Historic Bodmin dancehall to be demolished
- 22 September 2013
- From the section Cornwall
Demolition has started on a historic dancehall in Cornwall despite a campaign to keep it for community use.
Foster Hall in Bodmin once rang to the sound of music and theatre.
Now it is a leaking relic, its sprung wooden dance floor decaying and its stained glass windows rotting.
Built as part of the former Cornwall Lunatic Asylum and designed by the renowned Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail, its purpose was to bring entertainment to the patients.
Finished in 1906, it later became part of St Lawrence's Hospital under the NHS. The hospital closed in 2002 and it has been unused since then.
When the former hospital's owners, Community 1st Cornwall, announced that they intended to demolish the old hospital site for redevelopment, the Foster Hall Revival Trust was created to turn it into a community centre.
With backing from the Cornish Buildings Group, the Ancient Monuments Society and Save Britain's Heritage, the trust called on English Heritage to give it protection by listing it.
Finances 'ever tighter'
The Ancient Monuments Society said a "really interesting building by one of the county's great architectural sons, and one surrounded by local goodwill, faces needless oblivion".
But English Heritage refused to list it, saying that despite the Foster Hall being "undoubtedly a building of considerable local significance and resonance", it did not meet the criteria for listing.
Then in May, Cornwall Council cleared the way for demolition.
The issue was even raised in July in the House of Lords by the Earl of Clancarty in a debate on the role of the arts to health.
Campaigners say their views on keeping the Foster Hall were never properly considered.
But the leaseholder, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said it had "explored a number of options" for the building.
It said: "Unfortunately, mainly due to high conversion and the running costs for such a building, none of these have proved possible.
"We are aware other groups have similarly explored options and although all parties have undoubtedly worked hard on this issue, no viable option has evolved."
'Hugely vibrant hall'
It added: "Patient care is our priority and finances are becoming ever tighter.
"With this in mind, together with the owners, we have taken the decision to demolish, salvaging materials wherever possible.
"This will free the area for redevelopment and regeneration in line with the government's plans for unused public sector land.
"Continuing to invest in a derelict property must not take priority over health services for vulnerable patients."
The demolition is scheduled for completion by the end of February 2014.
Ninety two-year-old Eric Spear remembers playing a violin solo there as a member of a Sunday school group.
Holding back tears, he said: "It seemed very advanced to be asked to play in the Foster Hall.
"It is a sad day for Bodmin.
"It is a wonderful, beautifully built building."
Chris Batters of the Foster Hall Revival Trust, remembers its heyday and called it a "truly magnificent" and "hugely vibrant" hall.
Paul Holden of the Cornish Buildings Group said: "It could have been restored, but no effort has gone into that.
"We have lost the battle and we move on."