By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
Can future generations in Camberley afford to lose any more of their heritage?
Councillors at Surrey Heath have in principle approved plans to demolish a locally listed building in Camberley.
The news has horrified many residents who argue that the locally listed status of the building should be enough to preserve it for future generations.
However, you only have to look at what has already been lost in the Surrey town, to see Camberley's heritage is fast becoming a thing of the past.
So should what is left of its Victorian history be saved before it is too late?
According to Surrey Heath Borough Council there are
330 locally listed buildings
in the borough. (PDF)
This does not automatically give them the same protection as buildings with the security of statuary listing, ie Grade I, II or II*.
But it does mean that they are of local architectural or historical significance and therefore begs the question whether they should be spared the bulldozer whenever possible?
council's web page on locally listed buildings
states that "when they are located within a conservation area, they are afforded some degree of statutory protection."
St Gregory's survived two World wars but is now the subject of another battle
But in the case of the old St Gregory's Roman Catholic school building, which sits within the Royal Military Academy conservation area, this appears not to be the case.
The Victorian school could well be the next in a long line of Camberley's old buildings to bite the dust, but is it really in the name of progress?
For a town that only came into being in the early 1800s, and one which has seen the march of new development stomp right through its heart, it has precious little to spare in the way of historic architecture.
When I moved to the town almost 20 years ago, I fell in love with a big red brick gothic pile, which nestled majestically between tall trees, on the London Road.
My best friend and I often imagined how we would buy the beautiful rambling old house and its adjoining outbuildings, and share it, each living in one half.
How we thought we could afford to buy it I'm not sure, but then dreams cost nothing.
Dullatur, as I later learned it was called, was falling into a state of disrepair even back in the early 90s.
Then one day, it was gone.
All that was left was a very large dusty pile of Victorian red bricks, and a feeling of sadness that no-one had thought it worth saving.
Unfortunately, this has become something of a recurring theme within the town.
Every year, another part of Camberley's dwindling heritage is lost to the wrecker's ball.
And more buildings sit forlorn and empty, gradually becoming derelict, having fallen victim to vandals, and a lack interest in preserving the old when there is big money to be made from the new.
But ironically, the developers who buy up these old sites find they are facing a different brick wall, in the form of
surrounding the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area.
So it becomes a stalemate.
Not terribly flattering
While the town's High Street remains remarkably intact considering what is happening elsewhere, a drive along the A30 from Yorktown to Bagshot tells a different story.
From the empty and overgrown spaces with rotting security fencing, to the stark empty office buildings that replaced many of the area's original buildings, it's not a "pretty site".
First impressions of the town, from a traveller's perspective, are probably not terribly flattering.
Which is a shame, as Camberley does still have a few historic architectural gems left.
But for how long, if the regulations which are in place to ensure they are protected for future generations, are ignored?
GOING, GOING, GONE
Local historian and author Ken Clarke has helped compile a list of just some of Camberley's historic buildings which have been lost.
The Duke of York is one of the town's oldest buildings and now derelict
The Duke of York Hotel, Yorktown
One of the oldest buildings in Camberley. Erected by an Eversley builder to cater for visitors to the new military academy.
Not gone but derelict and damaged by fire.
The Kings Arms Public House, Yorktown
The site is now used as a private car park.
Arthur Sullivan's cottage, London Road, Yorktown
Home to the young composer of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.
A drive-thru fast food restaurant now takes its place.
There is a plaque on one wall stating "Arthur Sullivan lived here", presumably meaning on the site and not in the drive-thru!
The Staff Hotel, London Road
Demolished in 2009. No replacement building on the site as yet.
Banks Cottages, where the House of Fraser department store now stands
Banks Cottages, Park Street
Now the site of the House of Fraser department store.
Royal Albert Orphan Asylum, Portsmouth Road
Now the site of Wellington Park housing estate.
The tree Queen Victoria planted at the official opening of the orphanage, and which the boys traditionally punched as they left the asylum for the last time, still stands!
The Lamb Public House, Yorktown
Once the home of one of the best pub Sunday roasts to be had locally! Also neighbour to the terrace where
house stood, which is also no more. Site is now overgrown wasteland.
Camberley Methodist Church
Once stood at the junction of the London Road and the Avenue.
Now the site of a block of flats.
Baldwin Brown Convalescent Home, Chobham Road
St George's Church, St George's Road
Now the site of offices and a private car park.
Police Station, High Street
Congregational Church, Southwell Park Road
One-time Camberley resident Rick Wakeman was married in the church.
Overs Furniture Warehouse, London Road
Built circa 1907
Now the site of a block of flats.
The empty Regal cinema has been ravaged by repeated vandalism
The Arcade Cinema and shops, opposite War Memorial
An office block stands on the site
The Regal Cinema (Odeon/Robins cinema), London Road
Not gone but derelict and damaged by repeated floods and fire.
If you live in Camberley, do you care about the loss of historic buildings in the town? Do you feel keeping an area's heritage is important? Or is new always better than old? Email me at
with your thoughts.
While not being born and bred in Camberley I have lived here for some 30 years and have taken a great interest in its history - I always think it to be on a scale of the USA in its timeframe and development.
I greatly admire its developers and researchers (Charles Raleigh Knight, Tekell, more recently Gordon Wellard and my good friend at the Museum, Sharon).
I do sincerely deplore the loss of cherished buildings, especially the beautiful congregrational church whose picture hangs on my lounge wall.
Developers are fools and desecrators (and I am generally forgiving of most things). We need no more empty office blocks which a 5 year old could design (sorry to 5 year olds!).
It was sufficiently harsh to allow the 1960s to do what it did to Camberley let alone to allow it to continue into a supposedly enlightened era.
Thank goodness (at least for the moment) the school has survived. I would be interested in any group to protect Camberley - glad to see a good protection of the Obelisk and the (albeit apocryphal) story of Squire John Norris.
Dr Peter Lyne
There are cranes looming over my neighbour, the "old 1930's Robins Cinema "as I type, looks like another part of Camberley's history is about to be demolished.
Very very sad, but after the Council refused to renew the cinemas license more than 5 years ago, as a new cinema was being built, I suppose the demise of this beautiful building was inevitable.
Lets all pray that something wonderful and unique goes in its place, although I suspect it will sadly be more cheaply built flats or unnecessary office blocks, to add to the plethora of already vacant buildings thats are littering the A30 through Camberley.
Cherry Red Studios
Reading your article on the loss of our heritage in Camberley really saddened me. When you walk or drive around the town and you look at the new architecture which replaced the Victorian and Edwardian buildings, it is easy to see what little thought has gone into our planning.
There are far too many dull looking office blocks, which are mainly empty. Has anyone counted just how many square foot of office place lay empty, I would think thousands and thousands.
I love modern architecture when it is good, and it can sit side by side with our Victorian or Edwardian architecture, one example is the Louvre in Paris, how daring was that, but it works.
But back to our town, we will lose the old cinema, the Duke of York and others because they will fall into disrepair which is the usual excuse the council use for raising them to the ground.
And of course, the next one to go will be St Gregory's if the council get their way.
It is not the prettiest of buildings, but nevertheless, the last of it's type in the area, the land was given to the town by the RMA and it was built by a distinguished architect. The council locally listed it in 1989 as they should have done, but alas this may not save it.
What can we do or is it too late?
Sally Garland, Camberley
It seems to me that far too many buildings are disappearing from many areas of England, plus elsewhere no doubt. Who pays the rates on these buildings when deserted. Who owns the land?
I have never lived in Camberley but as it is Surrey, know it would have been an attractive town. I well recall the shock I had when I saw the 'Fair Green' Mitcham, Surrey.
What a mess the council had made of that, for instead of the lovely brick raised flower beds circling the centre, these had been demolished to be replaced by horrid iron bollards and pipes. A busy intersection, no doubt, but one could hardly call it 'Fair'.
If councils keep on killing the beauty of Britain, God help us all.
I have lived in Camberley all my life, and many of my family are still here, clinging to the wreckage of what was once a lovely town.
