Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Queen’s Arcade under sudden threat

The charity that owns the town centre Queen’s Arcade as an asset to benefit local people is about to auction it off very soon and suddenly.  Bernard McGinley wonders why, and took the pictures.

The online sale of the Arcade was announced suddenly.  Auction details are here and here. The guideline price is £325-350,000 ‘plus fees’. The online auction ends on Wednesday 24 March.

Business is business, right? Not quite. For nearly a century, the Arcade has been owned by the Went Tree Trust (Charity No 209704), which has trustees from Heringtons Solicitors and former staff of Hastings Museum. The charity is obscure, but its charitable purpose is not. Its present aims are to purchase suitable exhibits for Hastings Museum.

In each of the last five years, the Trust’s average gross income has been about £63,000 and its average expenditure about £100,000. The support costs (utilities, maintenance, caretaking, legal and professional fees, etc) are consistently more than the rental income. Then there are accountancy fees and bad debts written off. The Trust is hæmorrhaging money. Selling off the Arcade would address the symptoms of the problem but not its causes. 

A request for comment to the Heringtons trustee has not yet been responded to. Any statement will be reported in future coverage.

At present the Arcade is insured for £5.9 million. The Trust’s valuation advisers for the sale are Dyer & Hobbis. (It is Dyer & Hobbis who are acting for Hastings Borough Council in promoting the sale of the demolished Harold Place toilets site [HBC Site ref:  TC 9] as a restaurant/retail outlet.) A helpful map shows both sites. 

Now the Trust’s major asset 

the freehold property, Queens Avenue, Hastings and the Assembly Rooms, Hastings 

is being disposed of. This change does not secure the Trust’s future, or even the Arcade’s. Just as unsatisfactory, the suddenness of the disposal does not allow local organisations who might be interested to try to become involved. In that respect the auction is against the wishes of its founder and the wellbeing of the people of Hastings and St Leonards.

Exterior of the Assembly Rooms on the first floor, which house the Hastings Stage Studio dance school.

The Trust was created by the will of Ben Harry Went Tree (18451927) who was four times Mayor of Hastings, in 1891, 1893, 1902 and 1903. He was a Liberal Unionist, actively interested in the success of local fisheries, and also a Francophile and local benefactor. Helping local people to emigrate was one of his causes. He lived at 15 St Margarets Road, and gave 23-24 Mann Street to the Council to be a technical school for young people. According to the East Sussex Record Office (archives):

No use was made of the premises and they were demolished in 1962.

He is buried in Hastings Cemetery, at the red granite obelisk near the Chapel.

The Baird connexion

It was Ben Harry Went Tree who leased the workshop premises in Queens Arcade above No 8 to a Scotty-the-Engineer type called John Logie Baird. Baird came to Hastings in 1922 to try to improve his health with fresh air. ‘It can be said that Hastings saved my life’, he wrote later. ‘In a very short time the exhilarating atmosphere of Hastings made me a changed man.’

Walks in what is now Hastings Country Park gave him inspiration for the invention of television. Hastings Museum has the shiny enamel Maltese Cross that was the first televised image.  

Plaque in the Arcade commemorating John Logie Baird’s achievements.

Unfortunately Baird did not get on with his landlord, Mr Went Tree. In July 1924 Baird gave himself a 2,000-volt shock that nearly killed him. There was an explosion too. The landlord asked him to leave the Arcade. As Exploring History in Hastings Cemetery records:

There was an argument between the two men on the pavement outside, which attracted a small crowd, further entertained by the fact that Baird had split his trousers. Baird eventually received a letter from Tree’s solicitors which contributed to his decision to leave Hastings for London in November 1924.  

(The centenary of Baird’s achievement in 1924 that led on to later work in transatlantic broadcasting, colour- and 3D-TV, noctovision, phonovision, fibre optics, stereoscopic TV and zone TV is deserving of celebration in Hastings.)

Community asset, for now

Built in 1882, the Arcade is not a listed building (though the Millets building nearby is, and 3 York Buildings also nearby). Upstairs, the Hastings Stage Studio dance school has spacious premises, as a grand staircase leads to the former Assembly Rooms.    

The Arcade is noted for its variety of retailers, including Gary the Butcher, Arcade Fisheries, a party shop, a hairdresser, a greengrocer’s, a skincare ‘deli’, a key cutter, a Goth shop and a confectioner. The dance school above has been encouraging local talent for decades, but its spacious premises in the former Assembly Room look particularly vulnerable to development, conversion or ‘enhancement’.  With a new owner there is a threat as Arcade leases run out or are reviewed.

