Heritage Spotlight: Our Blog
Welcome to our blog page, where we will be putting the spotlight on all things Heritage! From posting all of our Heritage news, to articles, to Q&As with some past and present VIPs, please check in and explore!
Newsflash | Clocktower Project on West Kent News | 22nd September 2022
If you missed their excellent Heritage Open Days talk last week, or if you’re just interested to hear more about what’s going on behind the scenes at the clocktower, please do tune in today at 4.30, 5.30 & 6.30pm on 95.5 FM & 106.7 FM.
Alternatively you can listen in here!
You can also read more from Mike and Toko, as well as learn about our original architect, the eminent Decimus Burton, in our next ‘Then and Now’ article, coming to this very blog VERY soon…
Newsflash | Heritage Open Days | 6th September 2022
Heritage Open Days 2022 at Trinity Theatre and Arts Centre
It’s almost time for this year’s Heritage Open days! This fantastic festival of history and culture (which this year runs from 9th – 18th September) sees a host of free events take place nationwide, giving everyone the chance to explore new places and subjects. If you haven’t heard of it before, do visit the Heritage Open Days website to see what’s on near you (there’s a handy location checker to make this especially easy).
And, if you’re near us, we have even more good news! The Tunbridge Wells Heritage Open Days site has details of all our local events, too….and some of these are our very own!
We have two illustrated talks taking place: the first, on Decimus Burton, looks at the life and work of the great man, including his legacy here in Tunbridge Wells. This talk, by architectural designer Paul Avis (who is also chair of the Decimus Burton Society and the Civic Society) also contains points of specific local interest as Paul will discuss the potential for a new Decimus Burton Museum and Study Centre – currently numbers 9 & 10 Crescent Road.
The second talk, by our current (and equally talented) architects Mike Kaner and Toko Andrews of Kaner Olette, gives a behind-the-scenes peek at our clocktower renovation project. Please come and join them as they discuss the challenges and joys of restoring a centuries-old, Grade II listed building, and hear about the ongoing progress of the work, set to be open to the public for the very first time by the end of the year.
Both of these talks, held in our auditorium, are completely free – you don’t need a ticket and can just turn up (though please arrive ten minutes before to have plenty of time to take your seat).
In addition, there will be a whopping FOURTEEN (yes, fourteen) guided walking tours which will take in some of Decimus Burton’s local work, led by accredited guide David Woosnam.
There will be two talks a day, running from 9th – 18th September inclusive, at 10.30am and 2.00pm. Each begins and ends right here at Trinity!
Each tour is step free and will last approximately 90 minutes.
You DO need to book this part as there are just 12 spaces per walk: please contact David directly on 07950 200031 or go via You Sign Up (please be assured that there’s no need to create an account).
Please note that due to the ongoing building works and their effects we can’t offer an internal tour of the building this year – although watch this space for 2023!
We hope you enjoy! Any questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Q&A | 24th August 2022 | Dr Philip Whitbourn
In the coming months, Trinity will be turning its Heritage spotlight on various aspects of our history, from individuals to events and eras.
First up is a Q&A interview with Dr Philip Whitbourn, O.B.E: someone we are honoured to have had as a staunch supporter from the Appeal Committee in the 1970s, right through to the present day. In fact, Philip’s efforts are directly responsible for us existing today. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Philip (and for all of your work on our behalf)!
Please read on to discover Philip’s views on what makes Trinity so special and find out more about our Herculean heroes of the 1970s and beyond…
You’ve been involved with Trinity for an astonishing amount of time – more than four decades! We even have photographic evidence showing you helping to lay some of the bricks for the auditorium walls. How did you come to be involved with Trinity originally?
