Exploring Sydney: Necropolis Receiving Station

Necropolis Receiving Station, Chippendale, Sydney

Necropolis Receiving Station, Chippendale, Sydney

Just outside Sydney Central Station stands a high-quality Gothic structure which commuters pass without a second thought.

From the street, in an area called Chippendale, it’s more obvious and impressive.

It was built as the Necropolis Receiving Station, from where funerals departed by rail to the Rookwood Cemetery out at what was then Haslem’s Creek and is now called Lidcombe.

It was designed in Venetian Gothic style by the Colonial Architect, James Johnstone Barnet (1827-1904), a Scot who worked with the first generation of New South Wales architects – Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883), William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), both English, and the Canadian John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904).

The exceptionally fine carving was the work of Thomas Duckett Jnr (1839-1868) [https://www.daao.org.au/bio/thomas-duckett/biography] and Henry Apperly (1824-1887), both of them born in England.

Funeral trains began operating in April 1867.  Passengers were required to buy return tickets, but corpses travelled free.

Though rail-borne funerals practically ended in 1938 and the mortuary station became disused, a service for mourners continued from the main Central platforms through the Second World War until the cemetery railway was closed in 1948.

The station was subsequently renamed Regent Street Station and used to dispatch animals such as dogs and horses, and later as a parcel depot, until in the late 1980s it became an unlikely and ultimately unsuccessful pancake restaurant.

Subsequently it became an even less likely wedding venue.

Home of polite literature

Portico Library, Manchester

Manchester is not only the home of the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom – Chetham’s – but boasts one of the thirty-odd surviving independent subscription libraries in the country, the Portico Library, founded by a consortium of Manchester businessmen in 1802 and opened on Mosley Street in 1806. 

Originally set in a fashionable part of town, the Portico Library provided an exclusive, politically neutral meeting-place for the professional and business communities, enabling members to read, research and keep up with the news in quiet, comfortable surroundings.

The architect Thomas Harrison of Chester provided an impressive entrance through an Ionic portico which led to a galleried newsroom lit by a glazed dome, “larger by 700 square feet than the coffee room of the Athenaeum in Liverpool”.  Bookcases lined the first-floor gallery.  The total cost of construction was £6,881 5s 3d.

By the 1830s the properties on Mosley Street were given over to trade, as the merchants moved out to such suburban developments as Victoria Park.  Members commuted into town for business and used the library mostly in the daytime.  By 1900 most of the members were described as “gentlemen”, though some were cotton manufacturers and merchants.

The Portico Library is rightly proud of its distinguished members.  Paul Roget (1779-1869), a physician at the Infirmary and the author of the famous Thesaurus, was the first Secretary.  The scientist John Dalton (1766-1844), a lecturer in a Manchester dissenting academy, was accorded honorary membership in return for “superintend[ing] the going of the clock”.  The Rev William Gaskell (1805-1844), minister at Cross Street Chapel and a noted academic, was Chairman for thirty years and is commemorated in the library by a portrait and a bust.

Others included the engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth Bt (1803-1887), the cotton manufacturer, merchant John Rylands (1801-1888) whose widow founded the Library that bears his name on Deansgate, and the industrialist and politician Ernest Simon (latterly Baron Simon of Wythemshawe, 1879-1960).

Members’ families visited the Library from the outset.  An irritable notice of 1817 declared “Children should not on any account be suffered to…touch the prints, or to turn over the leaves”.  “Ladies of the respective families of the Subscribers” were allowed to use the Library, and one of them, Mrs Ann Frost, was allowed membership in 1853, though limited formal membership for women was only introduced in 1873. 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the social and cultural environment in which the Library operated changed increasingly rapidly.  Though the cotton trade remained robust, Manchester’s prominence in national politics had shifted to the Chamberlains’ Birmingham.  Municipal free libraries, scattered across the city, reduced the need for the Portico’s book collection.  The Proprietors debated at length amalgamating with the Athenaeum, selling the book-collection, or selling the entire building.

