The Art Deco Hornsey Town Hall is a landmark building in Crounch End
Recently, the Grade II* listed 1930s Art Deco building Hornsey town hall in Crouch End has received much media attention due to Haringey council's plans to turn part of the building into a boutique luxury hotel developed by a Hong Kong-based property and hotel developer. There has been a public outcry against this and an online petition has been set up by the Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society to urge the council to reconsider the decision.
The first time I passed by Crouch End on a bus en route to visit a friend who lives nearby, I was struck by this remarkable modernist building, and I was eager to find out more about it.
Designed by New Zealand born architect Reginald Uren in 1933-5 after winning the competition to design the new town hall, the building was influenced by the striking Hilversum town hall designed by Willem Marinus Dudok in the Netherlands built between 1928-31. The building was awarded a bronze medal for the best London building upon its completion by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and it served as Hornsey Borough Council's headquarters until 1966.
After Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green Councils merged to become Haringey Council in 1965, the Council moved its office to Wood Green, causing the building to fall into disrepair. Since 2007, the council has been working in partnership with the local Creative Trust to provide educational activities and events at the site, and it was turned into an art centre in 2014. It is also often used as the backdrop for many British films and TV.
The ground floor: 2nd, 4th & 5th right – the foyer features classic curved lighting and marble panelling, nickel plated doors and the streamlined wall/counter; 6th row: grand staircase with bespoke brass finished handrails; 7th right: Ply gallery; 8th left: cafe; last row: original wooden panels and floor tile design
One day, I found out that the town hall offers a monthly guided tour of the building, and without hesitation, I signed up for it. The 50-60 min tour of the building offers visitors a rare opportunity to see the original architectural features of the building. Although the building has not been refurbished for decades, some of its interior – like the grand staircase – still look splendid thanks to the high quality material and attention to detail craftsmanship.
The Main Hall features elongated windows that allows light into the room
However, the room that is in need for restoration is the dilapidated Main Hall. Water leakage from the worn and damaged roof meant that the hall was off limits for decades. Some repair works have been done to fix the roof and the drainage system in recent years, hence we were able to visit this once-magnificent hall which features elongated windows and original curtains. Once you step inside, you can almost imagine how grand it must have looked decades back; it is a relic from a bygone era.
3th-5th row: the landing area of the 1st floor; 6th-8th row: The Committee Rooms; 9th left, 10th & 11th row: The Council Chamber
Visitors can see the names of the past Mayors from the Hornsey Council once they arrive at the landing of the first floor. We first visited the bright and airy committee rooms which showcases ceiling to floor French walnut panels and windows that offer a fantastic vistas of the town square and fountain. Then we were lead to the stunning Council Chamber with crescentiform seating and French-polished panels. Again, there are ceiling to floor windows and roof windows that provide maximum light from outside.
I wandered and lingered for longer after the tour because I was quite mesmerised by this marvelous but rather understated building. I also like the fact that it has not been fully refurbished, which reveals the original designs and authentic state. Like the locals, conservationists and other modernist architecture fans, I would hate to see this historical architectural gem being turned into a luxury boutique hotel. Please sign the petition to help and stop this from becoming a reality. We were able to save Smithfield market before, so let's try to stop this, too.
The former Hornsey Gas Company showrooms (now Barclays) feature panels carved by Arthur Ayres
On the southern site of the Town Hall stands another conspicuous 1930s building due to the sculptural decorative panels on its facade created by Arthur Ayres depicting the glories of gas. The former Hornsey Gas Company showrooms were eventually converted into Barclays Bank in 1998. And on the north of the town hall, a rival electricity showroom and additional council offices were built by Reginald Uren from 1937-9.
Crouch end's prominent clock tower and Victorian architecture
Walking around the centre of the bustling Crouch End today, one can still appreciate its village-like setting and vibe. Its landmark is a red-brick clock tower erected by public subscription in 1895 honouring Henry Reader Williams (1822-97), who was the Chairman of the Hornsey Local Board for ten years. Back then, Crouch End was a prosperous middle-class suburb, but post-war social housing in the area lowered the property prices and the area was populated by students from the nearby Mountview and Hornsey Art College until the 1980s. Gentrification changed the social profile and demographics, and now it has been reverted back to a middle-class residential area.
Top left, 2nd & 3rd row: The Queens (formerly known as the Queens Hotel) is a Grade II* listed public house was built in 1899–1901 by the architect and developer John Cathles Hill. 5th row: Art House cinema; 6th row: Picturehouse cinema
Aside from Hornsey Town Hall, there are some other notable architectural gems here like the beautiful Grade II* listed The Queens; the unconventional ArtHouse cinema (a former Salvation Army Hall), and another Grade II* listed modernist Hornsey Library built in 1965 by F.Ley & G.F.S. Jarvis.