BCS Newsletter: September 2015
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Bromley Civic Society News

September 2015

Chair's Welcome
2015 could be regarded as the year for “Selling the Family Silver” in terms of the heritage in council ownership. As we know the Council pulled the plug on the Heritage Lottery Fund bid for maintenance of the Museum at historic Orpington Priory which is to be sold and its Museum functions reduced to small exhibits in the Central Library.  The final sale and conversion for hotel use of our two beautiful, Grade II  listed, Town Halls has just been approved.  Reduction in Council personnel and functions to the absolute minimum and desire to raise funds has manifested itself in the Executive’s decision last week to sell off parts of the Civic Centre for development including the Grade II listed Palace building itself. The Council is also consulting on formulating a new development brief for disposal of Opportunity site B which is part of the beautiful setting of the Grade I listed Bromley College and Tweedy Road.  Early signs of a revised brief for site G look disastrous not only for the community to be displaced but also the environment of Library Gardens.  Then, of course, lets us not forget the destruction of the Italian Garden in Queens Garden. With all this grim stuff to deal with it is heartening that our Vice Chair, Peter Martin is inaugarating what we hope will be a future programme of regular heritage walks and talks. For those who were unable to attend the last AGM Peter has also included the main points and fascinating pictures from his talk on the future of the Bell Hotel.

Heritage Walk Bromley North

on Saturday 26th September 2015

Meet at 10:30am outside the Railway Tavern (opp Bromley North Station)
FREE but donations to Bromley Civic Society very welcome.

The walk will last about an hour and a half

A walk around the old town of Bromley to get a flavour of its Victorian heyday, when many buildings in the Arts and Crafts style were built and the young Herbert George Wells was running around getting into scrapes and experiencing life that would later shape his novels.   We will visit the 17th Century Bromley College, a quiet oasis with a rich history, where there is wonderful Wren style architecture and 200 year old graffiti. 

We hope this will the first of a regular series of walks in Bromley Town Centre but we need more walk leaders!  If you have an interest in history and your local environment (you don’t have to an expert!) and you would like to get involved in leading these walks in the future then come and join us at 10:30 on the 26th September or contact us through the website.

History of the Royal Bell and plans for its future

Royal Bell The Royal Bell has stood empty and forlorn now for some 5 years.  Once the grandest hotel in Bromley, its most recent history has been somewhat chequered - as a troublesome nightclub (the horrible red plastic ‘Bromleys’ sign is still over the door), before that the ‘Sky Bar’ and before that a rather down at heel pub.  Many will remember it as a Bernie Inn where you could get an excellent roast dinner in the large hall on the first floor at the back.

A group of people came together in 2012 to see if anything could be done about the state of the building.  We discovered a stalemate between British Land (owners) and Spirit Group (leaseholders) that seemed destined to keep the building empty for the next 20yrs.  

The Bromley Arts and Community Initiative (BACI) was formed to look at ways of re-opening the building as a venue for theatre and music along with arts workshops and community rooms supported by a commercially run café/pub on the ground floor.  The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Heritage Enterprise scheme, it was hoped, could provide significant funding.  Bromley Council and the Social Investment Business helped towards feasibility studies. 

The Royal Bell dates from 1898 and is Grade II listed and was designed by Ernest Newton, an important Arts and Crafts architect and Bickley resident.  It replaced an earlier hotel on the site that was one of three important coaching inns that were the mainstay of the local economy throughout the Victorian era.  Bromley was a convenient stop on the road to the coast where travellers rested or changed horses for the onward journey.  Jane Austin may have stayed in the Bell as she famously refers to it in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.  It was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ when it was appointed as a posting house to Queen Victoria, after which royal coaches would change horses there.  On these occasions stablehands were required to put on scarlet uniforms. 

PargettingWhen seen from the High Street it is obvious that the Royal Bell was designed as a group, including No 175 near the Market Square and the former Martins Bank, now William Hill (spot the ‘M’ in the roundels on the black lead-covered bows).

A distinctive feature is the white painted pargetted strapwork under the bow windows, with its Arts and Crafts lettering and depictions of bells, gremlins and nymphs.  The white paint has probably preserved the pargetting in good condition – originally it would have been bare plaster, dark brown in colour (see photo).  Newton clearly hoped that this would be the beginning of a grander High Street but it was not to be; to the north past no.181, the older Kentish cottages still remain. 

Bromley High Street 1920aThe 1920s photo shows a glass covered canopy over the front door adorned with signs.  It is no longer there of course but during the condition survey, a piece of stained glass with the letters RB was discovered on the floor of the stables at the rear.  Could this be the remains of the canopy?  
The 1920s photo also shows shopfronts inserted in the frontage.  This is something that could be considered again as a means of improving the viability of the building as a whole. 

Inside, Newton provided a grand ballroom on the first floor with a gallery and characteristic chimneypiece.  These are still there but a large hole has been carved in the floor of the ballroom (in the 1980’s?) to allow for a curved staircase to be inserted (since removed).  The first floor rooms in the front overlooking the High Street have original chimneypieces and decorative ceiling still intact. 
ChimneyPiece Former Ballroom
During the condition survey commissioned by BACI some asbestos, dry rot and water ingress in two places were found (the leaseholders have since dealt with these problems).  A large range of further repairs and adaptations were costed – including installation of disabled lifts and bridging over the floor of the ballroom to enable its use as a venue for music and theatre. The complexity and total cost proved too much for a voluntary organisation to handle without a commercial partner. 
Ground FloorFirst Floor
In 2014 we heard that Antic Ltd had taken a lease on the Royal Bell.  Antic are a pub company that have rescued several historic buildings in south London and they seem an ideal company to tackle the Royal Bell, albeit not as we originally envisaged.  Antic have carried out a sympathetic refurbishment of the Railway Tavern opposite Bromley North Station and the pub now seems to be operating successfully.  Anthony Thomas, the Chief Executive of Antic has said his approach to refurbishment is ‘slowly, slowly’ and it may be years before the building is fully operational.  He is open to suggestions about arts activities in the Royal Bell and has included the showing of films in a mini arts cinema in the stables building at the rear.  In August, he said that they were still awaiting the completion of the lease, they hope to conclude next month… and soon thereafter make a start on works.
Mosaic found in entrance and being preserved

Watch that space!