A practical solution was found after the end of the Great War.  In 1920 the ground floor and basement was leased to the Bank of Athens, which paid for an internal glazed dome to allow the library to occupy the first-floor level with an independent entrance on Charlotte Street.  The Manchester Evening News commented that if the Portico “cannot claim to be rolling in money, it may claim that there will be plenty of money rolling beneath it”.

The building was listed in 1952, which both ensured its survival and limited the scope for adaptation.

Eventually, after Lloyds’ Bank, successors to the Bank of Athens, moved out, the internal dome was replaced by a solid floor, separating first-floor library from the area below, which became a public house called The Bank

This transformed library was inaugurated in 1987, and its flexibility led to a rebirth of the institution, which in addition to offering books, periodicals and light refreshments as it always did, mounts exhibitions, hosts performance events, hosts weddings, awards literary prizes and welcomes outside visitors.

A visit to the Portico Library forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.


Montecatini Alto

Monticatini Terme, Italy: Funicolare

Monticatini Terme, Italy: Funicolare

The town clustering round the Montecatini Terme spa is relatively modern:  until the eighteenth century the area on which it is built was a swamp.

The old town is a small, perfect Tuscan hill town, Montecatini Alto, strongly suggestive of the better known San Gimignano, with towers, churches and a market place perched at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Of the twenty-five medieval towers built in Montecatini, six survive.

The easy way to Montecatini Alto is by the Funicolare connecting the historic hill-town with the baths in the valley bottom.  This one-kilometre line opened in 1898, in the presence of local resident Giuseppe Verdi.  The track was blown up in 1944 and restored in 1949.  There was a further closure for upgrading between 1977 and 1982.

The two cars, named Gigio and Gigia (also numbered 1 and 2 for the avoidance of ambiguity) are inclined, with three compartments and external balconies front and back.  Gradient markers towards the top indicate increasing gradients from 25% to 38.5%.  The views are spectacular and the experience didn’t feel vertiginous.  The line stops for lunch between 1.00pm and 2.30pm.  A round-trip, taking less than ten minutes, costs €7:  https://www.funicolare-montecatini.it/orari-e-prezzi/timetable-and-prices.

At the top I visited the quiet little Church of St Joseph & St Philip and, next to it, the Torre dell’Orologio, a clock tower with an unusual dial showing only six instead of twelve numbers.  The Torre dell’Orologio was fitted with a dial facing northwards across the town by 1552, and the existing mechanism dates from 1695.  It chimes “alla Romana”, the Roman striking system in which a low note represents five and a high note one.

At the opposite end of the main square, the Piazza Giuseppe Giusti, I climbed another hill to visit the Church of St Peter the Apostle, which has an odd little museum, including a disconcerting relic of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of Montecatini.

There’s an authoritative account of Montecatini Alto at https://experiencedtraveller.com/journal/2016-08-21-montecatini-alto-in-tuscany-medieval-meets-modern.

Montecatini Terme

Montecatini Terme, Italy: Tettuccio Spa

Montecatini Terme, Italy: Tettuccio Spa

I’d never have found my way to Monticatini Terme if I hadn’t booked a Great Rail Journeys ‘Highlights of Tuscany’ holiday [https://www.greatrail.com/tours/highlights-of-tuscany] which was based in the excellent Hotel Francia & Quirinale [https://www.franciaequirinale.it/en], providing four-star quality with individuality and amenity, meticulously efficient service, an elegant lobby, a spacious lounge with many settees and a grand piano and an equally spacious restaurant with a separate area for private parties.

Two minutes’ walk from the hotel is the Parco delle Terme, which contains the spa from which the town takes its modern name, strongly reminiscent of Buxton or Harrogate and utterly enjoyable:  https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=it&u=http://www.termemontecatini.it/&prev=search.  Open courtyards with columned arcades open one into another, with fountains and an apsidal concert stage for music.

Baths on this site are documented back to 1201, and were reported by the Montecatini physician Ugolino Simoni in 1417.  In modern times the spa was developed by Grand Duke Peter Leopold, who sponsored the construction of the Bagno Regio (1773), the Terme Leopoldine (1775) and the Terme Tettuccio (1779).