I was a founder member of the Civic Society in 1959, and have been keen on Decimus Burton’s work in Tunbridge Wells for more than sixty years. In 1972, when Trinity was last used as a church, I was the Society’s Chairman. So, I was concerned with Trinity’s future and well-being then, and I have been ever since. I also had a direct involvement with Trinity when it was still a church. Tony March, the vicar there in the 1960s, asked my advice on the redecoration of the Sanctuary to ensure that they used appropriate colours for a Georgian building. In the event, that did not happen, but I met with him in the church and I was very familiar with what Trinity had to offer.
Trinity was first made redundant as a church, and then earmarked for demolition. What made you want to save the building?
Trinity was such an important feature of Tunbridge Wells. It had been the mother church of the town for a century and a half; it was a key building in Decimus Burton’s seminal Calverley new town; it had interesting historical associations with Queen Victoria and other notable people; it was a good example of a Georgian “Commissioners’ church”; it contained sculptural monuments; and finally its handsome tower was a landmark in views from the Common, Calverley Park and other vantage points around the town.
We’re here today thanks to the extraordinary efforts of you and other members of the original 1975 Appeal Committee, and then the Trinity Theatre and Arts Association thereafter (who took up the mantle once the initial appeal was successful). Sadly, some of those people are no longer with us. Please could you tell us a bit more about some of your colleagues (or as we should probably call them, co-heroes) of the time?
The Chairman of our Appeal Committee was the substantial figure of Lord Evans of Hungershall who, as Sir Ifor Evans, had been Provost of University College London. Our Secretary was the highly efficient and capable Pat Wattenbach, who had a background with the Drama Club [Tunbridge Wells Drama Club, the other organisation, along with the Civic Society, who led the charge to save and repurpose the building].
Committee members were Laurie Holliday, who was the Chairman of the Civic Society at the time and Manager of the Tunbridge Wells branch of the Halifax Building Society; Mike Stubbs, the Chairman of the Drama Club; Dick Greenslade, a local solicitor who had followed me as Chairman of the Civic society before handing over to Laurie, and finally, myself. As the only architect on the Committee, it rather fell to me to suggest plans for how the building might be adapted for its new use as a theatre.
Although not a member of the Committee, Norman Collings, a Public Relations expert, was also deeply involved, as were our bankers, Barclays Bank.
The Appeal Committee, as such, finished its job when the theatre proposition was duly put to the Church Commissioners and achieved a successful outcome. Thereafter, the Civic Society recognised that a new organisation would be required to take matters forward, and so the Trinity Theatre and Arts Association was formed in August 1976.
The TTAA’s Herbert Story was fundamental to the success of Trinity. While not on the Appeal Committee, he had been on the Civic Society’s Executive Committee. When the TTAA was formed, he and Laurie Holliday moved seamlessly across to the new organisation and, both being retired by then, devoted about ten years of their lives to making the Trinity project a reality.
Herbert was a man of many parts. He had been an Inspector of Schools and understood the world of education inside out, as well as being practical and hands on at building work. Also, he had been involved with the Maddermarket in Norwich and was well equipped to serve as Trinity’s first Manager.
There’s a well-known quote from the late Victorian era involving two men discussing Tunbridge Wells: one remarks to the other that the town will never have a theatre because ‘it is far too religious a place’. There’s a delicious irony to that now, seeing that the town’s former ‘Mother Church’ itself is the site of one! Who had the idea of turning the church into a theatre? Were there any characteristics about the space which made a theatre an obvious fit?
Yes there is an irony there, and I think that the Opera House was so named, rather than as a theatre, for that reason. However, in granting the Civic Society a year to come up with a credible alternative use for the building, it was conditional that this had to be a public use. Thus commercial uses such as office, retail, or residential that have been found for some other pastorally redundant churches, were out of the question.
The Civic Society consulted with the Council, and other local organisations when looking for ideas and, as a result, teamed up with the Drama Club to pursue the theatre idea, which seemed to offer most promise.
The Club had previously rehearsed in the boiler room of the old municipal swimming baths, and the Council’s Chief Recreation Officer, Donald McGuffog, was helpful in bringing the parties together.
