Ryde’s Royal York Hotel in its poor state today. Picture by Peter Boam.
WIGHT LIVING IN the heart of Ryde, historic buildings, once richly woven into the fabric of community life, are suffering.
The condition of Newport’s historic Guildhall — and finding a proper use for the building — has exercised minds.
And down in East Cowes the saga of the former Frank James Hospital is a running sore.
But Ryde is the focus of what to do about buildings which have fallen from use or into disrepair.
One example of this is the diminutive Grade II-listed Vectis Hall in Melville Street.
It was as long as ten years ago that it was said to be falling down and the IW Council served an urgent repairs notice on its owners. It was made weather-tight but, today, its condition has raised fresh concerns.
Built in 1812 as the town’s first free school, the hall developed into a penny-a-day establishment providing education. During the war, it was a rations centre and in recent years, before it fell into disuse, was used by organisations, including the town’s table tennis club.
Another bigger player is just around the corner. Vandals, thieves and the weather did dreadful work at the art deco Royal York Hotel before, and after, its broken windows and doors were boarded up.
The venue is fondly remembered for its part in the Island’s music scene and the bands who played there, predominantly in the late Sixties, during the golden age of the 69 Club, were stuff of true legend. Pink Floyd, Status Quo, The Move, Moody Blues, the Pretty Things — the list goes on.
But, in the case of the Royal York, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
Its developer/owner, Nick Spyker, has been involved in protracted negotiations with planners over what can be done with the building.
"We are hoping to get on with it but the timing is subject to the necessary permissions," he said this week.
The condition of both buildings was raised at a meeting of Ryde Town Council, where there were calls for the IW Council to take urgent action to protect the town’s heritage.
Concern over Ryde’s historic buildings is heightened by the plight of Ryde Town Hall, just along the road, which the IW Council has been trying to sell for a couple of years, but where again there was encouraging news this week, with a plan for the IW Council to sell the building to an, as yet, unnamed bidder, which is said to be an events company which will use it for theatre/live entertainment, as well as keeping open the public toilets in Lind Street.
Other threatened buildings include St Thomas’s Heritage Centre, which is also on the market, and Holy Trinity Church, which looks set to be closed by the diocese.
These are five chunks of town history within a radius of barely 500 yards.
Secretary of the Historic Ryde Society, Diana Wood, said: "The general view is these buildings are an embarrassment to the town. Obviously, some are privately owned, therefore little can be done about those, but the town hall, Holy Trinity and St Thomas’s are another matter.
"The town hall, which celebrated its 180th anniversary last year, is one of three designed by James Sanderson — the others being Brigstocke Terrace and St Thomas’s — and should be recognised as the iconic building it is."
Leading members of the conservationist IW Society, David and Sarah Burdett, are aware of the problem of what should be done with old buildings — many of which were grandly designed for a particular purpose.
David pointed to the success stories of enthusiastic voluntary organisations taking on Northwood House and Shanklin Theatre from the IW Council and the fact voluntary organisations can be more effective custodians because they have lower overheads.
"On the IW, there are as many voluntary organisations as anywhere in the country. They work in many society activities, including sport, the arts, community groups and historical organisations," said David. "The IW Council could be well advised to help set up a charitable trust to manage property the council owns, but does not want to use, and help voluntary organisations make use of these buildings for public benefit.
"If a council has got into financial difficulties, it should not have the right to sell the public estate without a public vote."
And Sarah believes the council has to be encouraged to take compulsory purchase measures to save buildings at risk.
"Frank James Hospital, East Cowes, and the Royal York are urgent cases," she said.
"If the council sells more historic buildings — for example, the Guildhall — what might happen to those in the hands of a developer, or non-developer?"
George Brown, the IW Council cabinet member for the economy and the environment, says his authority takes its duty to preserve the Island’s heritage and its buildings very seriously.
"I welcome the positive views of Mr Burdett. The council is keen to hear suggestions from anyone who has an understanding of historic buildings and is able to help us, not just to preserve them but to encourage greater public use in a way that is financially sustainable.
"Because of its condition and layout, the Guildhall does not easily lend itself to providing modern council offices. The task now is to determine a future that respects the Guildhall’s heritage and also brings it into increased public use.
"In the case of Ryde Theatre, the news is extremely positive."
He also pointed to other success stories which sprang from the need to make significant financial savings.
"Shanklin Theatre and the Waterside Pool are two examples of how the community has successfully taken over amenities the council did not have the resources to operate to their full potential."
Head of planning Bill Murphy added: "The government advises compulsory purchase powers should be used, where appropriate. But they are used very rarely by local authorities, as the process is often very uncertain, costly and protracted."
The council preferred to talk and use enforcement powers, where necessary, he said.