Tag Archives: Kensington Town Hall

Inside the old Town Hall

Kensington and Chelsea’s current Town Hall (construction images here) has been in use from 1975 onward. As we know from the recent post on its demolition , the old version was empty for nearly 8 years. So there was plenty of time to create a visual record of what it used to look like inside. Some of the pictures in today’s post were taken in 1977, but some of them must be earlier as they feature scenes of office life. But in most case the building looks, or actually was, deserted. Empty spaces have a strange kind of charm, as we’ve seen in other posts. (Such as here, here or even here). These spaces are no exception.

 

 

Here we look up at the skylight with a former Mayor framed by the elaborate banisters. I’m not sure who the other portrait depicts.

The third floor landing is actually referred to as the Portrait Hall.

 

 

The picture of the child in the foreground is of the young Princess Victoria and is by Martin Archer Shee. I’ve seen this picture many times and it’s slightly odd to see it in this context. (It currently hangs in the Town Hall, in the Mayor’s Parlour)

 

 

The pictures in the background are mostly more mayoral portraits.

 

 

The bottom right picture in the group of four depicts Lady Claire Hartnell, Mayor of Chelsea about 1939, painted by Martin De Hosszu. This picture now lives in one of our archive rooms in a small section I call Mayor’s Corner. Some years ago many of the mayoral portraits were offered to the families of the individual mayors, so the collection, which must have been pretty big, was scattered.

 

 

I don’t know if the Mayor’s Parlour was on the same floor as the portraits but it looks comfortable.

 

 

Below the third floor were the Council Chamber.

 

 

And the Large Hall (you can see it as it was demolished in some of the pictures in this post.)

 

 

Slightly less grand, two pictures of rooms for the use of Councillors. Firstly unfortunately captioned male members room (No sniggering at the back. I can remember when Councillors were always referred to as Members.)

 

 

And a slightly less spartan room for Lady Members.

 

 

Neither of them as sumptuous as the Mayors Parlour but then that was his base and the repository for Mayoral Archives

There were also more mundane areas.

 

 

The entrance hall.

 

 

The Information Office. This would have been in 1974.

And some non-public areas.

 

 

The roof office.  It looks snug.

The typing pool. A phrase redolent of office life as it used to be years ago.

 

 

Many piles of paper. Some of my colleagues would say that I still employ the piles of paper technique. In Local Studies, it’s hard to avoid them.

The photocopier room. Cutting edge technology at work.

 

 

And, naturally, the post room.  Any large organisation still has something like this, no matter how far we leave the old methods behind and move towards the paperless office.

 

 

A fine collection of chairs.

We’re not finished. Back in 1977 there was this less grand back staircase.

 

 

It looks like something in a ghost story which is appropriate as it may possibly have taken you downstairs to see this.

 

 

A gathering of plaster statues (you can see one has suffered some damage to her chin). I don’t know what became of this trio of unrelated ladies. We have a few plaster statues and busts in our collection and they’re quite easily damaged so you have to be careful with them but also accept a certain amount of wear and tear along the way. They often end up in basement rooms. Perhaps this group were waiting for transport to a better place, where they would be properly revered.

Postscript

This was a bit of a marathon, but it’s one of those topics that once you’ve done it, you’re probably not coming back to it. Sometimes Isabel or I write a post on a subject and we know that this is now probably the definitive word on that subject e.g. the West London Air Terminal.  This is not because we know more, but because we can bring together text and images in a way others perhaps couldn’t. And in the case of the Air Terminal and Isabel’s Paddington series, we also provide a way for former residents and employees to reminisce about these places which are no longer with us. So, although the history of municipal buildings is not for everyone , this post does preserve the way the old Kensington Town Hall used to look. Some people remember it fondly.

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Demolition: the fall of a town hall

In December 1983 I went down to Kensington High Street from North Kensington Library. It must have been one of those half days when I finished at one o’clock because it was around lunchtime. I saw from the bus that the former Kensington Town Hall had been partially breached by a wrecking ball and that the large hall in the centre of the building was now open to the elements. I was astounded. And, I admit, a little excited.

 

 

This is history now. Rumour had it that the GLC (remember them?) had been planning to list the building on a Monday, so to prevent this, demolition began the day before. Arguments followed, for and against. Some called it a desecration of a fine old building, some argued that it was financially necessary for the Council to maximize what it could make from the old building. Some said it was an architectural loss, others said that London has more than enough mediocre Victorian municipal buildings and wouldn’t miss this one. Although many years have passed the controversy has never completely been forgotten. But having noted the issues, I’m going to stick with the facts of the matter. And the pictures. Because although the building has gone, Council photographers, including our own John Rogers recorded it, and its passing. We have also been given photographs taken by members of the public. As regular readers will have realized, I like a bit of destruction. The poetry of devastation. So let me indulge myself.

 

I’ve been reading the Survey of London of course, and a handy little book published by English Heritage called London’s Town Halls, and it seems that nobody like the Town Hall that much. Its design had been reached by a “badly organised competition” from which “Gothic and Elizabethan styles were specifically excluded“. The architect, one Robert Walker (no relation as far as I know) went with (the Survey quoted Building News) “a commonplace Italian design“. (The term “Italianate” is often used pejoratively by architectural writers, as in the phrase “crude Italianate villas” applied by one writer to expensive houses in the Boltons in Old Brompton Road).  It was opened in 1880 and extended in 1898-99. It was large enough to be a serviceable town hall until the current building in Hornton Street was built. There is a post about its construction here.

 

 

This picture shows the rear extension from the garden in Church Walk.

The garden was formerly part of the church burial ground.

 

 

You can see St Mary Abbotts in the picture below.

 

 

But back to 1983. This is a view from a roof on the opposite side of the High Street, after the middle section was cleared of rubble.

 

 

The next pictures are a little earlier, immediately after the initial demolition work.

 

 

Jets of water to dampen down the dust in the air.

 

 

The view on the street after the boards went up.

 

 

And just before, a huge pile of debris.

 

Close up to the pile.

 

 

 

On the pavement, life goes on.

 

 

What was left of the building was actually left standing for a couple of years while it was being decided what to do next. The final demolition took place in 1984.

The great hall, partially cleared.

 

 

 

But before we leave this little detail from the side of the building intrigued me.

 

We’ll come back to the Town Hall again in the new year when we’ll have a look inside. Next week is the start of my usual series of short daily posts for the run up to Christmas

 

Postscript

A few hours after I published last week’s post news came through that Pete Shelley, founding member of Buzzcocks had died aged 63. As a 63-year old myself I am totally opposed to the deaths of men of that age. And as others have said, he took a bit of my life with him. Buzzcocks were one of the great punk bands and one of the first to make a record (the Spiral Scratch EP) by themselves, without any help from a record company. Shelley wrote and sang love songs with a sharp edge, catchy but uncompromisingly noisy. Sometimes at this point I quote a favourite lyric, but although Shelley wrote perfectly good pithy lyrics, what I remember most is the sound – the curious guitar on Ever fallen in love, and the powerful climax in the same song when guitar, drums and voice come together in a controlled explosion, the .  It’s perfectly appropriate that Buzzcocks recorded for United Artists who brought us records by Can (Shelley was, like me, a Can fan).

I had to explain to a couple of people who Pete Shelley was. What I said was imagine if Paul Weller died. Or John Lydon, Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry? Joe Strummer is already gone. Pete Shelley was in that league.


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