October Update: Press Release
Press Release to Various Local and National Papers.
Now that the interim report has come out but has told us nothing about conclusions or costings we want to look at the wider picture, assuming that the long neglect of the hotel has not made the situation irredeemable.
This article is written by a highly experienced and exceptional conservationist whose credentials appear at the end of the article, which follows.
What should become of the Ayr Station Building?
Good modern architecture is timeless. It is often striking and rarely blends quietly into the background, holding its own amongst the finest of the older buildings in the townscape. This was certainly true of Ayr Station Hotel when it was built in 1885.
ORIGINAL PLANS SOURCED FROM REGISTER HOUSE EDINBURGH
Commissioned by the Glasgow and South Western Railway, it was designed by Andrew Galloway when he was at the pinnacle of his career, and it opened its doors in 1886. It represented the best in architecture of its day. Its appearance on the Ayr skyline created great excitement amongst locals and visitors alike. Everything from the ironwork to the leadwork on the roof, to the detailing of the stonemasonry was awe-inspiring. Top class companies from all over the country were involved. The French chef from St Enoch’s Station Hotel at the Glasgow end of the track completed the picture
In 1951 after nationalisation of the railways, the hotel was sold off, and has had several owners since then including Stakis, Quality and Swallow Hotels. It has been altered internally during these transitions with perhaps the most significant changes made in the 1960’s, when the Grand Ticket Office, with its marble columns and staircase, and its mosaic floor, were lost as part of a refurbishment of the hotel to create more function-room space within the hotel. The new ticket office remained largely unaltered structurally until 2018 when it was closed to the public due to safety concerns. The Station hotel building remained 16% owned by the various guises of railway owners since then, and this portion of responsibility now belongs to Network Rail, with the remainder currently owned by an overseas businessman.
DETAIL OF MASONRY IN AYR STATION HOTEL
This building has now become part of the heritage of all the people of Ayr who ever walked through its ticket office or into its grand function rooms. There is a place in all towns for a mix of architecture, keeping the very best of the historic treasures, and adding the very best of modern architecture. Look at towns like York, which has a good blend of architecture from the medieval shops to the modern local authority office buildings. There, the best of that town's historic past is celebrated, and the only modern architecture to be seen on most of its town centre streets is of very high quality cutting-edge architecture dotted amongst the older treasures.
DETAIL OF IRONWORK AND LEADWORK FROM AYR STATION HOTEL
At the other end of the scale, many other towns across the British Isles have simply torn down the best of the old architecture and replaced it with inexpensive modern buildings, which add little to the townscape and need replaced after 25 or 30 years. Burns House directly opposite the Station Hotel building is a good illustration of this point.
The time to build new public buildings to showcase good modern architecture, is when we are in prosperous times, when we can lavish care and attention as well as money on the detail - allowing the architects of the day to really impress us, and create something that will be fit for purpose not only now, but well into the future - something that will rival the best of the great buildings of the past.
Now, in the midst of austerity, is not the time to be demolishing what we have left of our town's finest buildings. Now is the time to hold onto these - especially since the cost of demolition and rebuilding with a glass and steel structure, with a lifespan of just 25 years may cost almost as much as restoring one of the towns architectural masterpieces which could have another 100 years of life in it. Add to this the disruption caused by demolition and a complete new-build and the economic impact of the disruption and it begins to look much clearer that restoration and a new modern use for the former Station Hotel building is the more sensible option.
A PAGE OF THE MINUTES OF THE GLASGOW & S. WESTERN RAILWAY. IT WAS HOW THE PLANS WERE TRACED. THEY BUILT TURNBERRY STATION HOTEL 6 YEARS LATER DUE TO THE SUCCESS OF THEIR HOTEL IN AYR AS MINUTES ALSO SHOW LATER.
At times like these funding for really good architectural projects is limited what tends to happen is cost cutting during the planning stages of new-build schemes, and second-rate buildings being delivered with shorter lifespans. During austere times, we need to prevent the loss of the best architecture we have from the past and ride out the storm. The good times will come again for towns like Ayr - the town centre in the future may not look, feel or function as it does today or certainly how it did 20 or 30 years ago - but it will prosper again - have no doubt - and that is the time when we need to look at replacing the worst of the town's old buildings with some outstanding, fit-for-purpose new architecture.
DETAIL OF MASONRY FROM AYR STATION HOTEL
If we don't preserve the best of what we have, we will see a repeat of the 1960s and 1970s when many Scottish towns lost hundreds of their most beautiful buildings, only to be replaced by the likes of the General Accident building opposite Sports Direct in Ayr, which has now become an eye-sore and has little potential to provide a beautiful or useful purpose for Ayr now. Too often these low-quality buildings, look shabby after only a decade or so and store up problems for the future.