The heyday of the resort was the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Though some parts are in need of restoration they evoke the time when the composer Verdi lived in the town, with such neighbours as Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Beniamino Gigli and Luigi Pirandello.

A series of elaborate marble counters offers a variety of waters through labelled taps:  Rinfresco, which “promotes the elimination of waste through the renal pathways and restores lost salts in sports training”, was the only water that was actually flowing and for lack of a cup I couldn’t drink any of it.  It wasn’t very warm.  Behind the counters a series of tiled pictures show the ages of man, voluptuously suggesting how water improves health at every age.

I had lunch – smoked salmon and remarkably tasty white bread accompanied by a litre of aqua naturale – in the high, domed, dignified Caffè Le Terme, far too grand to be called a café in any language but Italian.  On a very hot day the air conditioning was natural and effective – huge doors wide open on three sides of the high-ceilinged room.

Elsewhere in the park from the main complex are other spa buildings, the Terme Torretta (1904), the Terme Excelsior (1907) and the Terme Tamerici (1911).

At the edge of the park, I booked a table for dinner at the Profumo Garden Bistrot [https://www.thefork.it/ristorante/profumo-garden-bistrot/307299?cc=18174-54f] and later enjoyed a superlative five-course meal in an open-air setting, as the hot day cooled to warm and the sun dipped lower in the sky.  Perfect.

Holy Angels

Church of the Holy Angels, Hoar Cross, Staffordshire: chantry chapel

The Hon Mrs Emily Charlotte Meynell-Ingram (1840-1904) was one of the richest women in England, the widow of Hugo Francis Meynell-Ingram (1822-1871), whom she married in 1863.

From her husband she inherited substantial estates in Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, amounting to 25,000 acres including Temple Newsam, near Leeds, and Hoar Cross in east Staffordshire, ten miles west of Burton-on-Trent.

Her father-in-law died in 1869, shortly after he began building a new house at Hoar Cross to replace the Old Hall.  It was completed in 1871, the year that his son’s death in a hunting accident left his widow lonely and socially isolated.

Though the Mrs Meynell-Ingram preferred to spend time at Temple Newsam, she dealt with her bereavement by building Holy Angels’ Church at Hoar Cross, within a short walk of the Hall, so that her husband’s remains could be transferred from the parish church at Yoxall.

Mrs Meynall-Ingram resolved from the outset to entrust the entire design of her church to a single architect.

Her choice, George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), remained with the project from the initial commission in 1871 until the end of his life.  Indeed, the only part of the church that he didn’t design, the narthex, is his own memorial designed by his assistant and successor in the practice, Cecil Greenwood Hare (1875-1932).

Bodley had previous experience of working for a single lady patron with an open cheque-book:  he had designed St Martin-on-the-Hill, Scarborough in 1861-2 for Miss Mary Craven, the daughter of a Hull surgeon.

He and his business partner Thomas Garner (1839-1906) certainly worked together at Hoar Cross, though Bodley seems to have taken a lead.

Holy Angels’ is an essay in the Decorated style of fourteenth-century English Gothic and is regarded as one of Bodley’s best churches.

The church is oriented to the south, so that daytime sun streams through the six-light east window.

The nave has a timber roof, while the significantly taller east end is elaborately vaulted.  These features combine to make the sanctuary a dramatically lit, mysterious space, its sanctity preserved by Bodley’s ornate iron screen.

In 1888, when the Old Hall was opened as a boys’ orphanage, Mrs Meynell-Ingram decided the church was too small and commissioned Bodley to take down the west wall and extend its length from two to three bays.

She added the Lady Chapel to the south of the chancel in 1891, and the corresponding All Souls’ Chapel to the north in 1901, and refloored the nave in black and white marble the following year.

