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The fight to save Carlisle's Lonsdale building is over

The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Jimi Hendrix. Johnny Cash. The Kinks. The Bee Gees. It takes a leap of imagination to picture the days when the biggest stars in the world performed on Warwick Road, Carlisle.

Edna Croft photo
Edna Croft

The building they filled with fans and noise has lain empty for more than six years.

Damaged by break-ins, ravaged by the elements, gutted by fire, the Lonsdale is in a bad way.

And now even those campaigners who battled for a decade to rescue it have admitted defeat.

The ‘Save the Lonsdale’ group has acknowledged that its long and passionate campaign has no prospect of success.

At its height the group organised a march which saw hundreds of people take to the streets of Carlisle.

Its petition attracted more than 8,000 signatures.

Celebrities voiced their support for the 1930s art-deco building to be saved and transformed into a theatre and arts centre.

But now the campaign’s leaders have conceded defeat in their bid to persuade Carlisle City Council to buy the building.

Their decision comes as the council announces its support for the Methodist Central Hall on Fisher Street becoming an arts hub.

The Lonsdale closed in April 2006 after almost 75 years. The last film to be shown was a one-off screening of It’s A Wonderful Life.

That optimistic title has not been borne out in subsequent years.

The Lonsdale was bought by property developers whose plan to demolish the building and build flats was thwarted. Its registered owner is now Support Estates of Manchester.

City council leader Dr Joe Hendry has said he believes the Lonsdale is “beyond saving”.

Former Carlisle MP Eric Martlew took part in the Lonsdale march and campaigned for the building to be transformed into an arts centre. Now he believes “the only answer is demolition”.

The city council is due to meet the building’s owners this week.

Councillor Anne Quilter said: “The city council has made contact with the owner. We will be having a meeting to discuss the building and the future of the site.”

When asked if the council would consider trying to salvage the Lonsdale as an arts centre, she added: “We have got ambitions for the Methodist Hall. And we would welcome the input of the Save The Lonsdale group.”

For years Edna Croft led the Save the Lonsdale campaign. She will not be putting her energies behind the Methodist Hall.

“The name of the campaign was ‘Save the Lonsdale’,” she says. “It wasn’t a campaign to get anywhere as a theatre.

“We have nothing against other venues. The Methodist Hall is a beautiful building. But it will not make a city-size theatre, which is what we have been shouting about.

“Can we start to think like a city and act like one? Would a church hall be good enough for Glasgow or Newcastle or Liverpool? ‘It’s Carlisle – it’ll do.’ Well it won’t. We are forever an afterthought. We don’t think big. We don’t act big.”

Edna would like to see shows like Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King in Carlisle, saving Cumbrians expensive journeys to cities such as Newcastle and Glasgow.

“To have the Royal Shakespeare Company and big shows you need a 500 to 800 capacity. The Methodist Hall is not big enough for that. and The Sands Centre is too big for the RSC. They don’t perform in places as big as The Sands. A theatre is a particular animal.”

Edna and her fellow campaigners envisaged a theatre, an independent cinema, dance studio and restaurant.

“We saw a great building in a great area that could really benefit Carlisle. We weren’t builders or designers. We were never in a position to buy it.”

She remains disappointed that the city council did not buy the building, and believes Carlisle will regret the Lonsdale’s demise.

“I believe Carlisle has shot itself in the foot. All my life I’ll believe that could have been a fantastic area to have a theatre. It would have revived that whole area.

“I’m just so sad that this opportunity has fallen from our grasp. We tried. And we failed. And the result is nothing. It won’t go away. They can knock it down and it won’t go away. The Lonsdale will be haunting them forever, with what could have been.”

Have your say

Instead of constantly going on about a building that is no longer viable for any practical use, and one that is far from attractive! why do people not bother about the Post office next door which is stunning

Posted by C Percival on 27 August 2012 at 13:35

Now that it seems that the Lonsdale theatre is not going to happen, (a) do we (the people of Carlisle) have any idea who owns these premises (b) what is the next move,(c) how long will this eyesore be allowed to remain before something is done.? or is to remain along with the other "projects" like the old hotel on the viaduct, the old building next to Halfords on London Rd, the empty buildings along Botchergate etc.or will we build a shiny new building for county councillors & co with yet more borrowed money?
Are these county or city councillors capable of resolving any of these issues? Seems not.

Posted by Michael Owen on 13 August 2012 at 10:29

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