Based in the heart of Tunbridge Wells, the Assembly Hall Theatre first opened its doors to theatre goers in 1939. Designed by architect Percy Thomas as part of the Civic Centre complex, it was formally opened by the Marchioness Camden on Empire Day – as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the granting of the town’s charter in 1889.
However, it was by no means Tunbridge Wells’ first theatre. This establishment was opened by entrepreneur Sarah Baker in 1786. Following its closure in 1843 due to declining support, we had no theatre until 1902 when the Opera House – a magnificent Edwardian structure so called because leading citizens believed it sounded more prestigious than ‘theatre’ – became our centre for theatrical arts. This beautiful building was converted into a cinema in 1931.
In the 1930s, locals hoped that Assembly Hall Theatre would serve as a modern theatre and a community venue. Mayor Alderman Westbrook told guests at the opening that ‘today’s proceedings mark a definite step forward and a progressive policy.’ The original building cost was £57,000 – and the auditorium was painted in green and black. Listed in 1995 as of special architectural and historical interest, there have been several renovations since.