Monday, 30 December 2013

Refugees From The Flood

Our local Wetherspoons in Tonbridge, the Humphrey Bean, has been closed since early evening on Christmas Eve. I reported a couple of posts ago about how Tonbridge had been affected by flooding; well it now appears that having escaped river water in the pub itself, the Bean has been badly affected due to water in the basement.

At its peak there was around six feet of water in the cellar, and this had a disastrous effect on the pub’s power supply and electrical systems. When I walked past on Boxing Day morning, there were four vans belonging to UK Power Networks parked outside, and a group of workers peering down a hole dug in the pavement. A post on the Bean’s Facebook site stated the pub is likely to be closed until at least the New Year. For management and staff this will not have been a good Christmas, with their busiest period of trading completely wiped out.

No doubt Wetherspoons will be doing everything in their power to get the pub up and running again as soon as possible, but in the meantime how have the Bean’s regulars been coping? The short answer is I don’t know, and whilst I obviously feel sorry for the pensioners and other customers on low incomes who enjoy a drink there, the small but vociferous contingent who spend the entire day in there, courtesy of the tax payer, will get no sympathy from me.

Local ale enthusiasts will also have suffered, and so will those like myself, who like to pop in for a mid-morning coffee, when not at work, or by way of an occasional treat like to grab a breakfast. Last night my son Matthew indicated that he fancied a Wetherspoon’s breakfast, seeing as he had the day off work today, so as the weather was once again foul, we decided to jump in the car and drive over to Tunbridge Wells to indulge ourselves with a full English in the opulent surroundings of the Opera House; the town’s imposing JDW outlet.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the Opera House is exactly that, a theatre where operas were once performed on a regular basis. The Tunbridge Wells Opera House was completed in 1902 to designs by architect John Briggs, and when opened had a capacity of 1,100.  The worthy citizens of Royal Tunbridge Wells didn’t turn out to be quite as highbrow as one might imagine, because in 1931 the building was purchased by Union Cinemas and turned into a cinema!

After bomb damage during the Second World War, which set fire to the inside of the Opera House, the building underwent extensive renovation before re-opening in 1949. It was later turned into a bingo hall in the 1960s, after threats to demolish it, and in 1966, the building was granted Grade II listed status. In 1996, the Opera House was purchased by J D Wetherspoon and was turned into one of their most prestigious outlets. Since then, the pub has occasionally hosted proper staged opera performances, and a sign inside the pub informs visitors that these are now held on an annual basis. It is therefore nice to see the building being used for its original purpose from time to time.

Matthew and I arrived at the Opera House shortly before 10.30am. The place was fairly busy, but there were still quite a few empty tables, especially up on the former “stage area”. We grabbed one down in what would have been the stalls and then went and ordered our breakfasts. We didn’t have long to wait before they were brought over to us, but in the meantime I had time to admire the opulent surroundings of the place and observe just how much of the original fittings are still in place. For example, the circle, dress circle and the various boxes are intact, although off limits to customers for obvious health and safety reasons. That such a fine old Edwardian building should have survived is a testament to both the original builders and today’s custodians in the form of JDW. I have included a few photos of the interior, but the camera on my phone doesn’t really do justice to the building.

Beer-wise, the Opera House had three Dark Star beers alongside British Bulldog from Westerham. Of particular interest was the Opera House Porter; a beer brewed exclusively for the pub by Turner’s Brewery, who are based down at Ringmer in Sussex. There were a few other beers on at the far end of the bar, although I didn’t manage to see what they were. It was too early to start drinking and besides, I was driving anyway.

All in all our visit made a pleasant change, and was probably a good way of passing the time, given the awful weather outside. Nice though it was, I will still be thankful when the Humphrey Bean in Tonbridge re-opens, as I really don’t  want to travel to the next town just to get a breakfast, a coffee or a pint of something a bit different!


Neville Grundy said...

It reminds me of the Prince of Wales in Cardiff, also made from a former theatre, which later became a cinema, and it too has many original fittings. I went there during the CAMRA AGM of 2008.

Paul Bailey said...

These sort of conversions are something Wetherspoons do really well.

Tandleman said...

Also the Art Picture House in Bury is in a similar vein.

Phil said...

the small but vociferous contingent who spend the entire day in there, courtesy of the tax payer, will get no sympathy from me

Any other unpopular, impoverished and powerless groups you'd like to have a pop at? Chavs, maybe? Pikeys? Asylum seekers?

I was on the dole for a year before I got my first job. It's a thousand times harder to claim now - whatever your circumstances are - and it's only going to get harder. (I was born in a country without beggars (cheers, Maggie); my children were born in a country without food banks.) Anyone who does get enough out of the social to sit in a Spoons all day has my admiration, frankly.

Paul Bailey said...

"Anyone who does get enough out of the social to sit in a Spoons all day has my admiration, frankly."

Phil, I also have had a couple of spells of unemployment during my life, and I know how hard it is to get by. The people I referred to in the post though, make an art-form out of being on the dole, and I am not kidding when I say they spend most of the day in our local Spoons.

Regarding the minority groups you describe using derogatory names. Sure they are often unpopular, sometimes impoverished, but they are never powerless. I don't have a problem regarding genuine assylum seekers, and I won't rise to the bait regarding the other two groups.

We can all make a big show out of being "outraged"!

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