Hope for the Rotunda?

Paul’s just reminded me about a discussion we had back in 2009 (well, part of it’s there, anyway – the usual problem – all the comments pre-2010 are sadly lost…) about how the Rotunda at Woolwich could be saved.

The basics are thus:  a bizarre, tent-like structure by the Prince Regent’s favourite architect, John Nash, was originally built as a tent in George’s back garden at Carlton House for a grand ball to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon (now that’s what I call style…)  but it was so loved by all and sundry that Nash built a brick wall round it and covered the canvas roof with lead – today’s equivalent would be to put a big aluminum lid over the Dome. It was a bit in the way in George’s back garden though, so it was moved to Woolwich, where for many years it was a museum. Then Firepower came along and the place was abandoned.

I once met the major in charge of looking after it – a decent chap saddled with excellent listed historical buildings, no budget to look after them – and a growing collection of  ’important’ military regalia that people kept ‘donating’ to the museum because they didn’t want to give it all house-room. He told me it cost sixty-odd grand just to stop the Rotunda collapsing into dust – that was in 2009 – and he just didn’t have the cash.

I started to really fear for the building – but a link Paul’s sent me to some very sketchy (literally – the pictures, one of which I’ve pinched for the top of this post, are lovely) page on the website of  Scott Brownrigg, the architects in charge of creating the new home for the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery, who are moving from St John’s Wood to Woolwich (no prizes for guessing why) has cheered me up a little.

Here’s a PDF of the proposals which recognise the importance of the Rotunda, and include a ‘forming up area and ménage’ adjacent to it. Not being of a horsey-bent, I’m assuming that’s some kind of parade-ground-y-type thing where splendidly-uniformed chevaliers swagger around on horseback – presumably quite an eyeful if we’re allowed to see it. It also implies that it’s this area English Heritage have asked to be kept open (I think they mean ‘clear’ rather than necessarily open to the public)  - which means the rather welcome demolition of  ’particularly low merit’ buildings surrounding it.

All this sounds pretty okay to me. I can’t say I’m wild about the new buildings – the stables remind me of chicken sheds and the rest of the constructions smack of a visitors centre in a national park – but they’re not offensive and I’m intrigued that the whole shebang runs on pellets made from horse manure, a fuel of which they’ll have such a ready supply they’ll be able to sell it off to anyone who wants to run their gaff on dung. Given the recent hikes in gas and electricity charges recently that sounds almost attractive.

The only thing I can’t find in the proposals is any ring-fenced cash for renovation and upkeep of the Rotunda itself. I truly hope that’s been thought of. It would be reassuring to know that the major’s been allocated some money to spend on this Grade II* listed Georgian gem.

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5 Comments to “Hope for the Rotunda?”

  1. RogerW says:

    Have you been down that way, lately? There’s actually a fair bit of building going on, just on the area next to the Rotunda.

  2. P & D says:

    I have emailed the developers asking if they can clarify what, if any, use The Rotunda will be put too.

    I’ll update if and when they reply.

  3. WG says:

    Phantom – there is a picure of the Rotunda in John Barrow’s excellent ’100 Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know’. Apparently the shape is a beautiful example of a cantena curve [defined by y=B cosh(x/B)]. I expect you already knew as the book’s title is directed at mere humans and not omniscient phantoms.

  4. [...] last week’s little frisson of excitement that in the reworking of the army barracks at Woolwich for the soon-to-be-arriving King’s [...]

  5. Hilary Peters says:

    Please tell me more.
    I edit a magazine called FOLLIES and would welcome a learned piece on the Rotunda.
    Also news about saving and re-using it.