Walthamstow Town Hall
Walthamstow town hall is the centrepiece of an imposing group of buildings that make up Waltham Forest’s civic centre, with the magistrates’ courts to its left and the assembly hall on the right.
In 1929 the newly created municipal borough of Walthamstow launched an architectural design competition for its headquarters, to be built on the site of Chestnuts Farm (also known as Clay Farm).
The competition attracted 70 entries and was won in 1932 by Philip Dalton Hepworth, who had studied in London, Paris and Rome but was also aware of the contemporary Swedish trend towards simplified classicism with art deco details. Hepworth was at the time best known for some stylish residential creations but his subsequent projects included churches, a county hall for Wiltshire and the designs for numerous war cemeteries.
Construction of the town hall didn’t begin until 1937 and took more than five years to complete. The need for wartime economies affected the latter stages, so the interior fittings aren’t what they might have been, with locally-made plywood replacing planned oak panelling and terrazzo in the foyer instead of marble. Some intended features were omitted altogether. Nevertheless, the council found the money to have the building clad in Portland stone – rather than brick, as had originally been envisaged.
The Irish sculptor John Francis Kavanagh was commissioned to carve motifs on the outside walls: five William Morris-inspired figures for the council chamber and ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Comedy’ on either side of the assembly hall.
The assembly hall was built in tandem with the town hall but construction of the magistrates’ court had to wait until the early 1970s. The court’s design, by the GLC Special Works Department, is very much of its time but the use of slabs of Portland stone results in a degree of harmony with its neighbours.
In June 2020 work began on a £150m project to renovate and modernise the town hall to enable better staff working, and to upgrade the assembly hall and civic square. In phase two the developer Countryside will later redevelop parts of the site for landscaping and the construction of several hundred new homes.