diamond geezer

 Monday, March 30, 2015

Fifty years ago, at the end of March 1965, London was a lot smaller than it is today. The County of London was home to just over three million people, and stretched from Stoke Newington in the north to Streatham in the south and from Putney in the west to Plumstead in the east. It had been created as part of the Local Government Act 1888, taking over the administrative area of the Metropolitan Board of Works, an unelected body charged with coordinating London's infrastructure, particularly sewerage, parks, streets and bridges. Through administrative inertia its 1855 boundary somehow survived for over a century, until the London Government Act 1963 grasped change and extended the capital's area fivefold.

Fifty years ago this week, on the 1st April 1965, Greater London was born. This enlarged administrative area extended the old County of London by including almost all of Middlesex, plus large chunks of Essex, Surrey and Kent. The capital now consisted of 32 new boroughs, each created by combining two or three existing boroughs or districts - a mighty complicated jigsaw. In the process all 28 metropolitan boroughs of the County of London were extinguished after 65 years in existence, and most of their Town Halls rendered surplus to requirements. Today I'm looking at what ended up where in what's now Inner London, and tomorrow we'll move onto Outer.

Westminster = Paddington + St Marylebone + Westminster
Population 1965: 266,000 / Population 2015: 227,000
Paddington: Originally the Vestry Hall and dating from 1853, Paddington's classical Town Hall on Harrow Road was enlarged in both 1900 and 1920. Reorganisation in 1965 led to its closure, and it was demolished four years later to make way for the Westway urban motorway.
St Marylebone: Designed following a competition in 1911, but not opened until 1920, the classical Graeco-Roman town hall on the Marylebone Road is faced with Portland stone. The building is now Westminster Council House, and contains not just the main council chamber but also a register office suite in which numerous famous people have been married (currently closed for refurbishment until 2017).
Westminster: This metropolitan borough became a city in its own right in 1900. An early town hall, known as Caxton Hall, opened in 1883 round the back of St James' Park station (it's now luxury flats). Shortly afterwards Westminster City Hall (aka Cavell House) was built in classical style along the curve at the southern end of Charing Cross Road (beside the Garrick Theatre).

Camden = Hampstead + St Pancras + Holborn
Population 1965: 236,000 / Population 2015: 230,000
Hampstead: The Old Town Hall on Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, is now the Interchange Studios, home to performing arts association Wac Arts.
St Pancras: Neoclassical St Pancras Town Hall on the Euston Road, built 1934-7, is now Camden Town Hall.
Holborn: Comprising only 400 acres, Holborn was the smallest of the County of London's metropolitan districts. The Portland stone-fronted town hall on High Holborn (opened in 1908) might since have become a hotel, but was instead redeveloped as offices (and the Shanghai Blues restaurant).

Islington = Islington + Finsbury
Population 1965: 243,000 / Population 2015: 216,000
Islington: The town hall on Upper Street was opened in 1923, and continues in use to this day.
Finsbury: Now almost a forgotten placename, the borough of Finsbury comprised the urban quarters of Clerkenwell and St Luke's. Its town hall on Rosebery Avenue, opened in 1895, is an art nouveau delight with a wrought iron and glass canopy out front and chandeliers within. The building now combines life as a dance studio for the Urdang Academy and a premium hire-out-able event space.

Hackney = Hackney + Shoreditch + Stoke Newington
Population 1965: 251,000 / Population 2015: 258,000
Hackney: The 'French-Italian' style town hall in the Narrow Way (now a Coral betting shop) was replaced in 1937 by an Art Deco town hall in Mare Street, and retained as the Town Hall for the modern borough of Hackney.
Shoreditch: The magnificent town hall on Old Street started out as a Vestry Hall in 1865, and became an independent arts venue following a major refurbishment in 2004.
Stoke Newington: In 1900 this was the London borough with the smallest population, a mere fifty thousand. The town hall on Church Street was built in the mid-Thirties in an English Renaissance style with art deco interiors, then restored by Hackney in 2009 with the Council Chamber and Assembly Hall now available for hire.

Tower Hamlets = Bethnal Green + Stepney + Poplar
Population 1965: 200,000 / Population 2015: 273,000
Bethnal Green : Smallest of the three constituent Tower Hamlets boroughs, its Town Hall in Patriot Square was opened in 1910 and extended in the late 1930s. In 2010 the building was reopened as a luxury apartment hotel, retaining much of the original art deco interior, but a world away from the community it was built to serve.
Stepney: This slum-packed borough declined significantly in population over the first half of the 20th century. St George's Town Hall on Cable Street is most famous for the Battle of Cable Street mural painted on an exterior wall.
Poplar: A long thin borough, stretching south from Bow to the tip of the Isle of Dogs. Its first town hall in Poplar High Street was recently flogged off cheaply to a friend of the current Mayor, while its 1938 replacement in Bow Road was unashamedly modern and is now the Bow House Business Centre.

