Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Councillor Michael Crutchley, Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council


  I write to you in the capacity of spokesperson for an informal group of individuals, comprising towns people and theatregoers, who have banded together to oppose the demolition of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre building and the development of an adjacent area in Stratford-upon-Avon. I am also a sitting member of the Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council.

  Our campaign to save the Theatre is styled HOOT (Hands Off Our Theatre). As yet there is no formal structure but it is hoped to create one very shortly.

  Our position is broadly as follows:

  1.  Whilst it would appear that some form of re-development has been in planning for probably two years or so, the first intimations that something radical was afoot only became public knowledge in October 2001. HOOT came into existence shortly after.

  2.  Jonathan Pope, representing the protagonists for the proposals, was invited to explain the intentions at a public meeting, organised by HOOT, at Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall on 11 December 2001. While he was eulogistic and long on describing his perceptions of the values of the re-development he advised the meeting that he was in no position to disclose any specific plans because such plans did not exist. Clearly this was disingenuous and unsatisfactory given that the Royal Shakespeare Company has provided evidence to you this week in order to obtain public funding. Members of the public are being kept in the dark as to what is really going on.

  Briefly, HOOT's opposition to demolition is based on the premises set out as follows:

    (a)   In the 1870s Charles Edward Flower gifted about two acres of land, adjacent to the River Avon, to the "Corporation of Stratford-upon-Avon" (not the Stratford-upon-Avon District Council) specifically as a site for a theatre to honour William Shakespeare. Mr Flower and other like-minded benefactors then banded together to raise the necessary finance to build the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Following the fire in 1926, Archie Flower was the prime mover in literally trawling the world to raise funds, from individuals and institutions with an abiding desire to restore the memorial to William Shakespeare. It is believed that these multiple acts of generosity and endeavour created a trust, either actual or implied, the beneficiaries of which are, joint and severally, the people of Stratford-upon-Avon and lovers of the works of William Shakespeare world-wide, in perpetuity. To destroy the memorial as it is today, as planned, would be a breach of that trust.

    (b)   The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (the name was changed from the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in the 1960s) is a grade II* listed building. A copy of the full listing, provided by English Heritage, is enclosed with this letter. Like it or loathe it, and there are disparate views on the aesthetics of the theatre complex, it is acknowledged as a gemstone of British Architecture of the Art Deco period. The building is part of the national and local heritage and to assist its destruction using public money appears to me to be manifestly wrong.

    (c)   It is accepted that the extant Theatre building has certain limitations and, furthermore, it will have to meet the requirements of legislation/regulation. However, these sorts of problem are not uncommon with many theatres, notably in London, but such difficulties are being overcome by adaptation and not total destruction. Always provided that the requisite thought is given, in an objective fashion, it is contended that the existing problems can be eliminated at significantly lower cost than that implicit in demolition and re-build.

    (d)   From the outline details, in the public domain, the "new theatre" would have approximately the same seating capacity at the present building and therefore it cannot be argued that a bigger audience value could be generated by such vast expenditure.

    (e)   The proposals, insofar as they are known, contain absolutely no provision for competitive design. This runs counter to the process adopted for both the 1880s theatre and the re-build after the fire of 1926. There appears to be a crass attempt to foist the values of the few, on the many, using public money.

    (f)  Demolition presupposes that consent to do so would be given by the Secretary of State, as a result of a public enquiry. An enquiry has yet to take place. In addition, the proposals anticipate that the necessary consents would also be available from the Stratford on Avon District Council. Based on preliminary soundings this is not a foregone conclusion because although the ideas are alleged to have the support of certain key officials there has only been very limited exposure to the public. To ignore public opinion on such seemingly radical proposals is manifestly wrong and probably in defiance of the rights of the people of Stratford-upon-Avon.

  I hope what I have written illustrates the contentious nature of what the Committee is being asked to consider. Under the circumstances could I respectfully ask that the Committee postpones any response to the request for public funding until such time as the key issues are resolved and full exposure to the public has taken place.

  A Petition started by ourselves against the demolition of the Theatre is gaining momentum. Signatures from all parts of this country have been received and we are now receiving completed forms from the continent of Europe. (I enclose forms received from Germany) [not printed]. Other forms have been requested from the United States of America and Canada.

  Thank you for reading this letter and for considering the contents. In the event that evidence is required, by means of a personal appearance before you, then one of my group will certainly be available.

9 January 2002

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