The Surbiton Assembly Rooms were built on the corner of Surbiton Hill Road and Maple Road in the 1890s, becoming a setting for film screenings, theatre performances, private parties, functions and weddings. Its heyday as a music venue was the period from 1962 to the mid 1970s when it hosted the Surbiton and Kingston Folk Club, courtesy of local musician Derek Sarjeant.
As well as reflecting the folk boom occurring on both sides of the Atlantic at the time, Sarjeant’s nights also hosted an eclectic mix of bluegrass, blues, and trad jazz. Regular attendees included Kingston locals Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention and Eric Clapton, Chris Dreja and Keith Relf of the Yardbirds, and Diz Disley. Some texts even claim that Bob Dylan made an appearance in January 1963 although this has proved impossible to verify.
Live music at the Assembly Rooms didn’t end with folk. In the 1970s and 80s it hosted a variety of alternative acts including local bands Cardiacs and The Sound, as well as The Fall and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. One infamous gig by The Lost Cherrees resulted in a full blown riot in which the Met Police’s Special Patrol Group had to be called to restore order, causing a stir that made it into the national papers. In October 1999, Princess Alexandra formally opened the Assembly Rooms as part of Surbiton High School, where they remain today.
As a teenager in the 1960s Angela Hilton frequented various functions at the Assembly Rooms, from parties hosted by her father’s local football team to taking the stage as part of her local dance school. She particularly remembers one evening when her miniskirt caused quite the stir…
Once its time as the venue for the Surbiton and Kingston Folk Club was behind it, the Assembly Rooms continued offering live music, often in the form of rock and alternative gigs. Julian Hickman, a Social Secretary for Kingston Polytechnic Students’ Union in the early 1980s, recalls being able to use the Assembly Rooms when the Poly’s venues were unavailable during the summer, booking acts such as The Fall and The Enid.
Local Stephen Budd meanwhile has an eclectic set of memories of the Surbiton Assembly Rooms: from seeing acts such as Irish folk singer Jonathan Kelly to British soul pioneers Kokomo; to playing a gig himself for the British Communist Party; and even seeing Prime Minister deliver a speech arguing for Britain’s accession to the European Communities!
Finally local journalist Tim Harrison reflects one of the Assembly Rooms’s darker hours – a full blown riot at a 1980s Lost Cherrees anarcho-punk gig that resulted in the Met Police’s Special Patrol Group being called in to restore order.