This former opera house is now pulling £2 pints after being restored into a pub

22 November 2021, 13:47 | Updated: 22 November 2021, 16:18

Is this the grandest Wetherspoons in the UK?
Is this the grandest Wetherspoons in the UK? Picture: JD Wetherspoons

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Opera lives on in this converted Wetherspoons, with two performances taking place every year despite the Grade II building’s new full-time gig as a pub.

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Originally built to be an opera house, the grand music venue in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, opened in 1902.

It was bought in 1996 by British pub company, J D Wetherspoon, and the Edwardian Baroque venue was transformed into a public house after a renovation.

However, this is not the first refurbishment this historic venue has undergone. In 1931, the opera house was turned into a cinema, before a few years later being bombed during the Second World War.

While the bomb that hit the cinema did not explode, it did set fire to the inside, and the venue was unable to reopen until 1949. After threats were made to demolish the building, the venue was turned into a bingo hall in the 1960s, and later gained Grade II listed status.

Read more: Tenor stuns pub audience with a thunderous ‘Nessun dorma’ at karaoke night

Features include grand chandeliers and original booths and stalls
Features include grand chandeliers and original booths and stalls. Picture: JD Wetherspoons

The building still retains some of its original features, such as the grand chandeliers, original boxes and stalls, and the signs marking entrances for the 1,100 guests who attended the music venue back in the day.

A sign for the Dress Circle entrance still remains
A sign for the Dress Circle entrance still remains. Picture: JD Wetherspoons

The J D Wetherspoon company has converted multiple grand buildings into pubs. Other examples include The Crosse Keys, London – which is a former bank, The Capitol, Forest Hill – a former cinema, and The Palladium, Llandudno – both a converted cinema and theatre.

With all these conversion projects, Wetherspoons has always promised to maintain the original features of its buildings, and with the Kent opera house, they have gone one step further.

Since 2006, the Kent Wetherspoons has hosted an annual opera performance, in homage to the building’s origins.

In recent years, productions have included Verdi’s La traviata, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and in 2020 pre-lockdown, Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

This month, the now aptly named ‘Opera House’ Wetherspoons pub, has completed a £700,000 renovation of the venue’s iconic domed ceiling, after part of the roof collapsed in 2020.

The dome originally had a naked statue of the Roman god, Mercury, on top of the building, however this was removed in the 1920s. Whether this was because of adverse weather conditions making the statue a danger to remain in this position, or local residents who complained about the risqué nude figure, we might never know for sure.

The outside of the ‘Opera House’
The outside of the ‘Opera House’. Picture: Alamy

Prior to the opera house being bought by Wetherspoons, there was a long-fought campaign by the residents of Tunbridge Wells to restore the Opera House to its original former glory, but the townsfolk lost out to the pub company.

However, residents have reported that seeing this investment from the pub reassures them that the company is invested in maintaining the historic fabric of the building.

The owner of Wetherspoons, Tim Martin, has personally cited the Opera House as one of his favourite venues, and not to be biased, but with the rich artistic history, and the musical memories kept alive by the original interior, we may just have to agree.