There had been a market in Covent Garden since the mid seventeenth century, so the Jubilee Hall was a relatively recent addition, being completed in 1904 (although construction had begun in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee). Built by the Duke of Bedford to house foreign cut flowers, it later specialised in potatoes, and was an important part of London’s fruit and vegetable market.
By the late 1960’s, it was clear that the days of the traditional food market in Covent Garden were numbered. The Greater London Council (GLC), created in 1963, was keen to relocate the market and to use the existing space to create a modern complex of mixed commercial buildings. These would be mainly high-rise blocks, linked by a multi-level roadway system incorporating two new four-lane highways. This scheme would entail demolishing the existing street pattern along with many familiar landmarks including five of London’s historic theatres. The proposed redevelopment was in keeping with the thinking of the time, but was destined to become one of the hot political potatoes of the next two decades.
The first public confrontation with the planners was in the autumn of 1970 when a meeting was held in the Lamb & Flag public house, one of the oldest pubs in the area. A mixed group of local artists and architectural students, including the young Jim Monahan, met with planners from the GLC. The group were appalled by the GLC’s plans, and Monahan began to stir up local resistance. Other local supporters included the Reverend Austen Williams, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and John Toomey, a local printer. The first public meeting was held in March 1971, and over 600 people turned up to hear a collection of speakers denounce the scheme. A leading group of campaigners emerged who would eventually form the Covent Garden Community Association (CGCA).
Due to the scope of the GLC’s plans, the Secretary of State was obliged to hold a public inquiry, scheduled to last for one month, but which eventually took three, as more and more protesters joined the campaign. The Poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman, appeared on behalf of the protesters and stated that: ‘The village of Covent Garden needs a champion against the developer, and that champion should be the GLC.’
Despite the local opposition, when the inquiry report was eventually published – in July 1972 – it supported the GLC’s position and referred the matter to the Secretary of State, for a final decision.
When Geoffrey Rippon announced his decision, in January 1973, he gave the GLC the development powers it sought, but rejected the large scale road plan and the increased shopping and hotel space. He also added 265 buildings to the official list of sites of outstanding historic and architectural merit. Because these buildings were scattered throughout the area, in 42 different streets and over 96 acres, this effectively pulled the rug from under the blockbuster developers. Unfortunately, Jubilee Hall was not on the list.
When Labour wrested control of the GLC from the Conservatives in May 1973, it appeared to usher in a new era of co-operation between government and local people. This eventually led to the formation of the Covent Garden Forum, which included many of the original campaigners, and which was tasked with liaising with the GLC on its plans for the area. Faith in the Forum was short-lived, however, and many of the protesters reverted back to the CGCA where Jim Monahan had been joined by another young architect, Martin Dyke-Coomes. Between them, they drew up their own plans to counter any new GLC proposals.
The fruit and vegetable market left Covent Garden, on 11th November 1974, and the CGCA, and especially Ian McNicol (later to be the first Manager), Alan Tattersall, Penny Saunders and Jim Monahan, began campaigning to get hold of Jubilee Hall for use as a community sports facility. Covent Garden had few open spaces, so indoor recreational facilities were much needed.
Jubilee Hall Recreation Centre Ltd
Early supporters of this idea were Street Aid, led by David Bieda, but when that organisation collapsed, due to internal problems, the sports hall needed another supporter. Through its contacts with the Covent Garden Planning Committee, the campaigners found David Guy – a representative of the Bloomsbury district on Camden Council and Alec Kazantzis, a Labour member of the GLC (later Vice Chairman of the Covent Garden Planning Committee) – who became staunch supporters of the CGCA and the Jubilee Hall campaign. They, together with other local activists, helped to found Jubilee Hall Recreation Centre Ltd (JHRC) in 1977 as a company limited by guarantee dedicated to running the Hall as a low-cost community-based recreation facility. The GLC agreed to approve a licence for the first floor of the building as a temporary recreational facility, at the nominal price of £1 per annum. The licence could be renewed annually – provided that the operation was financially sound – until April 1982. Ian McNicol would be the company’s first co-ordinator.
The Jubilee Hall Recreation Centre team needed to raise the money to refurbish the building, and the Monument Trust had agreed to provide funds, on condition that the organisation became a registered charity. In a record-breaking two weeks, this task was accomplished, and the loan of £30,000 and grant of £5,000 enabled the bulk of the works to be completed.
The sports centre was officially opened on 30th January 1978, and was an immediate success. It was open seven days a week, and provided indoor team sports such as netball, volleyball, badminton, basketball and football, as well as judo and yoga. The Hall also featured weight-training facilities and trampolines, and even had ample space for regular weekend roller discos! However, with no revenue funding, the charity begged and borrowed to keep going until, eventually, both Westminster and Camden councils offered some financial support.
