Fulham Town Hall was completed in 1890 and two later extensions were built in 1904 and 1934. It is now listed as Grade II*. In 2011 the Council decided that the few remaining offices in the town hall should be moved to Hammersmith and the building sold. There are some interesting drawings and photographs of the building in the Archives and it is worth looking at a few here.
From the 16th century until 1855 the parish vestry and officials were responsible for many aspects of local government. In 1855 most of the vestry’s responsibilities passed to the Fulham District Board of Works, although parish officials continued to collect rates. In 1885 the district board was dissolved and its powers devolved upon a reconstituted vestry until in 1899 the vestry was abolished and the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham was created.
The present Town Hall was built in 1888-90 at a cost of £40,000 and is constructed of Portland stone in the classical renaissance style. George Edwards won a competition to design the building amongst much controversy and accusations of unfairness. Despite this it was described by the London Argus as “one of the best municipal buildings in London” and the report concluded with the news that “electric light was installed throughout the building” (30.4.04).
By 1904 the building was considered to be inadequate as the work of the various departments increased and a freehold site round the corner in Harwood Road was purchased. The Municipal Journal reported that the Town Hall was being extended to twice its original size. It was estimated that the new wing would cost about £25,000 with an “extensive frontage and separate entrance”. The design was by Francis Wood, the Borough Engineer and was considered “outwardly a handsome structure well worthy of a leading London municipality”. A whole paragraph of the report was devoted to the telephone –
“By a most convenient arrangement each chief of department will be able to telephone to his subordinates.” And “it may be mentioned that the electric light and telephonic installation is being carried out by the Telephone and Electrical Installations Company, a new company of which Mr Horatio Bell is the leading spirit” (26.5.05).
The opening ceremony was obviously quite an occasion and described in the Fulham Chronicle:
Another local paper wrote:
“As things go in Fulham it was a very brilliant scene indeed. The floor was finely carpeted, the electric lights shielded by those pretty crinkly-paper shades which have made such an impression on previous occasions, and the walls were quite an art exhibition. The elite of Fulham lolled lazily in sofa stalls beneath the shade of sheltering palms. Rippling laughter, the hum of conversation and the rustling of rich silks filled the air, heavy with the perfumes of Arabia and Walham Green.”
As the Council’s work increased, particularly when the Fulham Registration Service was transferred to the Town Hall from Fulham Palace Road, it was felt more space was needed. There was a group of shops, 555-561 Fulham Road, to the right of the Town Hall and it was decided a new extension could be built there.
The new extension was completed in 1934. The façade is of less architectural interest with a plainer, stripped back, classical design and is explicitly excluded from the Grade II listing. Despite this, it is within the curtilage of a listed building and that gives it special status for preservation. It was designed by Walter Cave, who did much work in Fulham and it is considered his best local work.
The buildings have undergone remarkably little alteration, externally or internally and they contain many interesting features including Art Nouveau tiles and stained glass windows as well as the Grand Hall, the Council Chamber, the Mayor’s Parlour and the Grand Staircase.
The Grand Hall:
This was a popular venue for concerts and dances.
Dancing displays were also popular.
The Council chamber at work:
The decoration can be seen more clearly in this photograph:
The stained glass window at the head of the stairs leading to the great hall was made by the firm of Lowndes and Drury at the Glass House, the stained glass studio in Lettice Street. Other stained glass windows in the Council Chamber, depicting historic scenes, were made at the Brunswick Works, Hammersmith.
An example of the stained glass windows in the Council Chamber showing Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Bacon:
When Fulham & Hammersmith were amalgamated in 1965, Hammersmith Town Hall was adopted as the administrative centre. Some offices – parking attendants, housing officers and cemeteries staff – remained at Fulham, as did the registry office. The buildings became increasingly underused and in 2011 the Council announced that it could not afford to keep two town halls and they would sell Fulham. They agreed to sell to Dory Ventures for use as a shopping arcade, café/restaurant and residential flats but the planning permission was turned down on 2 December 2015. The Victorian Society, The 20th century Society and English Heritage were all very concerned about the application, and recommended refusal. The Council concluded that the proposals were destructive of the exceptionally fine interior and its very good fittings, as well as totally destroying the facade of the 1934 extension on the Fulham Road. Dory Ventures is to appeal against the decision.
by Fiona Fowler,
Volunteer, Local Studies History Room, Hammersmith Library