Chalice Well: demolition of the old school building

Blog post, October 9 2014

I have never received a reply from the Chalice Well about putting the record straight concerning the old school building. Their archivist Paul Fletcher told me that I could not have access to the archives myself, in order to get clear about exactly why the building was bought and subsequently demolished rather than used as a hostel for pilgrims. He said that the trustees had asked him to write a short statement explaining the situation, but no such statement has arrived.

The Chalice Well’s Trust Deed is in the public domain, via the Charity Commission’s website, so I have been able to check as to whether the the quote in the book from Patrick Benham, to the effect that the Trust was obliged to retain the building and use it as a hostel, was correct. The Trust Deed was written in 1959 and amended in 1960, 1968 and 1977, so it is difficult to tell. Here is the aims and objects clause of the Trust document, as amended in 1977, in full:

For the benefit or in furtherance of such charitable institutions or charitable foundations and in such manner and in such proportions as the trustees may from time to time determine and in particular and without prejudice to the foregoing for the following charitable purposes:

(a) To preserve in perpetuity the property known as Chalice Well Glastonbury and surrounding lands for the benefit of the nation and with the intention that it may become a place of pilgrimage rest and recreation.

(b) To preserve the said Chalice Well and its surroundings and to beautify them.

(c) To advance religious and spiritual activities and permit persons of all religious denominations to take advantage of such facilities as the Chalice Well Trust can offer.

(d) To advance education in all ways by encouraging the study and enjoyment of sacred drama and poetry, particularly such as may be associated with the said Chalice Well and its surroundings.

So there is no specific mention of the old school building, and technically it is not correct (assuming that the 1977 amendment did not specifically write the school building out of the document, which is possible since the building had recently ceased to exist) to say that ‘The document states quite clearly that the obligations of the Trust include the setting up of a hostel and meeting centre, particularly to cater for the needs of young people from Britain and other countries who might wish to visit Glastonbury for spiritual refreshment.’ 

Nevertheless, if the aims and objects are read in the context of the building still existing, then all this might be implied. It also may be true, as Patrick Benham claimed around the same time, that the building had a conservation order on it. Sadly, it seems that the Chalice Well Trust, rather than helping to arrive at some clarity, would rather that the subject was simply not discussed.

Athena commented on November 8 2014:
I am not surprised at your experience with the Chalice Well “Archivist” who is well known for obstructing access to the archives. He does not reply to correspondence either, unless it suits him. This is not just my experience but that of several other legitimate and academic researchers of my acquaintance. To be fair to Chalice Well though, I have to say that the demolition of the school building was a necessity. There are a few people in Glastonbury who still remember the school (ex-pupils) and can testify to the awful condition of the building. The Trustees have met the condition of “the setting up of a hostel and meeting centre” which is Little Saint Michael’s and the Meeting Room.

Demolition of the old school building: update

Blog post, November 20 2014

The revised edition of ‘Free State’ should be going to the printers next week. Today, just in time, I have received this from Paul Fletcher, the Chalice Well’s archivist. The text, which provides information that I didn’t know before to do with the role of the Glastonbury Conservation Society in the affair, has been checked and cleared by the Chalice Well’s trustees:

Concerning the Demolition of the Tor School and the Tor School House on the Chalice Well site (1971-1975):

In 1959 the Chalice Well Trust, founded by Wellesley Tudor Pole, acquired within its curtilage the Tor School and the Tor School House (once known as Anchor Lodge). The four principle objectives, or charitable purposes, of the Trust as recorded in the founding deed have remained the same since its inception. One of the powers of the Trust, or things it could do, was to: “Provide accommodation and in particular a hostel or guest house and refreshment for visitors to the said Chalice Well”.

By the early 1970s the Board of Trustees had increasing concerns about the deteriorating condition of the buildings. At no point did the then Trustees see the old Tor School as a building fit for pilgrims or visitors. The main unlisted school building was in a dangerous state. The outside wall was bowed out and in danger of falling into Chilkwell Street.  As recently as 2012, a visitor who attended Millfield (as Tor School became), confirmed that internal metal supports were coming loose as the traffic thundered by and boys were shaken in their beds as they slept. The Trust commissioned a survey which declared the building was in ‘a dangerous state and should be demolished’.

There were ‘long prior consultations with local officials’ regarding the demolition and all would have proceeded quietly but for two things. Because the demolition would have meant the closure of Chilkwell St. the Council had asked for a postponement from June (the holiday season) to October. During this time the newly formed Glastonbury Conservation Society asked the Secretary of State to list the Tor School House (the Anchor Lodge building, not Tor School). This was duly done just before October thus preventing demolition. However it does appear there was not complete consensus as Alderman Humphrey Morland, Chairman of Glastonbury Conservation Society, wrote ‘I would like to see the lot removed. The Chalice Well Trustees want to make a beautiful garden there.’ (14-12-73)

The whole process then took nearly two years through hearings, appeals, solicitor’s letters etc. and finally in June 1975 the case for and against demolition of Tor School House was heard at a public inquiry in front of Inspector K. Dodds.

At the hearing the Chairman of Chalice Well Trust, C.L.S. Cornwall-Legh, gave evidence at length about the Trust’s purposes, its charitable status, the reasons for demolition (including the prohibitive cost of saving the Tor School house, improving access to the Chalice Well and its Little St Michael’s guest house, and also improving the gardens as visitor numbers were increasing quite quickly). The inquiry heard that the Tor School House was ‘in a very bad state of repair’ with ‘narrow passageways’ and a ‘hodge podge of rooms’ and in an ‘awkward juxtaposition to the main road’. It was just not feasible to restore such a building.

The Secretary of State, Anthony Crosland, considered all the evidence and said, ‘The public interest would best be served by granting listed building consent for demolition.’ He found completely in Chalice Well’s favour. It was pointed out that Glastonbury Conservation Society had cost the Chalice Well Trust thousands of pounds in legal fees over the period and never once spoke directly to the Trust before going into full-scale opposition. However Humphrey Morland said, ‘In my view the work of the Trustees of Chalice Well has been entirely for the benefit of the community in general and the town in particular. The Tor House School is badly constructed.’ It was pointed out that during this whole period there was never any expense to ratepayers and Chalice Well Trust bore all the expenses of this episode.

Gradually thereafter the Trust was able to improve its accommodation, build a meeting room, and establish a small shop at the exit from the gardens. The lower garden was beautified and developed to include the flow- form falling into the vesica pool, the herb garden, eco toilets and provision of space for community events and celebrations including the Conversation Café at Wheel of the Year events.