We have asked our team of lovely Heritage volunteers to contribute to our blog. They’ve chosen pieces with their favourite stories behind them from our Collection to write about. Many of these are on display in our museum, Woking’s Story. The second instalment, written by Rosemary, explores the history of the foundation stone of The Central Hall of The Royal Dramatic College, Maybury.
The white stone in Woking’s Story is inscribed 'Beneath this buttress the first brick of the Central Hall was laid by B.Webster, Esqr Aug. 7th 1862'.
The Royal Dramatic College in Maybury, now the site of the Lion Retail Park, was a home for retired actors and actresses who had fallen on hard times. Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, together with Benjamin Webster, a successful actor-manager, were instrumental in forming a trust to raise money for the building of the college, which housed ten actors and ten actresses. A Royal Charter was granted in 1859 and, in 1860, five acres of Maybury Common were given to the project by the London Necropolis Company. Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of the college on 1st June 1860 and it was officially opened on 5th June 1865 although the first residents were admitted in September 1862.
The college was designed by William Webbe in a red brick Tudor style but he was found to be unsatisfactory and the Central Hall, which housed an art collection, books and other artefacts, was designed by T.R.Smith. The stone in Woking’s Story commemorates the laying of the first brick of this hall.
Sadly, the finances of the college were always precarious and, despite “Fancy Fairs” being held at the Crystal Palace and occasional gifts, by 1870 the college was in a bad financial position with higher running and building costs than originally envisaged.
The Royal Dramatic College closed on 12th November 1877 and the building was sold in 1884 to Dr Leitner, who developed it as the Oriental Institute.
The Foundation Stone is on display in Woking's Story in the section which explores the history of the buildings in Oriental Road, including The Royal Dramatic College and the Shah Jahan Mosque.
Image Credit: The Royal Dramatic College on Oriental Road and Foundation Stone from Woking's Story