Tamworth Assembly Rooms
In 1878, work began on the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower was completed in 1889 in the same year that Tamworth completed the construction of the Assembly Rooms in Corporation Street. Whilst the Parisian landmark was built to celebrate the Paris Exhibition of May 3, 1889, the Old Lady of Corporation Street was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887.
The building cost £5,500, which was in part raised by public subscription; it was opened by Mr. Philip Muntz who was the first M.P. for the new Tamworth Division of Warwickshire. Built in the ‘Italianate’ style, the pediment at the front bore the borough emblem. A Fleur-de-Lys supported by two voluptuous mermaids. It was not until 1936, when the council decided to spend the £136 necessary to register this ‘Coat of Arms’, that they discovered that Boston in Lincolnshire had been using a similar insignia since 1568. In 1965, when Trevor Willcocks was Mayor and Tamworth was at the beginning of the great expansion, the council asked the College of Heralds to design a Coat of Arms which would befit our historic town. The Arms depict the Bear of Warwickshire and the Lion of Staffordshire fighting over the arms, this symbolises when the boundary of these two great shires ran through the middle of the town along Church Street.
The Local Act of 1889 decreed that towns in this situation should be incorporated into the county in which the majority reside Staffordshire won with 2,589 inhabitants to Warwickshire’s 2,032. The shield consists of a horizontal band (Fess Vair) which was taken from the arms of the Marmion family who, having been given the Castle by William I, (The Conqueror), ruled Tamworth for 200 years. The horizontal band consists of a panel with shield shapes alternating in blue and silver. Above this is a saltire, an oblique cross in gold on a blue background. This represents the kingdom of Mercia, whose great king, Offa, made Tamworth his principle town. Below on a red field is the fleur de lys which is taken from the borough seal. The helmet and plumes are those of an esquire or gentleman, and are used for towns and counties who have been granted a crest. Above this on a wreath of blue and gold, stands TamworthCastle, with two crossed swords on its green mound.
Now that the town had a venue worthy of important occasions, the townsfolk were inspired to fill it with numerous events. Here, too, came the travelling theatre companies – the Bensons with Shakespeare and lesser artistes with popular melodramas. Crowds thronged to hear the great political orators of the day. Elegant Edwardian parties, receptions and balls were held with cards for every dance and potted palms in every corner. The Suffragette movement, started in 1903, was put on hold whilst the men folk fought in Flanders during WWI. After the war Miss Pym and the suffragettes protested on the steps outside during political meetings. It was not until 1918 that the emancipation of women was passed, but only for over 30’s. In 1928 this age discrimination was amended with the abolishing of age qualification.
The Roaring Twenties brought a different scene with Flannel Dances at half-a-crown a time. The men wore Oxford Bags and the girls had Shimmy dresses and Clara Bow kiss curls. In 1924 ‘The Assems’ had the honour to entertain the Duke of York (the future King George VI) at a formal lunch when he came here to open the War Memorial at the hospital. During the General Strike of 12 May, 1926, a soup kitchen was set up at the Assems. But throughout the decade concerts and operatic shows filled the hall until, again, the music changed to solemn hymns and whistles when the Jarrow Marchers stopped here for food and rest on their way from the stricken north to Westminster in 1936. England was in the grip of the world depression which lasted throughout the thirties.
At the start of WWII in 1939, the Assems was used for Civil Defence. Shannon’s girls, from the local mill, packed respirators for distribution by the WVS, and the supper room, (now the bar area), became the Report Centre. There were many plans post war to update the building, but it was usually too busy for major works so had to make do with the occasional tidy up. There were Hunt Balls, trade exhibitions, dog shows, boxing, opera, prize presentations and of course pop concerts.
In the 50’s the Assems witnessed the rise of the Rock & Roll era, and subsequent Pop era of the 60’s. Vince Barker was instrumental in introducing to the Assems, many of the bands which are now household names. The Beatles played to a sell out audience on Feb. 1st. 1963, as did The Rolling Stones on December 2nd. that same year. The first of many concerts over the years by Marty Wilde and his Wildcats took place in 1964 on April 4th. Marty, more than any other artiste has witnessed the changes over the past 40 years that have been made to the Assems, the incorporation of the bar, the motorised retractable raised seating and the refurbished balcony and foyer. The Back stage area has four cubical style dressing rooms and separate Ladies and Gents toilets.
Other legends of Rock, who have entertained us include; The Hollies, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Eden Kane, The Bachelors, Alvin Stardust, The Ivy League, Joe Brown and his Brothers, The Searchers, The Barron Knights, Georgie Fame, Alan Price, The Fortunes, Brian Poole& the Tremolos, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure .
Easy listening enthusiast have been entertained by such greats as; Vince Hill, Val Donican, Elkie Brooks, Bob Brolly, Dominic Kirwin , The Drifters and Chaz ’n’ Dave
Comedy has been represented by such stalwarts as: Ken Dodd, Barry Cryer, Joe Pasquale, Bobby Davroe, Bradley Walsh, Ricky Tomlinson, Enoch & Eli and with magic by Paul Daniels.
Lectures and talks have been given by Sir Patrick Moore, Bill Oddie, Jack Charlton, Henry Blofeld, Gervaise Phinn, Simon Yates and via poetry, Pam Ayres.
Over the decades, the Assems has been used by the townsfolk for all types of recreation. The young and the not so young have availed themselves of her amenities, including birthday parties, anniversary parties, public meetings (Including a televised broadcast of The BBC’s Question Time hosted by David Dimbleby ).
Electoral functions such as polling and vote counting have taken place within its walls and Councillors have met their Electorate in sometimes heated debate.
Public services, such as the National Blood Service, regularly hold sessions.
Young wannabe ‘heavy metal’ band members have strutted the same stage of their historical role models. The annual Battle of the Bands is always an eagerly awaited event.
The 40 plus’s have enjoyed the weekly Tea Dances on a Friday afternoon.
Local Drama groups have proved their prowess during the annual festival, and the Operatic Society has enthralled audiences with their musical enactments.
Local choirs, male and female, along with national choirs have raised the roof with resounding renditions of patriotic and traditional songs.
Children have been entertained by Pantomime Dames and Principle Boys with holiday plays and workshops meant to stimulate their young minds.
The Tamworth Beer Festival has been an annual highlight for many real ale connoisseurs.
In 2002, the Assembly Rooms received a welcome refurbishment with the completion of the new bar area, (formally the Supper Room) and the installation of retractable seating in the auditorium, together with new stage lighting and a state of the art Martin sound system. New public toilets were built in 2007 and a new box office in 2008.
The capacity of the Venue is around 350, which is a far cry from the original Victorian figure of 900. An estimate which would send shivers up the spine of our modern day Fire and Health & Safety Inspectorate.
The Assems has, over the decades, played host to a many stars and given young talent the opportunity to emulate their idols. Its adaptability allows for diversity of use, which is paramount to The Assembly Rooms continued success.