The blue plaque mentions how Brixham Town Hall was much loved by actor John Slater

The stories behind Torbay’s blue plaques by Ian Handford, President of the Torbay Civic Society. This week: Brixham Town Hall

Brixham Town Hall’s blue plaque reads ‘Brixham Theatre’ but also the names of supporting actor John Slater, whose wife Mrs Betty Slater has suggested her husband should rightly remember of City Hall as he had helped restore the theater inside.

The plaque also names architect George Bridgman and the town hall itself.

Erected on the front wall of Brixham Town Hall in 2008, the plaque reads: ‘Brixham Theater – in the town hall building built by local architect George Bridgman in 1886’ with the wording continuing ‘much loved by actor John Slater (b.1916 d.1975) who starred here for the two seasons before his untimely death in December 1975’.

The plaque contributed to the new Heritage Trail publication, as suggested by City Clerk Ki Barnes.

The Torbay Civic Society received full sponsorship for the plaque and the Trevor George Entertainments Company also supported by underwriting the biographical brochure accompanying the plaque.

I have, of course, already written in this series about Mr. Slater and so today I focus on City Hall, albeit referring to Mr. Bridgman who has also previously been featured in relation to this place and others.

Today’s component encompasses Brixham Town Hall, its public hall and other offices and the market area which eventually became Scala Hall.

This first town hall in Brixham was proposed in March 1882 by an HW Nelson of Hendon of London, who suggested a town center complex using architect George Sowden Bridgman.

George eventually designed and built the Town Hall in a Palladian style, having already built a major Masonic building and Town Hall in St Marychurch, Torquay.

George went on to design and build many major premises in Torbay including a hospital, armoury, numerous churches and even a third town hall in Torquay before his most prestigious building for Isaac and Paris Singer – Oldway Mansion in Paignton.

Meanwhile, George’s design for Brixham Town Hall saw him use white-faced limestone bricks from the Torbay quarry in Barton, along with exterior moldings and dressing stone from Chudleigh.

The complex included a public hall and a trading floor as well as numerous offices at a total cost of £3,500.

Opened on October 1, 1886, various local bands attended and played, and while flags flew as the public made their way from the premises to the old Fish Quay Market which was due to close.

The new town hall would eventually include a magistrates’ hall and spaces for parish council commissions. Even the school board and harbor commissioners eventually used the facilities.

Later, when Torbay became a county borough in 1968, although Brixham Borough Council survived, major changes were made to the main hall when it became a theater and the market was separated to become Scala Hall.

By then the magistrates had vacated and a new information office was established on the ground floor while other occupants included the Brixham Does Care Organisation, WRVS and the CAB institution.

Later, after extensive utility work, the Brixham Operatic and Dramatic Society (BOADS) used the theater as their permanent home and thanks to their enthusiasm Mr Slater, now retired, helped with his own charges to prevent the theater from becoming a bingo hall and even started a new repertory theater company in which he played a major role during the two years of production before his untimely death in 1975.

In 1990, the theater will again be threatened with closure but fortunately survived.

The blue plaque was erected in 2008 when Betty Slater and her son Roger, honoring his father, and City Council President Councilor Vic Ellery and myself officially oversaw the unveiling.

Along with a very large group of local supporters and members of the Torbay Civic Society, we all received refreshments after the event courtesy of the Brixham City Council cafe.

The pamphlet of the story written by Ki Barnes is still available by sending two second class stamps and a self-addressed envelope addressed to Torbay Civic Society, Suite 1, Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA