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Thursday, 21 March 2019

Michael Gray’s Talk on the Wyvern Theatre

I first met Michael Gray when he came to talk to the Friends about Swindon’s Town Hall, designed by Brightwen Binyon, three years ago. The great advantage of having a blog is that even if not much is written about each talk, at least I can say when the talk was held and there are a few photos taken at the time. Here’s the link to that talk. I very much enjoyed the way Michael told the tale of the Town Hall, and was keen to know more about the Wyvern Theatre Group, so invited him to come and tell us what’s so good about the Wyvern Theatre. I was also pleased that Michael gave me a short biography, and here’s what I said about him:
‘I am pleased to welcome back tonight’s speaker Michael Gray who is going to talk to us about Casson Conder’s 1971 Wyvern Theatre Project.
Michael is a Conservation Architect with over 30 years of experience in historic buildings involving many different projects ranging from medieval churches and barns to a grand historic hotel in Pall Mall and many more.
He is currently Head of Conservation and Building at Oxford University.
He lives in Swindon, not far from the Museum and Art Gallery in the Prospect Place Conservation Area where he is chairman of the local Conservation Trust.
He is actively involved in promoting Lydiard Park an 18th century country house on the edge of Swindon as a Trustee of the Friends of Lydiard Park.
With the passing of time heritage designations are increasing recognising 20th Century architecture as something worthy of preservation under the 30 year rule. Against this background Michael has prepared this talk to inform and promote the debate about the Wyvern Group which is increasingly neglected.  With two major historic public buildings in Swindon in a state of perilous neglect it is hoped that the talk will promote a wider appreciation of the Wyvern Group so that it does not suffer a similar fate to those Victorian buildings.’
 Michael started with the history of architecture, beginning with Corbusier in the 1930s. He had an excellent Power Point presentation to illustrate his talk, I have photographed some of the slides, to show the plans drawn up in 1966 when towns and cities all over the country were encouraged by the Wilson government to foster the arts and were given funding to build the necessary infrastructure to support this. The original plan suggested demolition of the Town Hall and retention of the Tabernacle, in fact as we now know, the Tabernacle was demolished and the Town Hall retained. I have photographed some of the Power Point slides starting with the Civic Centre Master Plan from 1966:

The Civic Hall, at the top of the picture was not built when the Wyvern Theatre was built, it would have provided a larger space that would seat 1000 people, it was going to be built in the second phase of building, but this never happened because of shortage of money.

Above shows how the Civic Hall would have looked, and below an artist’s impression of the Civic Hall from the Wyvern Theatre

This charming photograph shows the opening in 1971, the Queen has her own umbrella, the Mayor has his umbrella held for him and the Duke of Edinburgh doesn’t have an umbrella at all.

This photograph shows the Wyvern looking rather splendid

I also took a couple of photos of the audience

and in this one, Michael can just about be seen

The future of the Wyvern Theatre as we now know from the council’s recent announcements, is now uncertain. It was very interesting to find out the history behind the whole area, and why the car park remains a vacant space.

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