With thanks to Jo Hone for the photographs.

Opportunity Site B

Bromley Civic Society committee have been asked to comment upon initial ideas for a new development brief of Opportunity Site B in Tweedy Road beside Bromley College.  Those of you who were involved in the successful campaign to defeat the 2008 scheme will remember that the Council’s Chief Planner , Bob McQuillan, recommended approval of the first and the revised scheme which had been formulated by the Council and its development partner on this council owned site. 

BCS, Bromley College and several other groups put up a united front and both the first and revised schemes were thankfully refused by Bromley Council’s Development Control Committee.   Our artists impression (below) shows just how much of a fiasco this development proposal was considering the sensitivity of the site being the setting of Grade I and II listed buildings and the setting of the Conservation area. 

Had the Development Control Committee not refused the schemes there would not have been an appeal and we would not have the formal evidence of the Inspector’s report illustrating just how destructive this Council instigated development would have been. Famously, the Area Action Plan Inspector in 2010 insisted that the Appeal Inspector’s report, not the AAP, should be the brief for any future development and dwelling figures should be subordinate to the environmental constraints of this most sensitive site.   To try to avoid another refusal by the Development Control Committee the Council has appointed architects Holder Mathias who have produced some studies with reduced dwelling target figures.  So far, the results are still most harmful and do not, by any means, overcome the appeal Inspector’s objections of harm to the setting of listed buildings, the conservation area and the locality.  We will be submitting comments to the Council shortly.

Opportunity Site G

As previously discussed, the AAP proposals for Site G had been approved in 2009 by full Council on the grounds of a perceived need for comprehensive and massive increase in retail development.  Within the scheme was also a housing provision. How often had we heard Councillors’ cry that without this development “the town will die”.  With the collapse of the Muse development scheme and the announcement by the GLA that the London Plan had over-estimated the demand for retail development, we now know that the AAP justifications for development from the Churchill Theatre down to the Railway cannot be sustained or justified.
Yet, as previously reported, Councillor Morgan and the Executive would seem to proposing an entirely different scheme of housing only while still using the AAP as justification. BCS had a meeting in July with senior officers and suggested that since the AAP had to be approved by full Council, major alterations such as this on Site G, should also be put to full Council.  We were told that the legal department had already looked into this and said the Council could legally change the AAP without further authorisation from full Council.  Thus the community of 40 homes in Ethelbert Close which is now targeted for blight and ultimately compulsory purchase of their homes, have been denied any democratic representation by this appalling attitude from the Executive in their assumed role as property developer. 

At the July public meeting workshops we were shown ideas commissioned by the Council from Architects Holder Mathias (see above) showing possible proposals which are also of concern to a wider public. Library Gardens is shown as entirely overshadowed by the proposed new housing development with the much used lawn in shade and all sense of the gardens dwarfed. The High Street conservation area becomes overpowered by tall building in the same way as has happened lower down with the Ringers Road development.

Civic Centre

The Council made the following announcement: A proposal to reduce the size of the Council’s Civic Centre site was approved on Thursday (18th September) by the Executive. The proposals would mean whilst the Council would continue to occupy the Civic Centre site, some of the site could be sold for re-development. Councillor Stephen Carr, Leader of Bromley Council said, “We will look for efficiency savings anywhere and everywhere we can, not just because this forms part of sound financial management but also because this protects our frontline services.  As the Council gets smaller in size, it simply doesn’t need as much accommodation and the unnecessary expense that is associated with this.  The option now being considered envisages that the Council retains park land, including the lake, and multi-story car park along with North Block and Stockwell Building, with a decision about the Old Palace which forms part of the former Bishop of Rochester’s palace, to be decided at a later date. For media enquiries, please contact Andrew Rogers, Communications Advisor, on 020 8461 7670 or email 

Retaining the park is the only good news about this decision given that in the first round of the AAP consultations the park was to be sold for housing development. This was effectively scuppered when BCS and the Friends of the Park successfully applied to English Heritage for listing of the Ice House, Ha Ha and the two Pulham Rockeries all of which would have been destroyed by one or other of the two housing proposals in the initial AAP proposals in 2005.  The current Executive report admits the historic park boundary has not been defined.  How big or small this turns out to be is likely to be defined by how much land the Executive deem shall be sold off. By rights it is the whole Civic Centre Site which is the historic park, notwithstanding the various buildings imposed on it when it was used by Stockwell College.  We should stick out for the maximum to be set aside for public use given the amount that the Council has already destroyed to build Kentish Way, Council Offices and the Multi Story Car Park.  What use will the Listed Bishop’s Palace be put to?  Questions to be put and considered sooner rather than later!  Interestingly the site is also supposed to house a relocated Pavilion Leisure Centre but there is no discussion of this in the Executive report.  The Council have commissioned consultants, Montague Evans, to investigate.

BCS Membership subscriptions

Don't forget we are still chasing up membership renewals. You can find out how to renew or join BCS by visiting our Membership page on the BCS website. Your membership fees support the work of the Civic Society and are still very reasonable at just £7 per year for an individual and £11 per year for joint membership.
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