperial Hotel on Douglas Promenade at the end of August 2018:  http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=38524&headline=The%20end%20is%20nigh%20for%20Victorian%20hotel&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2018.

The Imperial dates from 1891, one of a number of imposing sea-front hotels by the Manx property-developer Alexander Gill (c1852-1919).  Others still remaining include the Hydro (1910) and the Empress Hotel.

The Imperial closed in 2006, and remained unused except as an occasional training site for police sniffer dogs.

Douglas Promenade is actually a series of promenades, built 1875-1890 to take advantage of the broad sweep of Douglas Bay by providing building land for the island’s growing tourist industry.

The whole extent of the Promenade is designated as a conservation area:  https://www.gov.im/media/633077/douglaspromsconsarea.pdf.

It’s a magnificent sight despite regrettable gaps where ungracious modern structures have replaced Victorian originals such as the Palace Pavilion & Opera House (1889 onwards, demolished 1965 and 1994), the Promenade Methodist Church (1876, demolished 1975) and the Villiers Hotel (1879, demolished 1995).

The late Gavin Stamp wrote about the insidious threats to the island’s built heritage when the Villiers Hotel was at risk in 1994:  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/the-isle-of-mammon-is-ripping-out-its-soul-the-manx-governments-indifference-nay-hostility-to-1448732.html.

The Isle of Man’s parliament, Tynwald, has its own system of Registered Buildings, without the grading that applies in the UK.  Manx registrations began in 1983, and so far cover only 275 buildings, with another 250 under consideration.

Consideration of extending the list has not been energetic.  According to Wikipedia – there seems to be no online version of the official list – there were four registrations in 2014, one in 2015, four in 2017 and so far only two in 2018:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registered_Buildings_of_the_Isle_of_Man.

An Alliance for Building Conservation (ABC) was formed in 2016 to co-ordinate campaigning to protect the island’s built heritage:  http://www.abc.org.im/index.php/abc-background-and-history.

One of the Alliance’s achievements has been a regular series of articles in the Isle of Man Examiner highlighting causes for conservationist concern.  A recent article reviews the glacial process of changing Manx attitudes to historical conservation:  http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=40533.

Because it takes so long to list worthwhile Manx buildings, it’s no surprise that less distinguished places like the Imperial Hotel come to grief, yet their group value is invaluable, and when the gaps they leave are replaced by mediocre substitutes, or left empty, the effect diminishes the whole.

Though the Isle of Man is small in extent, it’s rich in history.

In many places in the UK and across the world the historic heritage is seen to be good for the local economy.

Unfortunately, in the Isle of Man investment and commercial development tend to be at odds with the good of the environment.

Bognor Pier

Bognor Pier

Bognor Pier

King George V famously didn’t like Bognor, where he was sent to recuperate after surgery in 1929.  After his stay at Craigwell House in nearby Aldwick, he received a petition to grant the town the suffix “Regis” – literally, “of the King”.  I can’t possibly tell the story better than Wikipedia, citing Antonia Fraser’s The house of Windsor (2000):

The petition was presented to Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary, who in turn delivered it to the King.  King George supposedly replied, “Oh, bugger Bognor.”  Lord Stamfordham then went back to the petitioners and told them, “the King has been graciously pleased to grant your request.”

Like many small seaside resorts at the ends of branch lines, Bognor is a rather sad place today, but it has a proud history as a genteel place to relax, founded in the late eighteenth century by the local landowner Sir Richard Hotham, and more energetically developed after the arrival of the branch railway in 1864.

It’s hardly an accident that Bognor Pier was begun in the same year, designed by Sir Charles Fox and his cousin J W Wilson and opened in 1865.  Originally a thousand feet long, it cost £5,000, but was subsequently bought for £1,200 by the Local Board in 1876.

The Board’s successor, Bognor Urban District Council, were glad to offload it to a private operator, who spent £30,000 dealing with dilapidations and constructing an entertainment complex at the shore end, comprising a theatre with a fly-tower, a picture theatre, an amusement arcade and a roof-garden restaurant, all of which opened in 1912.