There was also an architectural reason: Commissioners’ churches tended to be designed as ‘preaching boxes’, and thus the building with its flat ceiling and simple rectangular plan form was more suited to use as a theatrical auditorium than many other church buildings would have been.
From our archive, we know that the conversion project was an audacious move both in terms of the practicalities and the financing! What motivated you to keep going – first with the Appeal itself via the Committee, and then later with the Herculean effort to build and fund-raise?
Our motivation was, I think, a combination of the two organisations’ aims and focus: the Civic Society to save the building, and the Drama Club to see the creation of a small theatre for Tunbridge Wells. But it was indeed a “Herculean” task – of seven years’ duration!
Were there times that you, the Appeal Committee, or the TTAA doubted the viability of the project?
Yes, there were worrying times, but had the project not survived them, we wouldn’t be talking now!
At times, it was understandably difficult to see how the project would work – many experienced moments of doubt when there was so much to do. However, everyone involved was committed, both practically and mentally. Often, at particularly challenging times, people came up with masterstroke solutions. For example, Herbert Story’s background in education and his practicality saw the bricklaying students of West Kent College become involved in laying the walls of the auditorium, averting financial disaster and keeping the project on track. Before that, the students had learned their craft through building brick walls and knocking them down. Herbert’s approach was – come to Trinity to build your bricks walls and don’t knock them down!
You’re a retired Conservation Architect. Please could you tell us more about your career? When did you become drawn to architecture (no pun intended!)
As for my interest in architecture, it goes right back to my school days, when I spent holidays visiting our great cathedrals and cycling around the area to study local churches. This led me to take up architecture at University College London and, after qualifying, I worked in mainstream architectural practice for some ten years, before deciding to spend the rest of my career in the heritage sector.
Having worked on commercial projects including hospitals, pubs and offices I was delighted to work for the Historic Buildings Division of the Greater London Council in the 1960s, which was unlike anything else at the time in terms of its focus on conservation. The Historic Buildings Division eventually became the London region of English Heritage. I retired from my Chief Architect role at English Heritage in 1995 at the age of 63, but then worked for the UK limb of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-UK) for the following seven years, principally being concerned with World Heritage Sites.
It’s no secret that you’re an admirer of Decimus Burton’s work. Please could you tell us what makes it special? And how does Trinity fit into his portfolio?
Decimus Burton is special in many ways, not least, and perhaps uniquely, as being a major architect in both the Georgian and Victorian periods. He can be numbered among the great architects of the Regency, but then went on in Victorian times to bring about those truly amazing glass houses in the World Heritage site at Kew. In our town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, of course, it was to him rather than any other designer that we owe the development of the place as a historic town of national importance, Trinity marking the start of his seminal Calverley layout of the 1820s.
Please could you explain to us what Gothick architecture is?
Originating in the 18th century, and continuing into the early part of the 19th, “Gothick” architecture is a style that is only fairly loosely based on upon archaeologically correct Gothic. It can perhaps be seen more as an aspect of Georgian eclecticism, as distinct from the full-blooded Gothic revival of the Victorian period.
The public/critical reception to Decimus’s designs have waxed and waned over the centuries. There’s even a rumour that some considered the building ugly! Have you always admired it?
Yes, I personally have always admired the building, but not everyone has, and it is absolutely right to say that opinion about the design has waxed and waned over the years.
When newly built, Decimus Burton’s design was much admired, but by the 1930s it had become deeply unfashionable, and that situation continued into the 1960s (the influential and respected architectural historian John Newman referred to Decimus Burton as ‘that unspeakable Goth’ in that decade).
So part of our task in seeking to save Trinity was to convince people that it was important architecturally. I think that today most people see Trinity as an ornament to the town, although there are probably always liable to be differences of opinion on visual matters.
What are the most important architectural features of Trinity today that visitors should be aware of?
