diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Fifty years ago today, on 1st April 1965, Greater London came into existence. And about time too. The original County of London was considerably smaller than the conurbation that had grown up roundabout, hence the need to enlarge the capital to better reflect suburban reality. But where to draw the line? The Herbert Commission was established in 1957 to answer the question, and published its report in 1960. Its terms of reference included the area now known as Greater London plus a number of neighbouring authorities, shown approximately below in red, pink and green. Areas considered but discounted are shown in green, notably Rickmansworth, Watford, Elstree and Chigwell to the north, Esher, Epsom, Ewell and Banstead to the south, and Dartford to the east. In pink is Potters Bar, swiftly liberated from Middlesex to Herts. And in red are a handful of districts recommended for inclusion but later thrown out by the government, including Cheshunt to the north, Staines and Sunbury to the west, and Caterham to the south.

Fifty years ago today, on 1st April 1965, Greater London was born. You'd think there'd be celebrations, or at least some sort of fuss in the media, but instead the anniversary is being allowed to pass almost entirely unnoticed. Maybe the austerity agenda means councils have neither the cash nor the motivation for a birthday celebration. Maybe the General Election rules prohibit unnecessary drum-banging during the purdah period. Maybe our Mayor hasn't even noticed, who knows. Whatever, the London borough in which you live is half a century old today, so offer it some respect as it enters middle age. And how much longer it has to live depends very much on how long it is until our capital's boundary is redrawn again. Perhaps next time round Watford, Epsom and Dartford will find their time has come... as Harrow, Romford and Richmond discovered fifty years ago.

MIDDLESEX (ceased to exist, 1st April 1965)

Hounslow = Brentford and Chiswick + Feltham + Heston and Isleworth
Population 1965: 207,000 / Population 2015: 263,000
Brentford and Chiswick: The town hall overlooking Turnham Green was opened in 1901. It remains in civic ownership, containing a few council services and a Citizens Advice Bureau, and can be hired out for weddings.
Feltham: The Assembly Hall on Hounslow Road was used by the council from 1906. It too remains in civic ownership, for leisure purposes, and can be hired out for weddings.
Heston and Isleworth: The Public Hall in Old Isleworth has the look of a small Victorian school. It too remains in civic ownership, although you probably wouldn't hire it out for weddings.

Hillingdon = Hayes and Harlington + Ruislip Northwood + Uxbridge + Yiewsley and West Drayton
Population 1965: 233,000 / Population 2015: 287,000
Was nearly called: Uxbridge

Hayes and Harlington: From 1924 the town hall was Barra Hall, a late 18th century manor house in Barra Hall Park, Hayes. The building is now a Sure Start Centre.
Ruislip Northwood: Among the first decisions of the new council in 1904 were a reduction in the number of workmen employed on the highways from ten to seven, cancellation of the cleaning of roadside ditches, and a cut in the pay of the lowest-paid man working on the sewers. Much more here.
Uxbridge: Uxbridge's town council grew out of the local Board of Health, one of the first in England.
Yiewsley and West Drayton: Key House, the old Town Hall, replaced the Yiewsley District Council Offices on the same site in 1930. It now houses Hillingdon Voluntary Services. From 1952 the seat of government switched to Drayton Hall.

Ealing = Acton + Ealing + Southall
Population 1965: 302,000 / Population 2015: 343,000
Acton: The town hall on the High Street was opened in 1910 and extended in 1939, the annexe described as "very noble and thoroughly English without extravagant ornamentation". A recent upgrade has filled the building with swimming pools and a gymnasium, funded by relocating the library.
Ealing: The large gothic Town Hall on Ealing Broadway was built in 1886, replacing an earlier town hall on The Mall (now a Nat West bank), and is still used as council offices (subsidiary to nearby Perceval House).
Southall: Southall Town Hall was built in debased classical style in 1897 to the designs of local architect Thomas Newall. My thanks to Ealing council for being the only current London borough with full information about its three constituent town halls.

Brent = Wembley + Willesden
Population 1965: 291,000 / Population 2015: 317,000
Wembley: Wembley's austere brick town hall on Forty Lane, completed in 1940, is unashamedly modernist, and described by Pevsner as "the best of the modern town halls around London, neither fanciful nor drab." Brent council sold it off a few years ago to a French international school (opens September) when they moved into their new Civic Centre overlooking Wembley Stadium.
Willesden: In 1891 civic oversight came from the board offices in Dyne Road, Kilburn, later enlarged to become Willesden Town Hall. Deemed unnecessary after amalgamation with Wembley, the town hall was demolished in 1972.

