The term was originally coined to refer to the amazing assortment of works of art and historic artefacts to be found within Folkestone and its surrounding area. It suffered terrible deprivations during the1939-45 war, when it was being shelled from Cap Griz Nez just across the Channel, and as well as being on the main bomber route to London it was under the epicentre of the Battle of Britain so was largely evacuated. When peace arrived, the understandable sentiment was to ditch the past to build a bright new future.
So many fine buildings that had survived the war were razed to the ground, typically to be replaced by 'modernistic' or more likely 'utilitarian' structures. But by happy twists of fate, The Metropole and The Grand, imposing structures sitting atop the cliff behind a fine greensward running the length of the western part of the town, narowly escaped demolition.
And by further good fortune, some of Folkestone's artefacts have been assembled here. When the Borough of Folkestone was subsumed into a much larger district council, interest in the town's historic posessions waned; a number of the larger paintings which had become homeless became housed in The Grand. Whilst tracking down the mayoral portraits, a substantial collection of drawings now known as the Master Collection was discovered, which perchance does include some old masters; this is now housed in the (Old) Town Hall in a superb albeit small museum created with Heritage Lottery fundlng showcasing a revolving selection of the 300 or so pieces.
The Landing of the Belgian Refugees, given to the town in 1916, which was cleaned to hang in the Dining Room at The Grand for a number of years, now takes pride of place in the new Folkestone Museum.
An Art Gallery was formed in The Metropole under the guidance of Kenneth Clark, alias Lord Clark of Civilisation, who having been curator of the Ashmoleum in Oxford became at the age of 30 in 1933 the youngest ever Director of the National Gallery and Surveyor of the King's Pictures. In the 60s & 70s, under his aegis, a permanent collection of modern art was established, including the works of no less than 15 Royal Academicians associated with the locality including important paintings by Carel Weight, who periodically lectured to adult education students there, which are now on permanent display in The Grand.
In more modern times Roger De Haan became the principal benefactor of the Metropole Arts Centre Trust, but following the sale of his major stake in Saga he has devoted much of his time and energy to resuscitating the fortunes of the Old Town and Harbour. The Trust was renamed the Creative Foundation and relocated to its Quarterhouse near the Harbour in 2008.
It had initially been the intention to dispose of the collection, but several patrons of The Grand thought it worthwile to preserve it here for the benefit of the locality; the Friends of the Metropole Gallery metamorphosed into the Friends of the Folkestone Collections to promote this purpose, and was launched with a generous gift from Mr De Haan.
In the succeeding years the Friends organised a number of exhibitions, not only of the former Metropole collection but also an eclectic selection of other works including political cartoons, Japanese prints and Chinese posters. Spured on by the great success of the South East Summer Exhibition (SESE) at The Grand in conjunction with the 2011 Triennial, sponsored by the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust, some of the committee of the Friends of the Folkestone Collections rebranded themselves as the Folkestone Art Trust which has more recently organised periodic exhibitions elsewhere.
Helped by the Creative Foundation's munificent sponsorship of the Triennial, the Old Town and Harbour is once again becoming a popular tourist destination along with The Leas; in the 2014 Triennial Yoko Ono installed a light on The Grand's dome flashing 'Earth Peace' across the Channel in Morse Code, which together with our Union Jack fluttering above has become a staple of the Folkestone experience from far and wide.
The Palm Court Gallery, the venue for many of the Friends' previous exhibitions, was taken on by Phylis McDowell for revolving shows of contemporary works; following her recent death, the gallery has been renamed in her honour, and now shows paintings and photographs by local artists.
The Grand houses a great assortment of local old drawings and pictures, as well as an interesting collection of furniture, much from Georgian and Edwardian times although some Medieval, even including Lord Kitchener's gilt bed and other items from his house near by.
There are weekly history tours of The Grand, at 2pm on Fridays, when most if not all of the pictures on public display can be seen - for details; they may also be seen at other times subject to other activities, and we are more than happy to arrange special tours - but please do check on availability before travelling any distance.
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