Bridges Community Centre
Thirty years ago, a small group of volunteers had a vision: their hard work and commitment, and that of the many volunteers since, has made Bridges what it is today - a building full of character in the centre of Monmouth’s community.
In 1984, a small group of volunteers in Monmouth began a support group to help local people who were experiencing financial hardship or isolation. At the time, a local factory had closed, and the workers needed help to gain skills and find work. Monmouth is regarded as a wealthy area, but there were, and continue to be, people who lacked opportunities or were disadvantaged and vulnerable. There were also many elderly people who felt isolated and unsupported. The volunteers decided to widen the project – and Bridges Community Centre came into being.
Bridges was initially based in a small church hall in Monmouth, but soon outgrew itand, ironically, moved into the disused canteen of the factory that had closed. As the number of supporters grew, so did their vision ... their reach ... the range of work ... and the number of people they were helping. Bridges became a charity, staff were appointed, and its community development work touched the lives of more and more people in Monmouth. Finally, after many years of hard work and determination to fundraise for and renovate the beautiful Grade II* listed building, Drybridge House and its modern annexe, it moved into this new home in 2003.
Bridges now provides:
Support and help for the most vulnerable people in Monmouth
A base for the meetings of local community groups and for local services
A base for learning new skills.
Healthcare support and fitness/wellbeing activities
Rent-a-desk, rooms for meetings, conferences and training events
A venue for weddings, parties and charity events.
A Tea Room
A base for entrepreneurs and small independent business in the Stables Centre and Drybridge House
Bridges is a lively organisation which remains true to its original aims: to build bridges between people from all parts of the community. It offers opportunities for social contact and creates ‘social capital’ – two small words with a very powerful significance for Bridges. Bridges continues to have a deep and wide-reaching impact: on the people who volunteer here, those that use its facilities, and the statutory organisations that also help this community.
Drybridge House is part of the Heritage of Monmouth and one of its most prestigious buildings. It was in the ownership of the Roberts family from the time of Elizabeth I until 1947.
The magnificent interiors of the current House still contain items from the Elizabethan building: the studded door, some of the carved fireplaces and rare Delft-tiled surrounds, the oak panelling and staircase, ancient ironwork and unique windows. Now under the guardianship of Bridges, Monmouth's independent charity, these historic rooms provide a superb venue for civil weddings and other civil ceremonies, with opportunities for photographs in the beautiful grounds where WG Grace played cricket! The rooms adapt equally well as a conference, meeting or training venue. They are also used by the people of Monmouth for family celebrations, exhibitions and performances.
The first house was built by John Roberts in 1558 and was probably a large black and white gabled farmhouse. The original, Elizabethan house was rebuilt in 1671 by his grandson, William Roberts. William Roberts (of Monmouth and Grays Inn), was a man of some substance. He was the Receiver and Paymaster of the works at Windsor Castle throughout the great period of remodelling by Hugh May and Sir Christopher Wren. Much of what we see today in Drybridge House is the legacy of William Roberts. The House had extensive grounds and it remained much the same until part of the land and outbuildings were sold in 1840.
Charles Henry Roberts had the next major influence on the House. When he married Mary Crompton in 1861 he changed the family name to Crompton Roberts. He carried out the restoration and enlargement of the House in 1867. He added a new South wing but at the same time retained what was left of the old house - the fine chimney piece with fruit and leaves carved in the style of Grinling Gibbons, the panelling and the plaster ceiling. The family commissioned a number of stained glass windows, including the fine grisaille roundels depicting the legend of King Arthur which can be seen in the Ballroom. These are outstanding examples of this art.
The exterior abounds with shields and carvings. There is a 19thcentury stable-block which now provides a home for local artists. Charles Henry was interested in horticulture and sport, and designed a fine parkland garden with an exceptional collection of trees and a good cricket pitch, upon which W.G. Grace and his brother played against the Monmouthshire side. Sadly, the pitch no longer survives but many of the trees are alive to this day, and Bridges has their care.
Edward Elgar One visitor to Drybridge House during this time was the composer, Edward Elgar. During the 1880s and 1890s he conducted and composed for local musical organisations and taught the violin and piano. One of his pupils was Caroline Alice Roberts, daughter of the late Major-General Sir Henry Roberts who had enjoyed a distinguished career with the British army in India. She married Edward in opposition to her aunts and cousins (her mother had died in 1887) who considered that in marrying the son of a mere tradesman, a music teacher without prospects, she was marrying beneath herself. Nevertheless, Alice, with determination and faith in Edward's genius, played a vital part in the development of Elgar's career. When Lady Elgar died in 1920, much of Elgar's inspiration and will to compose died with her. Throughout the 1920s, Elgar lived in virtual retirement, saddened by his bereavement, until gaining a new lease of life in 1928.
Drybridge House eventually passed to Richard Crompton Roberts and when he was killed in action in 1940, during the retreat from Dunkirk, the last male heir bearing the Crompton Roberts name died, and the House passed to his younger sister, Mary.
Mary married John David Burn Callender in 1945 and moved out to live with him. She sold Drybridge House to Monmouthshire County Council in 1947 to be used for the benefit of local people.
The County Council opened the House as a welfare home for the elderly in 1948 and a modern extension was built on the back of the House in 1951. The Home was closed suddenly in 1989 and apart from a few months' use as a temporary Police Station, was left empty.
Although the House remained empty from February 1990, it was classified as a Grade II* Listed building in 1991. It had been a source of local disgust that the House had been left empty and annual demonstrations were held to protest that another year had passed with nothing being done.
Over the next seven years the House reached a state of near dereliction with major roof problems allowing water leakage to cause extensive damp and rotting of ceilings and floorboards internally. In March 1998 Bridges obtained agreement to develop Drybridge House as a centre for the people of Monmouth and major fundraising began.
With the assistance of grants, work was started on the extension to the House. The old canteen was demolished to be replaced by the superb new Agincourt Hall and other rooms were refurbished so that Bridges could transfer all its activities in January 2001.
During this time, Bridges continued to seek grants for the restoration of Drybridge House itself. Eventually, with the assistance of CADW and the Heritage Lottery Fund, (providing grants that had to be match-funded by Bridges), architects and restorers were appointed and work began in December 2001. Due to the dedication of all the volunteers who work in Bridges, and with the support of local organisations and the people of Monmouth, all the rooms were opened for public use by the end of 2003.
The Crompton Roberts family were great benefactors to Monmouth. It gives Bridges great satisfaction and pride that they have managed to restore Drybridge House and return it to the Town's use, thus fulfilling the Crompton Roberts hopes and wishes.
Portraits of Charles Henry and Mary can be seen in The Gallery, alongside a signed photograph of HRH Diana, Princess of Wales, which was presented to Bridges when she opened the original Centre in other premises in the Town in 1987.