The first feature that visitors should be aware of when looking at Trinity, is that it is a relatively unusual example of a Georgian church building in the Gothic style, as distinct from the much more plentiful and familiar Victorian examples in Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere.
Externally, it is a good example of a Commissioners’ church of the period, which has not been significantly altered, and it has a handsome West Tower.
When it comes to looking at particular details, much may depend on the degree of interest that different visitors can have about the finer points of architectural history.
Some could, for example, find the tracery of the East Window remarkable for its date, while most would probably enjoy seeing its impressive stained glass, if suitable illumination can be arranged.
The thirty carved heads around the exterior could also be a source of fascination for many, as one contemplates the various forms of headgear, ranging from crowns and coronets to simple scull caps. We do not know who these heads were based on, but there are many possibilities!
Internally, the building has inevitably had to be adapted to accommodate its new use, so features such as ceiling bosses are not normally on show, except occasionally on Heritage Open Day Tours**.
However, the fine sculptural Greek Revival and military monuments in the foyer are readily visible. Forthcoming information about them will soon be installed and will be helpful to the visitor in appreciating their quality and interest to the full.
Do you have a favourite part of the building? Did you have a different favourite part before it was converted?
Before conversion, I was able to enjoy the whole vista of Trinity’s interior, looking towards the East window from the West door. This inevitably is no longer possible, although on special occasions the stage area can be opened up to give something of that impression. And, while enjoying a show, I enjoy too the sight of those decorative Gothic balcony fronts, and other internal details.
We celebrate 40 years since Trinity’s first performances this summer. What have you been most proud of/enjoyed most in these decades?
I have happy memories from around 40 years ago of a marvellous production in Trinity of “Gammer Gurton’s Needle” by the Medieval Players and, more recently, similarly energetic Christmas productions such as “Oliver”, and do feel a certain pride that this great public facility at Trinity, envisaged all those years ago despite scepticism from some quarters, actually came to fruition. Such enterprises do take time, though, and as life moves on, it is sad that some who worked so hard in the early days are no longer with us to see the impressive Trinity of today.
We’ve heard a rumour that Trinity might not be the only building of Decimus Burton’s in Tunbridge Wells to be the subject of a restoration campaign. Please could you tell us a little bit more about 9 and 10 Crescent Road (or Cavlerley Terrace, as it was then?)
I am hopeful that any rumours about Calverley Terrace may get turned into a wider understanding of our aspirations there, following a display in Trinity during HoDs***. As with Trinity nearly half a century ago, RTWCS has been given a year to come up with a credible scheme for this Decimus Burton building, which has been largely empty for several years. We would like to present No. 9 as an authentically furnished Regency house, rather on the lines of No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath, though on a smaller scale. Exhibitions about Decimus Burton and his work would be held in No. 10. It is an ambitious idea, with no certain outcome, but it would be good if Trinity, The Amelia and Calverley Terrace could form a close-knit group of visitor attractions, that could help RTW as a tourist destination and cultural town.
Thank you so much, Philip!
*the East window will be illuminated when the clocktower opens later this year
** we hope to have this tour available again in time for HoD 2023
*** come and visit our Gallery from 25th August – 16th September for more information
Dr Philip Whitbourn, OBE, PhD, FSA, FRIBA, was educated at Sevenoaks School and University College London, and is a retired Conservation Architect. A former Chairman of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, he was a leading member of the Committee set up in 1975 to save Trinity from demolition, and he was awarded a Civic Medallion by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in 2012.
As well as those for Trinity, he is the author of several local publications, including King Charles the Martyr church, The Friends of the Commons, Friends of Woodbury Park Cemetery, Friends of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park and the Civic Society.
Heritage News | 27 June 2022 | Going Platinum
We’re going to start with a retro piece – even for Heritage – about a special visit which took place here a few weeks ago, just before the Jubilee festivities.
