Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 3 (1982)
This article was prepared by Val Bott to support the application to have Chiswick Town Hall listed as a building of architectural or historical importance.
The first building on the site of the present Town Hall was Chiswick’s Vestry Hall. It was built in 1876 to the designs of the Improvement Commissioner’s Surveyor, W J Treherne, at a cost of £5,400. Besides the local government offices the building housed a large central hall and meeting rooms which were available for hire.
Various functions took place there: balls organised by the Grove Park Society, concerts put on by local people (including the Police Minstrels) usually to raise funds for a charitable cause, public lectures (one was arranged by the British Vegetarian Society in 1879), political meetings (Mr. Gladstone spoke there in 1880) and a weekly dancing class among many others.
Plans for enlarging the building were drawn up in the 1880s – photographic copies of plans by Maurice B Adams (who worked locally on a number of houses in the Bedford Park area) can be seen in Chiswick Library’s Local History Collection – but these came to nothing.
However, after the ownership of the Vestry Hall had been transferred to the new Urban District Council in 1896 that council paid £20,000 for alterations and additions designed by their Surveyor, A Ramsden, which were officially opened in February 1901. The new premises were named the Town Hall.
It is still possible to identify the original building within the later additions. From Turnham Green you can see the extent of the original north facade, consisting of the main entrance doorway with a window on either side. Parallel with Sutton Court Road the Vestry Hall stretched as far south as the present building. The new extensions were built in similar materials – pale yellowish brick and yellow stone – to harmonise with the older building.
A stone balustrade was added around the top of both the old and the new parts of the building and a large triangular pediment was added above the main entrance front to match those on the new sections. The original French chateau-style roof of grey slate with iron trimmings rears up behind the pediment on the north front rather uncomfortably.
The interior was lavishly decorated with wood panelling, richly coloured embossed tiles, stained glass and a magnificent marble balustrade to the main staircase. Though the furniture has been removed from the old Council Chamber much of the original interior decoration survives.
Two souvenir booklets published for the official opening (copy in Chiswick Reference Library) describes the facilities provided. The main hall had a stage and dressing rooms for the performers; it could seat 475 people and had a polished oak floor which could be protected when it was not in use for dancing. In the eastern extension a smaller hail was provided, with the Council Chamber and Committee Room above; in the western extension was another small meeting room with the School Board and municipal offices. Catering facilities were housed at the rear of the building.
The building continued in use as a local Town Hall after the amalgamation of Brentford and Chiswick as a single local authority but, following the formation of the London Borough of Hounslow and the more recent construction of a new Civic Centre at Hounslow, it no longer serves this purpose. It still houses the Rates Office and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau but also provides a venue for many of the kinds of activities which flourished in its early days: entertainments and amateur theatrical performances, meetings and a variety of day and evening classes of all sorts take place there, including dancing classes whose members no doubt benefit from the quality of the sprung oak floor. There are also regular events on Saturdays – jumble sales, antique fairs and other shows.
Besides being a much-loved and enthusiastically used building the old Town Hall is a valuable element in the suburban landscape. Its scale and proportions do not overwhelm the late Georgian housing adjoining it in Heathfield Terrace yet it in turn is sufficiently strong to balance the tall blocks of flats and the Army and Navy depository to its east. It fits the corner site well and provides a focal point when seen from several vantage points, perhaps most attractively from the north when viewed along the avenue of trees which crosses the Green.
Its rich details – mellow stonework, art nouveau ironwork supporting the entrance canopies, stained glass (best seen when lit from within at night) – provide a contrast to the rather plain houses adjoining without detracting from them. The completeness of its detail has made it attractive to film companies which have used it on several occasions recently.
The building is a worthy candidate for preservation on both historical and architectural grounds. Its loss would be keenly felt in practical terms, since there is no comparable venue for its present activities so close to the centre of Chiswick, and in visual terms because of its important role as part of a string of attractive buildings enclosing the south side of the Green.