The external area between the two-storey Arcade and Albert Road is also ripe for development, including the snooker hall, the wasted spaces of York Gardens, and even the Odeon cinema. 

Some of the Arcade runs through the cinema site. It is odd that the relevant ‘regeneration’ policy in the draft Local Plan Appendix 1 for Site TC8 (pages 86-7) makes no mention of the Arcade in its various proposals. Its importance is also not mentioned anywhere in the document: a place of character, and part of ‘a prominent gateway between the seafront and Town Centre’ according to the draft Local Plan. Consultation on the Plan closes on 24 March, by coincidence the same day as the Arcade auction. 

The charity’s trustees’ urgency to sell this asset online looks peculiar and unnecessary, and remains unexplained. Formally it is not a Council matter but they undoubtedly have close connexions with trustees through the Museum and the Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association. (The Trust’s main purpose is to give grants from its Museum Fund to Hastings Museum.) The Council also has a point of view (presumably), and could impose ‘Article 4‘ protection on a heritage asset. Fast-track Listed-building status can be asked for ‘by  anyone’, Council or citizens, and decided by Historic England by mid-June. 

[This article was amended on 24 March 2021.]

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Posted 07:34 Tuesday, Mar 16, 2021 In: Home Ground


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  1. Bernard McGinley

    For the avoidance of doubt, as the HBC constitution (Part 8) puts it, no current Museum staff are Went Tree trustees.

    Both organisations have mutual concerns however, and mutual benefits.

    The use of ‘from’ was not misleading though it was unintentionally ambiguous. It could mean ‘employed by’ — but not necessarily. One could say for instance, ‘Rishi Sunak the Chancellor is from Goldman Sachs’, meaning that was his background.

    The Trust and the Museum – and the Museum Association – are administratively separate. In practice some degree of engagement is only to be expected, including informal discussion and messaging. HBC through its Museum Committee (which has non-Councillors on it) is also involved. Liaison is diverse.

    Interest extends to public concern at the trustees’ proposed disposal of Went Tree Trust’s prime asset in a distress sale. The sudden deterioration in its finances since 2012 is seen at a glance here:

    The record gives the appearance of trustees not acting in the interests of the Trust or the beneficiaries: a breach of the trustees’ duty of care. The failure to explain intensified that concern. Our MP stated hers, and one of the ward councillors. HBC as a body looked the other way, but the unusual activities of a charity for Hastings people is a legitimate interest, whoever formally runs it (which isn’t the Museum).

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Wednesday, Mar 24, 2021 @ 12:35

  2. Mrs More

    Thank you for this well researched story Bernard McGinley.

    ‘S.R’ has been commenting here. I think Bernard McGinley made things very clear in his additional comment about the trustees – BUT I can see why the museum would be extremely wary of being seen to be caught up in any negativities surrounding the trust.

    This last minute auction business has been a crude, ham fisted & stinky affair. This historic arcade much loved by the town deserves so much better.

    The sale may well have negative consequences for the many long standing family businesses that trade at the arcade shops. What a great service they provide the town, some have been there for decades. As if the pandemic has not been gruelling enough for our towns amazing independent traders. What a shoddy disrespectful shameful way to treat them
    all – how insanely stressful for them.

    In the long term the museum will greatly benefit from the arcade sale via subsequent donations from the trust. As the trust will have a healthier bank balance. Earlier this month at a meeting the museum committee announced plans for an exhibition in 2023 to mark the anniversary of Logie Baird’s discoveries – will the trust be aiding with donations towards this perhaps ?

    The solicitors acting for the trust will probably also benefit from the arcade sale. This asset sale & ongoing changes to the trust will greatly demand of their time & expertise.

    What a shame for the shop leaseholders. They get dealt the short straw at worst time possible whilst other parties appear to benefit ?

    As for HBC, yet again they’ve had their heads deep in the sand not protecting this historic site or the businesses. Yet again letting down the towns community – but keen as ever to tip toe pliantly around the legal community…..

    Poor Mayor Tree must be spinning in his grave up at The Ridge Cemetery – but I think he would be grateful to Bernard & admiring of his work via HOT illuminating these vitally important cases.

    Comment by Mrs More — Wednesday, Mar 24, 2021 @ 11:18

  3. SR

    The sentence, “For nearly a century, the Arcade has been owned by the Went Tree Trust (Charity No 209704), which has trustees from Heringtons Solicitors and Hastings Museum”, implies the museum has some role in running the Went Tree Trust which is incorrect.

    Comment by SR — Tuesday, Mar 23, 2021 @ 17:25

  4. Bernard McGinley

    What mistake? There is no mistake. What I wrote was:
    Formally it is not a Council matter but they undoubtedly have close connexions with trustees through the Museum and the Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association.