Whatever you did for your own Platinum Jubilee celebrations, join us and feel inspired by the activity of Rusthall St. Paul’s Primary School! They turned the time machine dial back the whole 70 years, when they visited Trinity for a very special occasion. Class teacher, Miss Clark, explains more:
‘As a school, we are fortunate to have log books from the end of the 19th century. These were completed daily by the headteacher to explain what had happened at the school during the day. These can range from the mundane of the ‘nit nurse visiting’ to recording when there was a plane crash on the school drive in the mid 1940s. We have looked at the log book for the Queen’s coronation and the whole school walked to the ABC cinema in Tunbridge Wells to watch it. As the nearest possible place, we decided to visit Trinity as a whole school – and watch a clip of the Coronation there on the big screen – to get a sense of what it would have been like 70 years ago to go to a ‘cinema’ all together.’
Here are some photos of the event, and the log book, courtesy of St. Paul’s: what an amazing artefact to have!
We hope that Trinity’s auditorium did the old ABC screen proud. Thank you so much to everyone at St Paul’s for visiting us – we hope you had a great time.
The school’s visit also inspired us to look back at what we were doing seven decades ago! We’ve been turning the dial on the time machine ourselves recently, as one of our new projects here at Trinity, assisted by our amazing volunteer archivists, is looking back through our records in order to create a picture of Trinity in the past.
Lots of our work has been focused on our ‘big’ moments: not in the least in the build up to our first performances as a Theatre 40 years ago, as, in the summer of 1982, virtually to the day, Trinity Theatre and Arts Centre was born! That was all down to the hard work of local people, especially The Civic Society and TTC (or The Tunbridge Wells Drama Club, as it was known then), who pitted their time, energy and vision against a lack of funding and the threat of a bulldozer – a story we will be telling in full later this year.
We’ve also been looking into Trinity’s very first origins –we were Tunbridge Wells’ first parish church and had the good fortune to be graced with an iconic architect and minister who would each in their separate ways have a defining and last impact on the town. Again, stay tuned for more news on this in the coming weeks. But what about the period in between?
The first big news for us 70 years ago reveals that we ourselves have gone platinum (well, our walls have): because in 1952 we got our Grade II listed status! If that’s not regal, we don’t know what is…
But did we celebrate the Coronation here? A trawl through the Kent & Sussex Courier archive shows (thank you to The Amelia for use of the excellent Local Studies Room) that Trinity did not hold the town’s thanksgiving service for the new Queen, as this was held outdoors in Calverley Park and presided over by the Vicar from St. Luke’s Church. In fact, most of Tunbridge Wells’ celebrations 69 years ago were out in the open air, and included a parade across the common! We imagine that the services held here were suitably celebratory and excited, though (although from all reports, just as rain-swept as the 2022 version).
By contrast however, Trinity was well and truly at the heart of the more solemn events of the previous year. In February 1952, King George VI died, and his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II. Holy Trinity hosted the town’s official remembrance service for the King on 15th February, the day of his funeral. The Mayor and Corporation were in attendance, following a procession from the Town Hall, along with representatives and crowds of local people. As a precursor to our theatrical days, the natural ampitheatre inside the building was boosted by loudspeakers, so that everyone gathered within the walls – and those who couldn’t get into the packed pews who were gathered outside – could hear the service (led by the Reverend Hedley Thomas) and the hymns. According to local reports, the crowds all joined in to sing the King’s favourite: Abide With Me.
We imagine that even in that sombre mood, those people assembled and singing might have been delighted if they could have known that the brand-new Queen Elizabeth would still be on the throne 70 years later. To mark her amazing achievement and service to the country, we have planted ten new tree saplings in our churchyard as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy scheme: please come and visit these happy little newcomers the next time you’re here (one photogenic newcomer is pictured below). Much like Her Majesty has, we hope that these will flourish and thrive – and that whatever form Trinity might have taken in another 70 years’ time, they and the building can still be enjoyed by everyone who visits.