During the Second World War, from 1943-45, the pier was HMS St Barbara, a naval observation station armed with anti-aircraft guns.

Its history became vexed from the 1960s onwards:  repeated changes of ownership meant that maintenance failed to keep up with onslaughts of storm damage.

Though it’s listed Grade II and the pier head building remains in part, only 350 feet of the pier itself survives, and repeated attempts to attract lottery funding for a major restoration have fallen apart.

Most recently, the energetic friends’ group, Bognor Pier Trust, learned that the current owners, Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd (BPLL), would not support a £5,000,000 lottery bid but were committed to maintaining the structure:  https://www.bognor.co.uk/news/future-of-bognor-pier-plunged-into-uncertainty-after-owners-withdraw-support-for-5m-funding-bid-1-7653934 and http://www.bognorpiertrust.co.uk/news-articles/no-lottery-bid-bognor-regis-pier.

The Trust has made a dignified decision to concentrate on other conservation projects in the town, and to remain ready to purchase the Pier if the current owners decide to sell.

Where that leaves the long-term future of the Pier itself remains to be seen.

Judge not…

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

Photo:  Harriet Buckthorp

Diners at the Foreman Street, Nottingham, branch of Prezzo [https://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/nottingham-forman-street/?s=Nottingham%20NG5,%20United%20Kingdom&lng=-1.1390802999999323&lat=53.00821670000001&f] are mostly unaware of the history of the site.

In the late nineteenth century 23 Foreman Street was a well-known brothel, distinguished as the scene of the demise of Sir Charles Henry Watkin Williams, a High Court judge who, according to a pointedly satirical memorial card, “departed this life suddenly at Mrs Salmands” on the evening of July 17th 1884 aged 55.

After dinner at the Judge’s Lodgings he had gone to visit a young lady called Nellie Banks at Mrs Salmands.  There is a factual account in Reynolds’s News, July 27th 1884.

The gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, in his compendium of criminality, Mad Frank’s Britain (Random House 2012), p 107, felicitously describes what happened:  “the old gentleman gave a sort of grunt and she thought he’d come, but he’d gone”.

By the time the police returned Sir Watkin Williams’ corpse to the Judge’s Lodgings too many people knew what had happened for the story to be concealed.

The borough coroner, Mr Arthur Brown, was clearly under considerable pressure to limit his inquiries, and he had to lean hard to make the inquest jury fulfil their oath to establish “when, where, how, and by what means” the judge had met his death.

It appeared that Sir Watkin suffered from aneurism of the aorta and, according to his doctor’s recommendation, he really should have been more careful.

Reynolds’s News reported the affair with a degree of circumspection, under a headline “DISCREDITABLE DEATH OF A JUDGE”, in an article more than a column in length that invited readers to use their imaginations.

The memorial-card broadsheet was altogether more succinct:

…in eight feet deep of solid earth

Sir Watkin Williams lies.

He lost his breath,

which caused his death,

‘twixt Nellie Blankey’s thighs.

Nellie Banks was an enterprising young lady.  My friend Stewart tracked her down in the Boston Guardian dated August 2nd 1884 where her name is meticulously rendered in inverted commas:

She was the housekeeper of a farmer at Butterwick who, in the early part of this year, absconded with a large sum of money and with [the] young lady in question made a trip to Paris.  He was on his return to this country apprehended as a fraudulent bankrupt aboard an Inman Line steamer as he and “Nelly” were about to emigrate to America.

She is described as aged 22, pale and slender and about five feet high.  She would have thrived in an age of reality TV and social media.

Nothing much remains of Mrs Salmand’s premises, but the story gives an entertaining twist to dining at Prezzo.

Hotel Adlon

Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Unter den Linden, Berlin

Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Unter den Linden, Berlin

I went into the Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin [https://www.kempinski.com/en/berlin/hotel-adlon] to use the restroom and stayed in the elegant lobby for a cup of coffee.

The atmosphere is all you’d expect of a five-star hotel – comfortable armchairs, attentive staff, piano music.  It’s obviously a modern building, but the saucer-dome with stained glass above the lobby is a strong hint that it harks back to an elegant predecessor:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/troymcmullen/2017/07/25/an-updated-hotel-adlon-kempinski-adds-glamour-to-its-history/#3ce177ae74db.