Greenwich = Greenwich + Woolwich
Was nearly called: Charlton
Population 1965: 231,000 / Population 2015: 264,000

Greenwich: Until 1939 the town hall was at West Greenwich House on Greenwich High Road, now home to the West Greenwich Community and Arts Centre. A larger Art Deco Town Hall and Borough Hall was then opened further up the road - the brick edifice with the tall rectangular tower. Most of the building was sold off in 1970, while the main hall now houses Greenwich Dance Agency.
Woolwich: A peculiarly-split borough, with a tiny fraction to the north of the Thames. North Woolwich had been part of Kent since the 11th century, thanks to William the Conqueror's allocation of land to his lords, becoming part of south London in 1889, then Newham in Outer London in 1965. Woolwich's ultra-ornate Town Hall is now the administrative centre for the borough of Greenwich.

Lewisham = Deptford + Lewisham
Population 1965: 286,000 / Population 2015: 286,000
Deptford: A borough covering the parish of Deptford St Paul, its grand baroque town hall was built with maritime flourishes between 1903 and 1905 on New Cross Road. Now owned by Goldsmiths College it was very recently restored as a 'cultural hub', and even more recently occupied by angry students.
Lewisham: The first town hall was built in Catford in Gothic Revival style in 1875, replaced by a complementary building nextdoor in 1932 (now the Broadway Theatre). Lewisham's new town hall, on the same spot as the first, is more of a Sixties monstrosity, and Sir John Betjeman campaigned (unsuccessfully) against its development.

Southwark = Bermondsey + Camberwell + Southwark
Population 1965: 301,000 / Population 2015: 299,000
Bermondsey: The Victorian town hall on Spa Road was bombed during World War II, so was replaced as seat of government by the Municipal Offices nextdoor. Post-1965 Southwark Council used the building as offices, before selling the lot off in 2012, and now (of course) it's 41 loft-style apartments with a mighty grand entrance foyer.
Camberwell: The lofty Town Hall opened on Peckham Road in 1934. A redevelopment project is currently transforming the building into 149 student accommodation rooms, a café and art gallery, and rehearsal space and for Theatre Peckham nextdoor. Meanwhile council staff were shifted to 160 Tooley Street in 2009.
Southwark: Originally the Vestry of St Mary Newington, Walworth Town Hall (and the Cuming Museum collection) was heavily damaged by fire a couple of years ago. Plans are afoot to create "a new, world class civic centre" with a library "space" and museum "space".

Lambeth = Lambeth (+ some Wandsworth)
Population 1965: 331,000 / Population 2015: 315,000
Lambeth: The modern borough is unusual in that it comprises just one pre-1965 borough plus the eastern slice of sprawling Wandsworth, essentially Clapham and Streatham (more specifically "so much of the metropolitan borough as lay east of Hazelbourne Road, Cavendish Road, the railway between Balham and Streatham Common stations and the railway between Streatham and Mitcham Junction stations"). The Town Hall in central Brixton is constructed from red brick and Portland stone, topped off by a 41m high clock tower, and was completed in 1908. A current austerity-inspired project aims to condense 14 council buildings into just two, to create Your New Town Hall.

Wandsworth = Battersea + Wandsworth
Population 1965: 326,000 / Population 2015: 311,000
Battersea: The former Battersea Town Hall on Lavender Hill (opened in 1893) is now the Battersea Arts Centre. Alas the building was ravaged by fire earlier this month, destroying the Grand Hall and Lower Hall and causing the central tower to collapse.
Wandsworth: Covering 37 square kilometres, this was the largest borough in the County of London. Hence it got split, with a little given to Lambeth and most being combined with Battersea. The town hall on Wandsworth High Street is architecturally restrained, with "historic scenes in stone bas reliefs running the length of the facade", and was opened in 1937.

Hammersmith = Hammersmith + Fulham
Was nearly called: Riverside, or Olympia
Renamed Hammersmith and Fulham in 1979
Population 1965: 211,000 / Population 2015: 179,000

Hammersmith: The dominant partner in the 1965 merger, the new borough retained Hammersmith's 1930s 'Swedish Georgian' town hall and added a modern extension on King Street.
Fulham: The 19th century Vestry Hall on Walham Green was sold off by the council in 2011 to an American property developer who plans to convert it into "a shopping arcade and a revitalized place in which to live, work, play and relax; along with a quintessentially British shopping experience", god help us.

Kensington & Chelsea = Kensington + Chelsea (obviously)
Population 1965: 215,000 / Population 2015: 156,000
Kensington: A royal borough since 1901, at the posthumous request of Queen Victoria who was born at Kensington Palace. The Italianate town hall, built in 1880, was controversially demolished in 1982 and replaced by a bland shopping parade opposite High Street Kensington station. Its replacement up Hornton Street is one of Sir Basil Spence's brickier behemoths.
Chelsea: Chelsea may have been the minor partner in the merger, in both population and size, but somehow retained its name, this being the only one of the 1965 boroughs to namecheck both of its constituent parts. The old town hall on the King's Road is hired out by the council as an events venue.

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