The Station Hotel building in Ayr is one of Scotland's finest examples of French renaissance-style architecture from the Victorian era in our townscapes . The detailing in the stonework, the ironwork on the roof and the intricate tiles and leadwork is stunningly beautiful. This fine old building deserves a new use - possibly a mix of uses, to bring it back to life. The possibilities must meet the needs of the community that surround it - it should be a building celebrated by the people of Ayr and much loved and celebrated as it once was when it had a different purpose in a different age. Its future uses would be determined by what we need today.
Una Richard, Chief Executive of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) who was invited by the Ayr Station Hotel Community Action Group to consider the project of conservation and redevelopment has confirmed that SHBT would be interested in managing a restoration of this building subject to the findings of the structural survey report which has been commissioned by South Ayrshire Council. The Trust would consult the local community widely on its future use and look to identifying new economically viable purposes for it. It could also oversee funding.
Since the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland would have to fund any new Station building estimated to cost £18 million, and the cost of demolition would cost a further £4 million, it becomes clear that the cost of restoration to a building with a much longer lifespan and with a greater range of uses to meet the needs of the community becomes the sensible place for the government to pledge their money.
MORE DETAIL FROM AYR STATION HOTEL
There seems little reason why they could not fund the restoration, providing something truly magnificent for the town or Ayr and its visitors. The building could be partly a bijoux hotel, or mix of offices, leisure facilities, function rooms, restaurant space, café for rail passengers, information space for visitors, or even exhibition spaces, housing or retail spaces. The list of possibilities is endless, but the key to saving it from destruction is the support of the people of Ayr. To get a good idea of what is possible for the Station Hotel building, we should look at developments like Dolphin Square in London https://www.dolphinsquare.co.uk That has a mix of comfortable homes, a luxury Moroccan spa, private members & residents gym & swimming pool facilities, events spaces and meeting rooms, restaurant and retail facilities and serviced holiday accommodation. A development like that would bring revenue back to the project through either the sale or rental of homes as well as ongoing income from revenue streams from the services provided.
In this age of environmental awareness, what could be greener than bringing more homes into the town centre where leisure and retail and facilities as well as public transport links are on the doorstep - this would help to reduce carbon footprints, all this within a historic and beautiful building that the people of Ayr could be proud of? This Ballochmyle sandstone “Castle in Ayr ”, as it was called in a national newspaper in 1886 when it opened, could once again be a fine gateway to Ayr.
URBEX IMAGES OF THE INTERIORS OF THE STATION HOTEL WHICH WAS VISITED IN FEBRUARY 2018 - THE ARRAN SUITE AND THE COCKTAIL LOUNGE
It remains to be seen from the next phase of the report commissioned by South Ayrshire Council if it would be feasible to save all of the building. The interiors may or may not be capable of being saved, but as much of the historic fabric of the building both internally and externally should be maintained as possible and given a new purpose. At the very least the historic facades of the building could be retained even if the interiors prove to be beyond saving, but the loss of any part of this masterpiece should be a last resort.
The former Station Hotel building sits in such a prominent part of town, that any changes to the exterior need to be carefully considered from all the surrounding streets and viewpoints - from the far end of Miller Road, Smith Street, Holmston Road, Castlehill Road and Burns Statue Square. The type of stone, the architectural style and the height of the building forms a magnificent centrepiece to all of these surrounding streets and spaces and blend with the surrounding architecture beautifully - or at least it would if it was restored and maintained as it should be - arguably amongst the finest buildings that currently exists in Ayr town centre.
We can't change the past. We need to move forward from where we are now, but we should be creative, and find good new uses for this amazing building at the heart of our community, which many visitors see as they first arrive at the town centre. Let's not lose our finest pieces of history, but build them into the fabric of a new modern vibrant and functional town centre.
For further information on the current situation regarding the station hotel you can visit the Station Hotel action group website: http://www.savethestationhotel.co.uk
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sinclair Williamson - Former Senior Manager with the National Trust for Scotland.
Sinclair has held several senior posts within the NTS including managing all commercial and conservation operations at their flagship property, Culzean Castle which has over 200k visitors per year, and also as Regional Manager for the East of Scotland with more than 22 historic properties in Edinburgh, The Lothians, The Borders, Fife and Central Scotland, holding responsibility for their conservation and commercial management and multi-million pound budgets. Now Sinclair owns his own business in Ayr - a guest house, and is Chairman of the Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association which supports accommodation providers across the region and has strong links with the three Ayrshire local authorities , VisitScotland and other local interest groups and businesses.
A BIT MORE OCTOBER NEWS
For those of you interested in Ayr town centre's future there is a meeting on Tuesday 15 October at 7:30pm in the Chambers, Ayr Town Hall, to discuss a possible Community Development Trust for the Fish Cross and Laigh Tollbooth area plus associated parking in the old Afflecks' land.