Harrow = Harrow
Population 1965: 208,000 / Population 2015: 244,000
Harrow: Harrow is unique in Greater London as a borough formed from a single pre-1965 district, hence it was able to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary last year. The Queen came to celebrate its 50th birthday in 2004, an honour she'll be bestowing on absolutely no London borough today. Harrow's monolithic Civic Centre dates from 1972, and looks it.

Barnet = Barnet + East Barnet + Finchley + Friern Barnet + Hendon
Population 1965: 314,000 / Population 2015: 369,000
Barnet: Thanks to historical boundary contortions, Barnet lay in Hertfordshire up until 1965 but was almost entirely surrounded by Middlesex. Its former Council Offices were on Wood Street, in the Old Court House, later used as a register office, and more recently refurbished as coroners court for the Northern District of Greater London.
East Barnet: The district of East Barnet was buried even deeper into Middlesex than its Barnet cousin. Until 1935 it was known as East Barnet Valley. Its Italianate town hall opened on Station Road in 1892.
Finchley: Finchley's Urban District Council initially met every third Monday at offices in Bibbesworth House, Church End, before moving to Finchley Hall in 1902. This was heavily bombed in the war and demolished shortly afterwards. Church End Library stands on the site.
Friern Barnet: The imposing town hall in Friern Barnet Lane was completed in 1941, given Grade II listing in 2002 and sold by Barnet council in 2003. Barratts have since converted it into apartments.
Hendon: Hendon Town Hall, on The Burroughs, is somehow still a customer-facing outpost of Barnet council (whose committees also meet here). Opened in 1901, it's (in)famous as the place where Margaret Thatcher made her first speech as Prime Minister.

Highgate = Crouch End + Highgate + Muswell Hill
Population 1965: 203,000 / Population 2015: 203,000
Crouch End: Council administration was based in Bakers House on Topsfield Parade, and originally linked by tunnel to The Maynard Arms pub for unobserved access. A new Civic Centre in retro gothic style would have opened in 1966 but was cancelled due to London's expansion.
Highgate: The Town Hall (adjacent to Kenwood House) dates back to 1904, and is famous as the location of England's first open plan office accommodation. Plans to demolish the building and replace it with a twelve-storey apartment block were thwarted by a hunger strike in 1973.
Muswell Hill: Historically part of Essex until 1889, the borough council originally met in a cellar room at the Athenaeum on Fortis Green Road. When the Ratepayers Association took control in 1937 they wound up all council business and placed the administration into legal hibernation until 1965.

Haringey = Hornsey + Tottenham + Wood Green
Population 1965: 252,000 / Population 2015: 264,000
Hornsey: Hornsey Town Hall (opened 1935) is one of Middlesex's finest modernist civic buildings. Alas Haringey council have left the building to decay, and plans to refurbish it for the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts collapsed earlier this year through lack of funds.
Tottenham: Opened in 1905, the Edwardian Baroque town hall fared less well after 1965, ending up on English Heritage's 'at risk' register. Following redevelopment, the vaulted Moselle Room is one of the grand rooms that can be hired out at 'The Dream Centre'.
Wood Green: Council meetings were held at Woodside House, now used by Haringey Adult Services. The borough's Latin motto nostrum viret robur translates either as 'our strength is a tree' or 'Wood Green Flourishes'.

Enfield = Edmonton + Enfield + Southgate
Population 1965: 272,000 / Population 2015: 321,000
Edmonton: The (crenelated perpendicular) Town Hall was built in 1884 and demolished in 1989, but its clock was saved, restored and recently erected on Edmonton Green.
Enfield: Until 1961 the administrative HQ was at Little Park, Gentleman's Row, after which the soaring Civic Centre opened on Silver Street - retained for use by an enlarged Enfield borough four years later.
Southgate: The borough was administered from Southgate Town Hall on Green Lanes in Palmers Green. In the 1970s the building became became the Local History Archive, but is (imminently) to be converted into 19 flats.

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