And Mrs Meynell-Ingram incessantly collected artefacts to embellish Holy Angels’ when she travelled in Europe and the Mediterranean.  She commissioned the Stations of the Cross copied from the Antwerp carvers the Antwerp carvers Jean-Baptist van Wint and Jean-Baptist de Boeck, coloured in the sgraffito manner which she had seen in the Mariankirche in Danzig (now Gdańsk).

The Chantry Chapel contains the tombs of both Hugo and Emily Meynell-Ingram, their effigies each resting on an alabaster base under ogee arches.  The effigy of Hugo Meynell-Ingram is by the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner (1825-1892).

This sumptuous church is one of the highlights of Victorian architecture, worth seeking out for its great beauty and richness.

It epitomises what can be done when piety, grief and great wealth combine with artistic excellence.

A guided tour of Holy Angels’, Hoar Cross is included in the Pugin and the Gothic Revival (September 18th-22nd 2019) tour with lunch at Hoar Cross Hall.  For details please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

Lads’ and girls’ club

Salford Lads’ Club entrance

The Salford Lad’s Club has been operating for well over a century, but only became well-known after it featured on the cover of The Smiths’ third album, The Queen is Dead (1986).

The Club committee was at first not pleased by this attention.

A later change-of-heart encouraged fans to visit, to take selfies outside the front door, to come inside to add their pictures to the Smiths Room and to buy an impressive range of souvenirs.

There’s much more to celebrate about the Club.

It was founded in August 1903 as part of the newly built New Barracks estate by the brothers William (1847-1927) and James Groves (1854-1914), local brewers, who persuaded Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) to open the club on January 30th 1904.

It was one of a number of local clubs founded to break the combative local youth gang-culture, known as “scuttling”, which had disturbed the peace of Salford and inner-city Manchester for the previous twenty years.

The main staircase has a memorial to William and James Groves, with the motto “To brighten young lives and make good citizens”.

The Club offered opportunities for strenuous activity, including annual summer camps in Wales, alongside less energetic pursuits such as billiards, snooker, draughts and bagatelle.

The building was designed by Henry Lord (1843-1926) who was also responsible for the adjacent New Barracks estate, Salford’s first municipal housing development, and survives almost entirely intact, providing a large gymnasium and a concert hall, both with viewing galleries, and a boxing gym.  The former fives court is now split to create rooms on two floors.

The physical comfort of the modern building must also have been attractive.  The sport facilities included showers at a time when hardly any homes had indoor sanitation, and the club was exceptional in offering an employment bureau for boys aged thirteen and upwards.

The Lads’ Club stands at the end of Salford’s actual Coronation Street.  The model for the TV serial, Archie Street, was older and the houses were smaller.  Archie Street was used in the title sequences of the programme from 1960 to 1969;  it was demolished in 1971.

The Salford Girls’ Institute stood nearby at the corner of Regent Square, adjacent to St Ignatius’ Church, until it was bombed in the Second World War.  It was never replaced and eventually the Salford Lads’ Club became the Salford Lads’ and Girls’ Club in 1994.

The building was listed Grade II in 2003 as a rare example of a purpose-built boys’ club.

The Club retains the membership cards of the 22,500 young people who have attended since 1903.  This archive is digitised and accessible for family-history research, and the Archive Room contains the Wall of Names, installed in 2015.

Former members include Eddie Coleman (1936-1958), the youngest of the “Busby Babes” who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster, Allan Clark and Graham Nash (both born 1942), founder-members of the 1960s band The Hollies – Graham Nash went on to perform with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – and the champion boxer Jamie Moore (born 1978).

One of the co-founders of the Betfred bookmakers, Fred Done (born 1943), whose first betting shop opened in Ordsall in 1967, contributed to the cost of the Wall of Names.

As well as being a destination for music tourists, the Salford Lads’ Club does what it’s always done for young people in the local community – “brighten young lives and make good citizens”.

A visit to Salford Lads’ Club forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Tunnel vision

Queensbury Tunnel, West Yorkshire (February 6th 2019)

When we walked the stretch of the Great Northern Railway Trail from Thornton to Queensbury, my mate Richard and I were puzzled by the undulations in the former trackbed.  There were steep sections that couldn’t possibly have carried a railway train.