Indeed, the original Hotel Adlon was opened in 1907 after its proprietor, the restaurateur Lorenz Adlon (1849-1927), secured the backing of Kaiser Wilhelm II to bring to Berlin a rival to the new Ritz hotels of London and Paris.

The site Adlon chose was next to the Brandenburg Gate, surrounded by the British, French and American embassies and close to major German government buildings.

The Kaiser and his government contracted the hotel to reserve accommodation for visiting dignitaries, and the place became a magnet for the powerful, rich and famous.

Adlon was understandably a staunch monarchist, and after the Kaiser was deposed in 1918 refused to acknowledge that the central arch of the Brandenburg Gate was available to anyone other than royalty.  Twice he crossed the archway without looking and was knocked down:  the first time, in 1918, he survived;  the second time, in 1927, he was killed.

The hotel survived the Second World War, only to be burnt down by Red Army soldiers raiding the wine cellars on May 2nd 1945.  The owner-manager Louis Adlon, Lorenz’s son, was apparently shot by Soviet troops who were misled by a servant addressing him as “Generaldirektor“ into thinking him a military general.

The ruined building stood until 1952, with a makeshift hotel running in the former service wing until the 1970s.  This remnant was itself demolished in 1984.

The replacement hotel, which makes no attempt to reproduce the original but shares its style and proportions, opened in 1997:  http://www.ibtmworld.com/__novadocuments/381845?v=636390059715670000.

It was the location of the singer Michael Jackson’s ill-advised dangling his son out of an upstairs window in 2002.

A cup of coffee costs €7.50.  That includes a free pastry the size of a thimble.

Gap in the townscape

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno

When I visited the Llandudno Arts Society to give a lecture recently, my host Mark Esplen drove me round the town to show me recent developments in which he felt pride, such as the refurbished Railway Station (completed 2014) and the Lifeboat Station (2017).

Driving past the former Tudno Castle Hotel, he remarked that it was about to be demolished after unsuccessful attempts at redevelopment.

There’s more to the story than meets the eye, as I discover from a recent Victorian Society bulletin.

This Grade II listed building, which was originally two hotels, the Tudno Castle and the Temperance, seems not to be datable, and is not credited to a named architect, but it was obviously an integral component of the development of Llandudno as a resort, occupying a prominent site between Mostyn Broadway and Conway Street, closing the vista at the south end of the principal shopping thoroughfare, Mostyn Street.

The reasons for listing, last revised in 2001, are vague:  “C19 hotel retaining its character on important free-standing site.  Group value with adjacent listed buildings”.  It seems nobody took the trouble to recognise its history or its townscape value.

In 2014 planning permission was given, against the strong objections of the Victorian Society, for a retail development and a Premier Inn hotel, retaining only the façade of the building.

The interior, when surveyed by Archaeology Wales, was a mess and had clearly seen better days, but it was intact and the better parts could have been incorporated into a sensitive redevelopment:   http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/inside-tudno-castle-llandudno-demolish-13468477.

There is a slide-show of the April demolition which was intended to leave the façade supported by scaffolding at http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/plan-submitted-tear-down-grade-13467581, along with a depressing sketch of the limp proposed replacement.

When demolition began, the contractors noticed “historical movement” [http://demolishdismantle.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/tudno-castle-hotel-demolished-due-to.html] which made it impossible to support the façade for retention.

This euphemism turns out to cover a failure to realise, when the 2014 application was processed, that the walls were not ashlar but rubble, and the Victorian Society is questioning how the developer and the authorities can have failed to survey the building adequately before making their proposal.

Anna Shelley, Conservation Adviser at the Victorian Society, is clearly spitting tacks:  “The complete demolition of the Tudno Castle Hotel was entirely avoidable, and the plans could have been revised and reconsidered at various stages in the assessment process.  All those responsible – particularly developer and Local Authority – should take a good hard look at themselves. How has this been allowed to happen?” [http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/irresponsible-development-razes-tudno-castle-hotel]

Primarily as a result of watchful care over decades by the landowner, the Mostyn Estate, Llandudno has remained one of the finest and most intact of British seaside resorts, and now its streetscape has a regrettable and unnecessary gap.