Here and there, you can still catch a glimpse of what made it such a pleasant place to live - front gardens with a path leading to a large or small, red brick dwelling.
The town was firmly anchored to its late Victorian and Edwardian past. The affluent residential areas boasting banks of rhododendrons, the more modest roads lined with wooden fences and closely clipped privet hedges.
The A.30 seemed quite wide and expansive, St Michael's church the crowning glory, dominant, watchful, sending out exuberant peels of bells from the tall steeple.
The beautiful Overs building a statement of prosperity and commerce, but built to be admired, no expense spared, intended to last for generations.
Sadly, the council has signed the death warrant of so many of our finer buildings, often the ones that best described Camberley's history, the ones that lent a reminder of a time when design and form were seen as an integral part of function.
Each time they vote to demolish another fine building, a part of the soul of the town dies. Maybe it's time to move to a place where its people take time to reflect on what is important and act to preserve a heritage of which we should all be proud.
I share both views that the town is becoming a soulless cacophony of cheaply built flats, pubs and restaurants. I emailed the council planning department last year enquiring as to the fates of the cinema and the Duke of York and was told that the prospective buyer had gone bankrupt and as such both sites are now in limbo compounded further by the red tape laden intricacies of Surrey planning law.
In my relatively short time in Camberley (just under 30 years) I've watched the backdrops of my favourite memories change to unrecognisable shells of their former selves, my first date at the cinema seeing "My Girl" now feels almost unimaginable looking at the boarded up crisp shell of the Odeon.
The memory of my first proper pint in a pub (admittedly a terrible pint, and a terrible pub) at what was then "Mr Q's" and later in it's final incarnation "The Sandhurst Tup" fades into obscurity, surrounded by high whitewashed wooden panels advertising unashamedly the name of the company responsible for it's destruction.
My wife and I have lived in Camberley all our lives, and as you say there is so much that has disappeared. It's outrageous that they propose to knock down Yorktown School and replace it with a mosque.
My father and his brother went to this school as did I in the 1950s. My wife's father and his brothers and sisters also went there. It is yet another part of our history that will be destroyed.
I use to live in the prefabs in Surrey Avenue and use to play in the fields now covered by office blocks and Sainsburys. My wife use to live in a house where the multi-story car park now is, and went to Camberley infants and junior school.
I know one should not stand in the way of progress but a mosque at the expense of part of our history is one step to far.
Ken and Maureen
Yorktown School on the A30 is part of Camberley's heritage.
Nestling between St Michael's Church and Sandhurst Military Academy the splendid old building represents part of the history of this town.
I accept that it is in need of renovation but this could be performed sympathetically and in keeping rather than demolishing the building.
There are plenty of uses for the renovated school. The town desperately needs a community centre, some small office units to encourage local enterprise or a centre for the elderly given that the Ian Goodchild Centre is being redeployed.
By all means build a mosque on the site but like so many of the new flats and offices does it have to involve the demolition of an interesting historical building.
Could it not somehow incorporate what is already there. Imagination is what the planners need not destruction. These are but a few thoughts but each could retain the integrity of an old, much loved building.
The building holds special memories for me because I attended Yorktown School in the 1960s. Once it is destroyed it will be gone forever, depriving future generations of part of their history.
I moved into frimley in 1949 after Backdown. I remember quite a few of the old buildings, such as the old fire station in the Avenue, the council offices, some of the old cafes and pubs, to see them all gone along with the ones you said is a shame.
Dave Cooper (from Frimley)
I no longer live in Camberley, buy grew up there and went to St Gregory's school as it was in those days. Whenever I return to Camberley to visit, the building remains a landmark that brings a smile to my face amidst a town that has changed in so many ways.
To me the old school building epitomises why buildings should be preserved; to provide solid anchors to our memories and experiences, to remind us all of where we came from and the communities we lived in.
I do not believe that the protest regarding the plans should be based on it becoming a mosque, becoming a supermarket or car park would be just as bad. The real protest should be that a character building that is held dear by many more people than just me is going to be removed from the urban landscape forever.
Russ, (St Gregory's Class of about 1981!)