It became apparent that whole stretches of the line had been infilled.  Indeed, at the site of the triangular Queensbury Station it’s impossible to work out where the railway went without recourse to the old maps on the very useful interpretation boards.

We walked a couple of hundred yards along the trackbed towards Halifax to look at the north portal of Queensbury Tunnel, where repair work is underway in preparation for filling it in (if the Historical Railways Estate has its way) or restoring it as a cycle path (if the Queensbury Tunnel Society succeeds in making its case – http://www.queensburytunnel.org.uk).

Outside the portal stands a new wooden cross commemorating the ten navvies who died during the construction of the tunnel.

Landfill in the Strines Cutting at the southern end of the tunnel has flooded it to half its length:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queensbury_Tunnel#/media/File:Queensbury_Tunnel_flooded_south_entrance.jpg.

We could only guess the location of the nearby Clayton Tunnel on the line to Bradford, because its approach has been completely obliterated by landfill.

In fact, the west portal is visible and accessible if you know where to look – http://www.lostrailwayswestyorkshire.co.uk/images/donations/Grahame%20H%20Beacher/!cid_.jpg – and almost all of the tunnel’s 1,057-yard length is intact though dangerous, but the east portal is filled in – http://www.lostrailwayswestyorkshire.co.uk/images/donations/Graeme%20Bickerdike/Clayton%20Tunnel/clayton-1.jpg – and the approach cutting has completely disappeared beneath a housing estate.

In the 1960s, when these railways lost their traffic to road transport, hardly anyone envisaged their alignments might have a future purpose.  Campaigners argued to retain the train services, and routinely lost.  The conservation argument that planning policy could safeguard miles-long continuous corridors of land by making them available only for reversible purposes simply wasn’t made in time.

Opening up abandoned railways in the Derbyshire Peak from the 1970s onwards has given millions of tourists healthy pleasure on the Tissington, High Peak and Monsal Trails.

Indeed, in Sussex the Bluebell Railway cleared a huge filled cutting as part of a successful scheme to restore services from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead, removing much of the spoil by rail.

The Great Northern Railway Trail is a laudable attempt to bring people into the West Yorkshire countryside, but the short-sighted disposal of solid Victorian infrastructure a generation ago has compromised the vision for the future.

That’s why it’s so important that the practical, economic case for the reopening of Queensbury Tunnel is sustained.

There is a well-written and well-illustrated account of the railways that met at Queensbury – Martin Bairstow, The Queensbury Lines (Amadeus 2015):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queensbury-Lines-Northern-Railway-Riding/dp/1871944449/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1551044322&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Martin+Bairstow%2C+The+Queensbury+Lines+%28Amadeus+2015%29.

There is also an oddly spooky evocation in virtual world of railway simulations:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msL3L5t1uAs

Bradford’s cup

Clayton Fireclay Brickworks chimney, Brow Lane, West Yorkshire

My mate Richard and I have explored the extant parts of the Great Northern Railway trail, a work-in-progress to give public access to as much as possible of the trackbed of the former Great Northern Railway’s Queensbury Lines, the so-called “Alpine Route” built in pursuit of competition and in defiance of geography between 1874 and 1884.

We walked from the spectacular Thornton Viaduct south to the former Queensbury triangle, where trains from Bradford, Keighley and Halifax met at an unusual triangular six-platform station sited four hundred feet lower than the town it was supposed to serve.

North of the line, at a place called Brow Lane, is an unusually decorative tall chimney – not, as you’d expect in the old West Riding, a woollen mill, but a brickworks.

Clayton Fireclay Brickworks was founded in 1880 by Julius Whitehead (1839-1907), at the time when the nearby railway between Queensbury and Keighley was being built. The works closed in April 1970.

According to the Grade II listing description, the chimney dates from c1890 and was erected by Julius Whitehead’s son, Claude.

The enamelled brick panels on the chimney depict an urn, and are thought to represent the FA Cup, celebrating Bradford City’s victory in the 1911 Cup Final when, following a goalless draw after extra time at Crystal Palace, the team captain Jimmy Speirs (1886-1917) headed the only goal in the replay at Old Trafford. 

