Sunday, 2 October 2016

What should we do with the old buildings of Eltham?

The Well Hall Odeon in 1936
It is 80 years since the Well Hall Odeon opened and maybe 48 years since I last saw a film there.

And for a long time the place has sat empty and forlorn with an uncertain future.

It was the boldest of our cinemas, grander than the ABC in the High Street and more fun to be in than that other one on the hill.

Now I know some people are less than pleased with its current use and this does raise that interesting debate about what should happen to an old and much loved building.

Ideally of course it should continue doing what it did but that isn’t always an option.

Our own old school house on the village green languished empty for years before a property developer transformed into four homes, and across the city textile mills with a history dating back to the early 19th century have been saved by being given a new use.

Sometimes it works well, while in a few cases you do have to reserve judgement.

The 1830 warehouse and replica of the Planet, 2004
Such was the fate of the 1830 warehouse which was part of the Liverpool Road Railway Station complex.

Back in 1830 this was the eastern end of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which was the first passenger railway in the world.

When the site became the Manchester Museum of Science and Technology part of the inside of the warehouse was dramatically altered to allow exhibits from an old power station to be displayed there.

But as if to make up for what was a pretty ruthless act of vandalism the remainder of this unique early railway building has been preserved.

So could anything else have been done with my old cinema?

I shall sit back and await the debate, which is more than just an argument about one building in Well Hall but begs the question of what should happen to any of those iconic and respected buildings in Eltham.

I am up for accepting almost any changes although I do feel uneasy at how certain fast food outlets and supermarkets have settled down in some of the places I knew as a child.

And the old cinema today in 2014
But then the alternative may be demolition which was the fate of the Welcome Inn, a place where I first saw a colour TV transmission.

Not that either me being in there or that it was one of the first places in Eltham to show a BBC 2 colour programme warranted it’s preservation.

But it was a little bit of our history, one I remember fondly.

That said there will be those who mutter “sentimental tosh.”

The Victorians and even the planners of the mid 20th century along with private developers had no such quibbles about tearing down and building a fresh.

Still, glad that the Odeon is not a car park or worse

Location; Well Hall, Eltham .

Pictures; of the Well Hall Odeon in 1936 and today courtesy of Chrissie Rose, picture of the 1830 warehouse from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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