Other local authorities have shown a more muscular response to ostensibly fortuitous demolitions:  http://www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk/news/politics/illegally-demolished-historic-cottages-must-be-rebuilt-brick-by-brick-tower-hamlets-council-orders-1-5209885?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social_Icon&utm_campaign=in_article_social_icons.

The replacement building had better be good.

Tootling a tune or two

Former Strand Cinema, Douglas, Isle of Man

Former Strand Cinema, Douglas, Isle of Man

Walking through the crowds of shoppers on Strand Street in Douglas, Isle of Man, I spotted an opportunity to photograph the surviving façade of the Strand Cinema.

My friend John, who’s lived on the island for over ten years, had never noticed it before but immediately clocked, from his intimate knowledge of Manx organs, that it was connected with a celebrated cinema organist, Dr George Tootell (1886-1969).

The Strand Cinema was one of seven Douglas cinemas that made their profits from the holiday trade rather than the permanent population.  It opened in 1913, and went over to bingo sometime in the late 1960s.

The Strand has an attractive white faience façade, and when the auditorium was demolished in 1998 the frontage was retained and restored.

Dr Tootell’s connection is interesting.  He had begun his professional career as a church organist and music master in schools in north-west England, and worked in North America launching and demonstrating new organs for the Wurlitzer Company.

He held successive posts as a resident organist in British cinemas and wrote an opinionated but practical manual for theatre organists, How to Play the Cinema Organ:  a practical book by a practical player (1927).

He had a particular connection with the Jardine organ-building company of Manchester [http://www.organbuilders.co.uk], who installed several instruments to his design when he was resident at the Palace Cinema, Accrington, and at the Kingsway and Stoll Picture Theatres in central London.

In Douglas, Jardines constructed the organ at St George’s parish church where Dr Tootell was resident organist.

It was not, it seems, one of their more fortunate pieces of work:  a Manx historian describes it as “a neatly packaged mountain of mechanism and pipework which was doomed as a musical instrument.” [http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/music/organs.htm].

The most ingenious feature of this installation was the side door which allowed Dr Tootell to leave St George’s before the end of the service to fulfil his contract to play at the Strand Cinema while his deputy played the final hymn and voluntary.

No-one seems to have raised the slightest objection – or indeed to have noticed – the unobtrusive way in which Dr Tootell contrived to bat for both sides.

Audubon Ballroom

Audubon Ballroom, Washington Heights, New York City

Audubon Ballroom, Washington Heights, New York City

A couple of years ago I revisited one of my earliest New York City experiences – taking the M4 bus from midtown Madison Avenue all the way to The Cloisters.

As the bus turned off Broadway into 165th Street I noticed on the street corner an elaborate building which I judged to have a cast-iron façade.

When I went back later, closer inspection showed that most of the elaborate external decoration is brightly coloured, crisply modelled faience.

The entrance is dominated by an elaborate relief of the prow of a ship, apparently representing Jason and the Argonauts, with an oversized figurehead depicting the god Neptune, and along the entire façade are the heads of brown foxes.

This was the Audubon Theater and Ballroom, built in 1912 by the greatest American theatre-architect of his day, Thomas W Lamb (1871–1942), for the film distributor William Fox (1879-1952), who later gave his name to the 20th Century Fox film studio.

The connection with Fox explains the foxes, but I’ve no idea why Neptune dominates the entrance nor, indeed, whether the building is named after the ornithologist John James Audubon (1785-1851).

The splendid auditorium seated 2,500 and was used for both film and vaudeville.  The basement was used as a synagogue, Emez Wozedek, from 1939 to 1983, and the second-floor ballroom became a venue for trade union and other political meetings as well as dances and dinners.

It was in the ballroom on February 21st 1965 that the human rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated at the age of 39:  http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/malcolm-x-assassinated-1965-article-1.2111105.

After a foreclosure in 1967 the ballroom was used as a Hispanic cinema, the San Juan Theater, until 1980.

