I’ve visited Shoreditch Town Hall several times over the last few years, as it has recently reinvented itself as an arts venue with several interesting productions. Curious to learn more about the history of the building, I signed up for a Saturday morning tour run by Crouch End Walks.
Our guide began the tour outside, and gave us a run down of the history of the building. Designed by Caesar Augustus Long, it was built in 1865 (and expanded in 1904) as the home of the Shoreditch Vestry, later Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch. A beautiful building, and the home of a progressive Council, its motto was ‘More Light, More Power’. It was also home to various entertainments, including music hall, during the Victorian era. The inquest into the murder of Mary Kelly, final victim of Jack the Ripper, was held here, and women’s suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested on the steps outside. The first ever live broadcast of boxing on British TV came from the Assembly Hall in 1955, and Oliver Reed and the Krays were regulars.
In 1965, Shoreditch, Stoke Newington and Hackney merged into the newly created London Borough of Hackney. As Council business moved to Hackney Town Hall, Shoreditch Town Hall fell into disuse and disrepair. After a brief interval as a home of raves and alternative club nights, it was placed on English Heritage’s ‘Buildings At Risk’ register in 1996. A grassroots campaign enabled an independent Trust to be formed to renovate and reopen the building. This work began in 2004 and the building was declared no longer at risk in 2006. A second phase of work began in 2012, and has succeeded in making several spaces – including the impressive Assembly Hall – available for use.
Inside, we gathered in the foyer and headed upstairs to the Mayor’s Parlour, the Council Chamber and the beautiful restored Assembly Hall.
We then headed down to the basement (also known as ‘The Ditch’, which doesn’t look quite as pretty in the bright artificial light: I’m used to seeing it open to the public, with candles and fairy lights. The strong lighting did help us see some interesting features, such as the old fireplaces, some original Victorian wallpaper, and an oven.
We also saw some hidden steps, the original 1865 steps that were covered over at the time of the 1904 extension.
We stumbled upon some theatre crew putting together a set for a new production, then headed outside to check out the 1930s extension.
I really enjoyed my tour, and the next time I attend an event at Shoreditch Town Hall I will be able to reflect on its long and impressive history.