Lambeth Town Hall official preview

Posted on: 10th December, 2017 in Comment

Readers may be aware that Lambeth Council offered free guided tours of the revamped building in the week beginning 4th December. Four society members booked and here is a brief impression, with some visuals courtesy of Lambeth’s guide book and a couple of our photos.

The major change for visitors is the new south-facing entrance to the building with foyer replacing the old Room 8, which in recent years had been used for Planning Committee meetings and Cabinet meetings. Doubtless the new central entrance will be an improvement for wheelchair users being totally level.

We wonder what the new meeting rooms will offer in terms of capacity for the public. There are meeting rooms on ground floor, basement and 1st floor levels – the only one anywhere near big enough for a public planning meeting was in the basement. Our guide mentioned that the old room 119 – a very large meeting room at 1st floor level – was being restored to public use, having in recent years been the Labour Party group office.

The most radical change to the old building is that the floors and ceilings have been removed in the centre of the building, revealing a triangular atrium faced with the original glazed white brick, but surmounted by a transparent roof, complete with anti-pigeon grid. The way to the reception area from the original main entrance is now over a newly constructed bridge. If the South London Press were still in its prime no doubt Andrea Perry might have christened this the Bridge of Sighs!

Looking across the bridge towards the old main entrance up the steps from the corner of Brixton Hill and Acre Lane it is thus possible to see the south side of the clock tower – as in the Lambeth Council guide book photo to the right.

We were not shown the Assembly rooms but our host said the stage and parquet floor were retained and refurbished and some alteration to the windows would introduce more natural light. In the rest of the building all windows were now fully secondary double glazed against traffic noise, and it was anticipate that environmental control (central heating/air conditioning) would function with minimum heat loss.

The basement area is a bit of a mystery. Apart from the large council meeting room the rooms along the Brixton Hill side were apparently already let out to Biz Space type clients, including the former council safe, whose door was welded open as a health and safety precaution. One interesting point was that the basement retains some old signage from when the Medical Officer of Health was located there, and also the Royal Crest from when it was used as a Juvenile Court, complete with cells we were told. Our main disappointment was that we were unable to visit the new-build civic centre which is still very much a building site.

The council have preserved much of the character of the much loved main town hall building – although as one wag put it it might be more convivial to revive Ted Knight’s basement social club than have it largely devoted to Biz Space and tea points!
Basement office lobby – bring back the Social Club?

The council chamber is still in mid renovation. The councillors’ microphones and voting terminals were being renewed, and the three grand chandeliers had been taken away – presumably to have high efficiency low energy luminaires fitted. We were told that the public and press galleries were being swapped over to give the public a better view – althogh how this works is not clear, since the Labour Leader normally speaks from opposite the public gallery, and would be hidden if the arrangement was reversed.

We should reassure readers that great care has been taken to preserve the stained glass, the memorial plaques and shields with coats of arms which cluster around the staircase landings above the original main entrance and beneath the clock tower. The original marble work has been cleaned and repaired where possible.