The Glaswegian Jimmy Speirs went on to serve in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, was awarded a Military Medal, and was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele in August 1917, aged 31.

By a curious coincidence, the actual trophy – the same one in use today – had been manufactured by the Bradford jewellers Fattorini & Sons, a family with strong connections to Bradford City FC and its historic predecessor, Manningham Rugby Club.  The 1911 final was the cup’s first outing.

Regrettably, it has proved to be its only visit to Bradford so far.

Opera on tap

Opera House, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Tunbridge Wells was a staid and respectable spa town, not over-supplied with theatres in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Mrs Sarah Baker’s Tunbridge Wells Theatre, opened in the Pantiles in 1802, was used as a theatre for about fifty years and then converted into a Corn Exchange which still exists.

In the decade when the borough became Royal Tunbridge Wells, thanks to the merry monarch, King Edward VII, the Opera House was promoted by Mr J Jarvis and opened in 1902.

It was designed by John Priestly Briggs (1869-1944) who among much else built the Grand Theatre, Doncaster (1899, with J W Chapman).

The splendid Baroque exterior includes a range of shops on three sides and a balcony above the entrance leading out of the dress circle bar.  The central dome was originally surmounted by a nude statue of Mercury which was removed after the First World War.

The intimate auditorium, originally seating 1,100, is lavishly decorated with a dress circle and  balcony , and a central saucer dome above the stalls.

The proscenium is 28 feet wide and the stage is 32 feet deep, with a grid 44 feet high.  The proscenium arch has brackets in the upper corners and is surmounted by relief figures representing Music and Drama.

The eccentric local landowner John Christie (1882-1962) reopened the Opera House as a cinema in 1925.  He had taken over the organ-builder William Hill & Son & Norman & Beard Ltd in 1923, and installed an ambitious five-manual organ with pipework located on stage and the console in the enlarged orchestra pit.

He produced a wide range of shows, including musical comedy and Gilbert & Sullivan, before he set up his own celebrated opera house on his nearby estate at Glyndebourne:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opera/what-to-see/glyndebourne-the-love-story-that-started-it-all.

The organ was sold to a New Zealand buyer in 1929 but the stage remained in use for annual amateur operatic performances from 1932 to 1966.

The history of the building after John Christie’s time is conventional – refurbished in 1931, bomb-damaged but repaired and reopened in 1949, taken over by Essoldo in 1954.

In 1966 the local council refused a bingo licence and listed it Grade II.  After a couple of years of controversy, the final film-show (Paul Schofield in A Man for All Seasons) took place on February 3rd 1968, and the Opera House reopened as a bingo club in July the same year.

The bingo club, successively operated by Essoldo, Ladbrokes, Top Rank and Cascade, eventually closed in 1995, and after a public campaign to prevent demolition, the Opera House was taken over by the J D Wetherspoon chain in 1996 and adapted as a public house that can be used for opera one day each year.

J D Wetherspoon has an outstanding reputation for transforming redundant historic buildings into enjoyable places to eat and drink.  By combining business acumen with sensitivity to the localities in which it trades, the company enables heritage structures to earn their keep and bring enjoyment to customers.

At the Tunbridge Wells Opera House the seating remains in the dress circle and, unused, in the gallery.  The boxes are practical but cramped, and the stained glass panels in the doors to each box and the vestibule at the back of the dress circle are restored.  The stage house retains its fly floors and bridge, and the original lighting board and the counterweights for the house tabs remain in situ.

Though there’s nothing scheduled in the calendar at the time of writing, it’s easy to set up an alert for the next Tunbridge Wells opera experience:  https://www.ents24.com/tunbridge-wells-events/wetherspoon-opera-house-pub.

And in the meantime, any day of the week, breakfast to suppertime, anyone can walk in and enjoy a complete Edwardian auditorium with good pub food, beverages and a wide range of drinks at very reasonable prices.

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