History of the Market Hall and Assembly Rooms
Presteigne lost its covered market in 1831 when one of the conditions of the sale of the old Shire Hall was that the arcade jutting out into Broad Street, under the Shire Hall, should be demolished as it obstructed the highway. As early as 1840 it had been proposed the a new Market Hall with a school room above should be built, but nothing came of the scheme. However in 1862 the Presteigne Market Hall and Public Room Company was incorporated, with a proposed capital of £1500 under the chairmanship of Sir Richard Green Price of Norton Manor. One hundred of the two hundred £5 shares were sold rapidly, though it proved impossible to dispose of the remainder. The company acquired the site of the old Post Office, previously occupied by an inn known successively as the Black Lion, the White Hart and the New Royal Oak, from Henry Martin Jones for £400 in June 1863; the trustees acting for the company being John White Lewis, James Beavan and William Price. The foundation stone was laid by Lady Jones Brydges on 23 October 1863, but in order to complete its construction the building was mortgaged to Miss Elizabeth Abley for £500. The first market was held in the new building on Wednesday 1 November 1865.
Designed by the Hereford architect Thomas Nicholson in the style described as Venetian Gothic, the Italianate impression was reinforced by a wooden cupola above the clock; this was removed in 1949. Above the open arcade of the market were retiring rooms which served as a library and reading rooms and the Assembly Room which, it was claimed, could accommodate 250 people. For nearly a century this was the venue for many of the town’s social and cultural functions; balls, dinners, concerts, operas and plays, also serving later as the town cinema.
The venture was never commercially viable and in 1882, with the Presteigne Market Hall and Public Room Company defunct, the premises passed into the ownership of the mortgagor, Miss Abley. In 1897 it was proposed that the building should be acquired by the town to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, but it proved impossible to raise the £550. However in 1903 it was acquired for £450 by Presteigne U.D.C. By this time the market was failing and in 1909 the ground floor was given over to the use of the Fire Brigade, subsequently serving as a shop and later as council offices. The opening of the Memorial Hall with its more modern amenities in 1953 saw the Assembly Rooms enter into decline, and thereafter it served as a store and later as a furniture shop before falling into disuse, until its rescue by MBCAA in 1992.
History of Mid Border Arts
Mid Border Community Arts Association was created by a dedicated committee of volunteers in 1988. It originally occupied just three upstairs rooms in the Shire Hall, now the award-winning Judge’s Lodging.
The move to the Assembly Rooms in 1992 enabled MBCA to continue to promote music, theatre and workshops; but now in their own venue. A piano was needed and vice-chair Ernie Kay organised the purchase of a Steinway grand piano from Adrian Williams in October 1992. At a later date The Kay Trust gave Mid Border Arts (MBA) £1000 which was spent refurbishing the piano, which is still in frequent use in the Assembly Rooms.
In 1997 the organisation obtained a 25 year lease, at the reasonable rent of a £1000 per year, from Powys County Council. MBA also secured a substantial Lottery Grant for the refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms. This overhaul saw the inclusion of tiered seating, theatre lighting, ramp, lift and toilet for wheelchair users, kitchenette, black-out shutters over the windows, new carpets and the Meeting Room extension.
Mid Border Arts is now a Limited Company (No. 2710441) with charitable status (No. 1011 108) run by eight volunteer trustees and one part-time co-ordinator. The Assembly Rooms is a venue with an entertainment and drinks license. Over the last 25 years the organisation has continued to attract and be dependent on an enthusiastic team of volunteers.
MBA aims to promote arts, education and community activities; integrating them into the community life of Presteigne and the surrounding area of mid Wales. The programme of events runs throughout the year, with folk and classical concerts, cabarets, world music, theatre shows, literary talks, art exhibitions and films. There are also a number of regular workshops; a community orchestra, an a cappella choir, a writers’ group, Welsh language classes, training sessions, as well Tai Chi and Pilates classes. In winter Presteigne Film Screen use the Assembly Rooms for their season of films; in summer Presteigne Festival use it for their Box Office and as a venue for talks and rehearsals.
Over the years MBA has proved to be an essential part of the cultural life of Presteigne. It has been regularly supported by grants from Arts Council of Wales and Presteigne & Norton Town Council. It has also been financed by a range of trusts and foundations, and generous legacies and donations.
Covid-19 restrictions have sorely challenged the organisation but hopefully, with the community’s support, it will survive.
Over the last few years music events have included the following:
Moishe’s Bagel ( klezmer) Angelo de Barre Quartet (gypsy) Mal Webb (Australian humorous beatbox) Karen Tweed & Diskan (folk) T. G. Collective (hot club & flamenco) Otros Aires (Argentinan tango) Harmonie Musik (wind instruments) Will Butterfield Trio (jazz piano) The Devil’s Violin (strings & story telling) Loon & Theatre Mimi (comedy & mirimbas) Big Top (original music by John Hymas) The Martin Harley Band (blues) Beverly Smith & Carl Jones (Appalachian Old Time) Mabon (Celtic roots) John Etheridge & Sweet Chorus (Django Reinhardt) Bandamania (local ceilidh band) Lavinia O’Meagher ( piano recital) The Destroyers (15 piece polka orchestra) Groanbox (American delta blues ) Pianothon (12 hours non-stop piano) Big Moon (Little Rumba & Loon collaboration) Tim Kliphuis Trio (gypsy jazz) The Budapest Café Orchestra (Balkan) Kidnap Alice (Blue grass) The Former Members (American super band) Remi Harris Trio (gypsy jazz) Lori Campbell (soulful blues) & Little Rumba (East European influences with humorous lyrics).
Performances have included Theatre Ad Infinitum Odyssey & Translunar Paradise, John Hegley, Fetch Theatre Company Basant Lahore! Eggs is Eggs Sea Wall, Daniel Morden Orpheus and other Greek Myths, Theatr Powys The Man Who Walked Through Walls, Elvis McGonagall One Man & his Doggerel, Puppet State Company The Man Who Planted Trees & Willow Globe Company Romeo & Juliet