Within six months of opening, more than 1,000 people were using the centre every week, but the battle had still not been won. The Conservatives had regained control of the GLC in May 1977 and new plans for the site published on 30th March 1978, made no mention of a sports hall.
From Spuds to Sports
Henry T. Cadbury Brown was another architect with an interest in Covent Garden, and he and Martin Dyke-Coomes came up with an alternative scheme which would preserve Jubilee Hall. The proposal allowed for commercial lets and residential accommodation but, crucially, it retained the sports centre on the first floor. They called their plan: “From Spuds to Sports”, and presented it on 23rd October 1978, whilst at the same time applying to the Secretary of State for Jubilee Hall to be graded as a listed building. A ‘Save The Jubilee Hall’ campaign was begun with support from the Monument Trust, Save Britain’s Heritage, the Civic Trust and the Victorian Society, as well as local MP, Peter Brooke. Astonishingly, the GLC ignored ‘From Spuds to Sports’ and invited commercial tenders for the development of the site.
Four proposals were eventually short listed, all of which were based on expensive private flats and were, in the opinions of the campaigners, hugely out of proportion for the area. However, at least the campaign had convinced the GLC that some sports provision was required on the site, and the second stage brief insisted that the developers incorporate some proposals for a sports centre, albeit less than half the size of the existing facility. On 30th June 1980, the GLC planning committee approved a scheme which allowed for an office development with private housing on top and a sports hall on the first floor, but the Jubilee Hall itself appeared to be doomed.
The Hall is Saved!
But the campaigners were not prepared to give up, and they discovered that the Department for the Environment had acted incorrectly when previously failing to list the Jubilee Hall. A solicitor’s letter from the CGCA received a swift response from the Secretary of State and, on 4th July 1980, Michael Heseltine, granted Jubilee Hall Grade II listed status. This meant that it could not be demolished without his specific consent and the approval for the development scheme was therefore revoked.
The market traders had been watching developments with a keen interest and, in 1981, they formed the Jubilee Market Traders Association (JMTA) under Ray Green. The JMTA then joined forces with the CGCA and were able to secure an agreement that there would be provision for a market on the ground floor of Jubilee Hall. Work then began on plans for the development of the adjacent site. It was clear that the successful sports hall needed more space, as did the market, but that the issue of affordable housing in Covent Garden had still not been addressed. The consortium found a developer – Speyhawk – that could help them deliver a scheme that would satisfy all of the community’s needs, and by February 1982 they had received approval. Just one problem remained – they were £3 million short of the funding they would need to realise it!
Royal Seal of Approval
The market traders found the answer lay in their own hands, as they came up with the concept of buying individual stakes in the market on a long leasehold basis. The task of convincing the traders to buy shares fell to Ray Green. Remarkably, and with just days to spare, he persuaded no less than160 traders to stump up the necessary funds and, in November 1984, the GLC agreed to grant 125-year leases to Jubilee Hall Recreation Centre Ltd and the Jubilee Market Traders Association. The future was, at last, secure.
The Jubilee Hall extension was fittingly designed by local architect and long-time Covent Garden campaigner, Martin Dyke-Coomes, and featured a double height ground floor covered market with space for 150 stalls, 28 social housing flats and a vastly improved and extended sports centre. It was opened by Her Majesty The Queen on 5th August 1987.
Jubilee Hall Today
Today, the first floor of Jubilee Hall is a huge main space flooded with natural light, providing 7,500 square feet of state-of-the-art gym equipment, as well as three studios offering everything from Aerobics to Yoga. An Energy Café, treatment room and hairdressers complete the club’s facilities. Non-members are welcomed and there are no joining fees or contracts.
The charity is now known as Jubilee Hall Trust, and operates four different centres in London, all geared towards providing low-cost, high-use facilities for the community. Significant discounts of up to 63% are available for low income groups including the disabled, unemployed, seniors, juniors and students. More than 23% of existing members pay a concessionary fee.
Working closely with a range of community partners, Jubilee Hall Trust runs GP referral schemes, cardiac rehabilitation classes and an extensive programme of activities for all age groups. The charity also engages in outreach work such as running MEND programmes to help fight child obesity and providing free dance classes for the over fifties in community settings.
More than thirty-five years since it started, Jubilee Hall is still helping to promote the health and wellbeing of the local community by providing high quality facilities and programmes which are accessible to all.
With acknowledgement to ‘Save The Jubilee Hall!’ by Chuck Anderson and Ray Green.