The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Colston Hall in The Builder 1961
Colston Hall showing deep balcony
Colston Hall's porthole doors

Don’t let it be curtains for Colston Hall Auditorium

We are objecting to plans that will see the demolition of the Festival of Britain auditorium within the Grade II listed Colston Hall in Bristol. The main auditorium remains virtually unaltered since it was constructed inside its handsome Victorian shell in 1951, and is under threat from a scheme by Levitt Bernstein.

The architect, J Nelson Meredith, was responsible for the City’s post-war rebuilding programme, and his redesign of the hall’s interior was praised at the time as one of the best of the Festival of Britain era. The Victorian hall had seen several reincarnations being twice ravaged by fire, before the 1951 interior and the rest of the building were listed in the 1960s. The hall features bespoke acoustic panelling of African hard woods and a large canopy above the stage made from fibrous in-situ plaster.

The design was strongly influenced by acoustic requirements and the advice of the acoustician Hope Bagenal at the Building Research Station, who also advised on the acoustics for the Grade I Royal Festival Hall, the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (1951, Grade II, now demolished) and the later Fairfield Hall, Croydon (1962, unlisted). Colston Hall is the only one left with such a remarkable degree of intactness.

The hall was built as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, and is an outstanding regional example of the Festival architectural style; elegant, with remarkable detailing and resplendent with quality materials which is of particular note, given its construction in an era of post-war austerity. The interior design is refined in its forms, with the flowing curvature of the balcony fronts echoed in the rippling quiff of the fibrous ceiling canopy. Other details such as port-hole windows and low relief decorative motifs to the balcony fronts are highly characteristic of the Festival of Britain style.

The Bristol Music Trust, which runs the hall, says its restoration plans are justified because of general wear and tear, acoustic issues, cramped backstage areas, and an inflexible stage.

Tess Pinto, Conservation Adviser at the C20 Society, says that the hall has not been maintained properly, and that these are issues that could have been addressed through a conservation-led scheme, without such radical intervention.

“In our opinion this level of harm is not justified, nor is it outweighed by public benefit’ says Tess. “The applicants have refused to compromise on their vision for a new-build concert hall despite the listed status of the existing building, and despite the fact that many of their desired outcomes – including an improved acoustic – could be met through a less intrusive scheme. The hall needs TLC, not demolition.’

The scheme is due to be considered by Bristol Council tomorrow (Wednesday 29 November) with a recommendation for approval. We are  requesting that the scheme be ‘called in’ by the Secretary of State who would then appoint an inspector to carry out an inquiry into the plans.