RTWCS and the Assembly Hall Theatre
During the early years of the 20th century the principal performing venue was the “Great Hall” in Tunbridge Wells (in Mount Pleasant Road). This building was demolished in the 1930’s and a new building (which ) complex with shops and offices was built on the site in the 1990’s; it still bears the name “Great Hall”.
The Assembly Halls were built to incorporate the main town hall, council offices and what is now referred to as the Assembly Hall Theatre. The choral society’s founder, Francis Foote, had often been frustrated by the lack of a suitable venue for the Choral Society’s concerts. Foote was a strong supporter of the Assembly Hall project which was eventually opened in 1939 just before the outbreak of the 2nd World War. However, the society’s first concert in the new hall was not held until 1942.
By that time the Choir had already built up a substantial reputation with its concerts in the original “Great Hall”, but with war disrupting people’s lives (in particular the men), the choir had to resort to enlisting recruits from nearby army camps to augment the tenors and basses. However, it managed to put on a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Assembly Hall on 26th October 1942 with a chorus of 100 voices. The soloists were Florence Astral (soprano), Astra Desmond (alto), Jan van der Gucht (tenor) and Robert Easton (bass), all well known at that time. There was also a fully professional orchestra.
This first RTWCS concert in the Assembly Hall was almost disrupted by a sudden influx of soldiers, and police had to be summoned to deal with the situation as there was no room for them all. It was reported that some 500 people had to be turned away, so popular was the event.
Since then RTWCS has put on about 190 events in the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre – normally 2 major formal concerts per year on Sunday afternoons. The Assembly Hall seating capacity is variable depending on how many of the front rows of stalls need to be moved to make room for the orchestra. For a typical RTWCS performance with large orchestra and no front stalls, the capacity is 730 seats. (310 in the circle, 420 in the tiered stalls)
Early in the 21st century, there were reports that the current site which incorporates the Assembly Hall were to be redeveloped. However, the plans were not agreed upon, and an upgrade to the Assembly Hall Theatre was carried out in 2015 following representations to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council by RTWCS and others to allow continued usage pending a decision on the building’s future.