Discarded Usher Hall doors cost £15k to store

Many a performer will have sneaked out the stage door during the Usher Hall’s 100-year history to slip past adoring fans or avoid the boos after a bad performance.
St Mary's Music School pupils rehearse in front of the Usher Hall. Picture: Ian GeorgesonSt Mary's Music School pupils rehearse in front of the Usher Hall. Picture: Ian Georgeson
St Mary's Music School pupils rehearse in front of the Usher Hall. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Now the city council is trying to sneak the stage door out of the theatre altogether. At least £15,000 has been spent storing the venue’s original doors, even though they will never be returned to the building.

Critics have hit out after it emerged that historic wooden doors dating back to the opening of the famous concert hall in 1914 have been sitting in storage since 2009 due to planning conditions placed on the listed building by Historic Scotland.

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Because of a lack of council space, for the past two-and-a-half years the doors have been kept in commercial storage at a cost of £500 per month – enough to rent a one-bedroom flat in Leith.

A cheaper storage alternative is urgently being sought while an application for permission to get rid of the doors works its way through the planning process.

City centre councillor Joanna Mowat said: “It’s bad planning and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The “30 to 40” cherry wood doors include the original main entrance doors recognisable in the Lothian Road façade of the building. Construction of the Usher Hall was begun in 1911 following a £100,000 donation from whisky baron Andrew Usher.

Planning permission for a refurbishment and modern glass extension was granted in 2005, but with the condition that all original doors and window fittings were returned. The doors were made bespoke to fit the curved walls of the Usher Hall, and would not be easily fitted elsewhere.

Council officials are nonetheless hopeful that if permission to get rid of the doors is secured, they can be sold off or gifted to individuals, collectors or restoration businesses keen to own a piece of cultural history.

However, heritage campaigners called on the council to respect the spirit of the original planning permission and give the doors a new lease of life. Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “Obviously there was an aspiration for them to go back, which is why they were put in storage. If they’re sold then they will never go back and that presumably wasn’t the intention, and shouldn’t be the intention.

“Did they say, ‘oh, we’ll store them and hope to put them back’ knowing that further down the line they would just get rid of them? That doesn’t sound right.”

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Councillor Richard Lewis, city culture leader, said: “Conditions imposed by Historic Scotland required the council to hold on to the venue’s many old doors which are a piece of history, but they are of no further use within the building.

“We cannot dispose of the doors under Historic Scotland’s conditions, and so storage costs have to be borne by the service. A consent form has been submitted requesting approval to sell or gift them, and we await a decision.”