The building then became derelict and the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center took it over and proceeded to clear the site to make way for a purpose-designed medical research centre.

The Columbia project created controversy between advocates of regeneration in an area of deprivation and guardians of political and cultural heritage:  [http://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/03/nyregion/a-proposal-to-raze-audubon-ballroom-causes-controversy.html and http://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/23/arts/architecture-view-once-and-future-audubon.html]

It seems that the Audubon Theater and Ballroom is threaded into so much twentieth-century New York cultural and political history.  The erotic filmmaker Radley Metzger (1929-2017) had a strong affection for the Audobon Theater, and named his distribution company after it:  http://www.therialtoreport.com/2017/04/06/audubon-ballroom.

Political pressure from the Washington Heights community, and particularly from the family of Malcolm X, led by his widow, Dr Betty Shabazz, eventually ensured that half the ballroom and much of the façade were retained:  http://rinaldinyc.com/portfolio-item/3920.

It’s an awkward compromise, that speaks of cultural conflicts that go back to the time of the civil rights campaigns that Malcolm X fought for.

His third-eldest daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, remarked when her father’s memorial was opened in the building, “It’s hard for people to come back to a place where he was assassinated…But we’ve taken a tragic place and turned it into something beautiful.” [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/21/nyregion/remembering-malcolm-x-in-the-place-where-he-fell.html].

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

 

Under the radar

Former Scala, later Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, Derbyshire (1993);  detail

Former Scala, later Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, Derbyshire (1993); detail

I’ve only once ever visited the former Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, in 1993, the very first time I went on a Cinema Theatre Association outing.

What was then the Silverline Bingo Club, Long Eaton, was – to be polite – not splendid.  It had had a chequered history as the St James Theatre (opened in 1907), then Vint’s Picturedrome (from 1910), then the Coliseum (from 1916), then the Scala (in 1923).

After a fire in 1934 it was refurbished in an up-to-date Art Deco style.  It operated as a cinema until 1964 and then as a bingo club until 1993.

In 1991 a suspended ceiling had been installed from the edge of the balcony to the proscenium, horizontally cutting in half not only the stage aperture but also the elaborate plaster decoration to each side.  The effect was faintly claustrophobic.

Its decorative scheme was pale grey and pink, and its lighting bare fluorescent.  Outside the Ladies was a sign which read “Beware Paint Still Tacky”.

We shinned up a ladder in the foyer to what looked like a cupboard door but turned out to be the truncated steps to the balcony.  There, dimly lit and devoid of seating, slumbered the upper half of the auditorium, a dark, silent, expectant space.

The bingo operation seems to have closed down soon after our visit, and there was a fire during the years that it was dark.

It reopened in 2007 as the tripled Galaxy Cinema, which operated until 2012.

In October 2012 the Derby Evening Telegraph reported that local reports of a possible burglary led the police to discover the place was in use as a “professional” cannabis factory, and they removed some 1,500 thriving plants:  http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/Huge-cannabis-factory-Long-Eaton-s-Galaxy-cinema/story-17198019-detail/story.html.

The building was sold again in 2014 [http://www.nottinghampost.com/stage-cinema-s-history/story-19821693-detail/story.html] but apparently remained unused until a significant fire in January 2017 probably sealed its fate:  http://www.nottinghampost.com/fire-breaks-out-at-former-galaxy-cinema-in-long-eaton/story-30084788-detail/story.html.  A young man was quickly arrested on suspicion of arson:  http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/long-eaton-galaxy-cinema-fire-being-treated-as-arson/story-30084875-detail/story.html.

I write repeatedly about interesting, potentially valuable buildings that are below the Heritage England radar for listing, but depend for their future on the imagination and business acumen of an owner with vision.

Making money with the Galaxy building was a challenge, not least because Long Eaton is a small market town equidistant between two major cities, Nottingham and Derby, and it was never likely that the building would be put to economic use that would give it a long-term future.

Nevertheless, the images that someone took in 2008 show how much remained of the historic interior [https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpainter/2587069688/sizes/l and https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpainter/2587069678/sizes/l], and it seems a pity to lose it.