The winner of the Trust’s Architectural Award for 2012 is Eshwin Hall, the restored Miners’ Memorial Hall in Esh Winning. The value of what, in fact, has been a rescue effort is best appreciated from a historical perspective, for everything about the original building was remarkable.
The Twentieth Century Society listed it as “one of the grandest village halls in England”, but the sheer size and scale of the structure, boldly proclaiming the Baroque Revival – “almost Edwardian”, according to Pevsner – speaks of an urban setting. (The 1923 building bears comparison with the miners’ headquarters at Redhills Lane built eight years earlier.) It is a surprise to find that the architect, John A. Robson, was an Esh Winning man, and that two-thirds of the public subscription was raised by the miners themselves.
The facilities offered in this community centre were comprehensive: a concert hall (with stage, auditorium and gallery; it was soon converted into a cinema), swimming bath, games rooms, library, reading and meeting rooms.
Unfortunately, during the years of depression – including strikes – there were insufficient funds to operate as intended, and the Hall was sold in 1936. There followed a series of different uses until the early 1970s when it was finally vacated. At the millennium a detailed feasibility study, spearheaded by Anthony Scott, proposed its conversion into a series of business offices, craft workshops and artist studios, but nothing materialised.
The building therefore continued to deteriorate, a process accelerated by frequentvisits by vandals. With part of the roof missing and the rear wall bulging, the windowless building was recommended for demolition following a structural engineer’s report. At this point, 2009, Mick Brett (of Brett Brothers Ltd) stepped in and bought the property. His vision has resulted in a restoration hardly less remarkable than the story of the original building.
The imposing front elevation has had its brickwork and terracotta stone cleaned, sympathetic windows re-inserted and lantern tower and clock restored, Even the distinctive down-pipes have been retained, even though they no longer function. The bold façade therefore again proudly performs its role as the architectural signature, or place-maker, of the village. At the rear, parts of the wall have been rebuilt, with some new bricks seamlessly inserted, while a slightly higher new roof permitted insertion of a third floor. Completion of the lower two floors required the removal of several hundred tons of debris, much of it being concrete tiers from the cinema.
The interior is now a pleasurable experience. Elegance is given by the manner in which the staircase winds around the inserted lift. Its former history is captured by artistic collections of photographs, while the care taken in the conversion is immediately evident inside the front door with a stone mosaic, which was rescued from elsewhere in the building and re-laid, tessera by tessera.
Eshwin Hall now provides ‘supported living tenancies’ in twenty self-contained flats for adults with mild or moderate learning disabilities. Its twin role as a reminder of its mining heritage and community use has therefore been maintained. It is fair to say that no annual award of the Trust has been more deserving or given with greater pleasure. For this, our gratitude is extended to entrepreneur and visionary, Mick Brett, who with his architect, the late David Spark, succeeded by Garry Hodgson, along with encouragement from Steve France in the County Planning Office, brought the project to fruition.
See Bulletin 74, Spring 2013, for details of this building and other candidates for the award.