    One trustee worked at the Museum for 17 years. The other was Chair of the H&StL Museum Association for 37 years: from April to December 2019 she was both Chair and trustee. These details confirm a closeness of connexion. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Some excellent ‘Outsiders’ sit on the HBC Museum Committee too.

    If the Council wanted to get in touch with Went Tree Trustees, it could very easily do so. Despite being asked several times to protect a charitable resource for the people of Hastings (strangely depleted over the last decade), or offer some assurances about the future of the Arcade, or indicate what protections it could offer it (designation, or support for listing for instance), it has stayed mute. The local MP by contrast surprised some people by writing to the Went Tree Trustees last week,
    respectfully suggesting that the Trustees seriously consider withdrawing the property from the auction this week to permit time for the issues to be reviewed and full responses provided.

    The online sale (through Clive Emson Auctioneers, Lot 32) ends on Wednesday 24 March.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Monday, Mar 22, 2021 @ 19:05

  5. SR

    The Went Tree Trust does not have trustees from Hastings Museum. The two organisations are separate and independent of each other. This is a mistake and should be corrected.

    Comment by SR — Monday, Mar 22, 2021 @ 11:01

  6. Bryan Fisher

    Great article Bernard! I am surprised the arcade is not protected in any way – if not for the architecture then surely for its association with Logie Baird. I have questioned Hastings Borough Council’s motives and abilities when they have moved into property speculation (such as York Buildings), but I do feel this is a genuine ‘gem’ we should be protecting. We are a tourist centre and should regard areas such as the Queens Arcade and surrounds as another asset, rather than just the pure profit to be made from it.

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Thursday, Mar 18, 2021 @ 17:24

  7. Heather Grief

    As a life member of Hastings Museum Association, I was shocked to learn about this for the first time from HOT.
    This sounds like a clear case of incompetence on the part of the charity’s trustees, who are personally liable in law for their actions.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Thursday, Mar 18, 2021 @ 16:12

  8. Tim Barton

    Our council has had some of the largest and most consistent funding cuts in the country over the course of the Tory, and ‘coalition’, government. Blaming them for not being Mr Money-bags is absurd, and best left to local Tories like Cllr Rob Lee who are happy to turn a blind eye.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Thursday, Mar 18, 2021 @ 11:49

  9. Bea

    Hastings Council has a habit of focusing attention and any money on just two sites, and lacks a perspective on the town as a whole. The neglect of Queens Arcade is a symptom of this.

    Comment by Bea — Thursday, Mar 18, 2021 @ 09:22

  10. J

    Typical toxic trustees, who have no clue. St Mary in the castle is suffering a similar fate in the hands of those who “run” it at the moment. Such sad news for the town, for both spaces.

    Comment by J — Wednesday, Mar 17, 2021 @ 20:10

  11. Concerned Citizen

    I have myself been following the situation re Queen’s Arcade for a while, and share Bernard McGinley’s concerns about it. I would commend him on his excellent reporting, and the background information he’s dug out.

    Along with one or two others, I have been looking into the possibility of making an approach to the Went Tree Trust with regard to an alternative ownership model for the Arcade as a community enterprise, as I don’t believe the Council is at all likely to spend its resources on this kind of asset in the current environment.

    Being realistic, the Arcade needs to be under proper business management so the income from the tenants supports not only the future of this unique bit of local history, but also the original intended benefits that the trust was established to secure.

    At this late stage, it seems unlikely that the auction sale can/will be stopped, so it may mean that the Went Tree Trust could very soon be out of the picture with questions to answer, but no active future role with the Arcade itself.

    So addressing the matter of the outcome of the auction is my immediate concern.

    I believe this provides an opportunity for a citizen response to the situation.

    I personally would be able to contribute something material towards a suitable consortium offer, but it would require a number of others to join in to reach the likely sale price in excess of £300,000.

    If anyone shares my concerns and relates to the possibility of being involved in the purchase with a realistic investment towards that end, I’d be happy to hear from them. Could you call 07887 706574 as soon as possible. Time is short. Thanks.

    Comment by Concerned Citizen — Tuesday, Mar 16, 2021 @ 19:22

  12. Philip Oakley

    Thanks for this interesting feature Bernard.
    This would be the type of asset the Council should be buying using the funding it’s been accessing via the Public Works Loan Board as there’s a decent income and it’s a great asset.
    I imagine they passed on the opportunity as surely it would have been offered to them?

    Comment by Philip Oakley — Tuesday, Mar 16, 2021 @ 09:39

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