Tales from our Towns.
As the train from London pulls into Redhill, new Sainsbury’s complex grabs your attention, standing guard over Memorial Park with the A23 whirring around the foreground.
If your unfamiliar with Redhill. You would be forgiven for thinking that it is, perhaps a ‘new town’ that sprung up after WWII. After all, there isn’t much visual evidence of the Victorian and Edwardian heritage as you pass through either by rail or road. However, you’d be mistaken, Redhill was a poster town for the railway age, springing into life with the London-Brighton line and at one time, having an array of Victorian and Edwardian buildings with their glorious and magnificent structures.
Standing in Maple Square, you see what remains of this ‘railway era’ architecture, now housing estate agents, banks, charity shops. On the other side, of the square are the ‘modern’ buildings that house the theatre, the library and shops. An homage to town planning of the 1970 and 1980’s when old buildings were bulldozed. Since 2013, Redhill’s Town Centre is under the protection of a Conservation Order to retain these historic buildings and protect what is left of the town’s character.
Outside of this and other conservation zones, Redhill’s characterful buildings are taking their chances.
Longmead School that stood for 110 years, situated just outside the town centre, is sadly, the latest victim of the modernity march. The bulldozers have moved in. Campaigners backed by the Redhill Community Trust, five local councillors and with support from SAVE Britain’s Heritage, fought hard throughout the summer of 2020 to overturn Surrey County Council’s decision to turn the site into a car park with a ‘temporary modular structure’. SAVE decried this scandalous waste of £280,000 and threw their weight behind the local campaigners.
To no avail. The comments on the Save Longhead Facebook page, from a few of the 1,200 residents who petitioned SCC, to re-think their position, decry the fall of Longmead. Locals find it hard to understand the justification. They wonder what will arise in its place. There is little trust in town planners, as they point out the mistakes from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s
Longmead may be lost, a decision that will surely reverberate when old pictures of the school are periodically published on local historical and community social media pages.
But what of the future for other buildings ‘at risk’ of re-development?
The White Lion Pub on Linkfield Street is the oldest pub in Redhill and indeed Reigate. After it suddenly closed back in September 2018, it promptly sparked interest from a developer, who wanted to convert the pub into three flats and two houses. This was rejected by the town council, following an intervention from the Conservation Officer and dozens of residents.
The campaign group, Friends of the White Lion are proposing to run it as a community led pub, following the enormous success of The Garibaldi Pub now run by the local community to great success.
Then there is the Salvation Army Building on Lower Bridge Road, built in 1890. Now up for sale, it is unlisted as a building of historic interest or protected by any conservation orders.
Finally, the Abbot Pub, a recent mock Victorian building that is hard to miss as you walk into the town. At the time of writing, it looks as though this could be converted, which is fair and a slight piece of good news after the disappointment of Longmead.
The wider picture suggests that Redhill’s historic buildings must fight to stay alive, to keep their identity. It seems though, that locals have been spurred into action with the fight for Longmead. The events of 2020 suggest that commuting is out and homeworking is in. It is time to ask ourselves, what kind of town do we want to live in? What buildings do we want to be surrounded by?
Old buildings tell us so much about times before us. It isn’t only their physical presence that roots us, they awaken all our senses. How many have walked past Longmead at twilight and looked up, picturing generations of schoolchildren that went before. They tell us how lives were lived and awaken memories in those whose lives played out if only for a while.
In other parts of the country, county councils realise how mistaken and short sighted it is, to demolish historic buildings and now prefer to re-use, there are many fine examples in London Borough’s including Greenwich and Hackney. We can only hope that Redhill loses no more of the buildings that forged the town.
With thanks to Stafania Maulucci, the Redhill Community Trust, SAVE and all those who fight to preserve and protect our historic buildings.