Walthamstow Assembly Hall
P D Hepworth
- Original design
- P D Hepworth, 1942
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
A MUSICAL TREASURE IN THE HEART OF WALTHAMSTOW
The striking Town Hall complex in Walthamstow was designed in 1932 by Philip Dalton Hepworth, who won a competition for the commission (and a further prize of £500, which was a substantial amount at the time). The competition was generated when Walthamstow became a London borough in 1929 and required a prominent civic hall to reflect its changed status.
The stunning Art Deco municipal hall Walthamstow Assembly Hall or WAH17, is located to the east of the main building. It can be identified by its striking gold doors and beautiful double height foyer.
The Town Hall itself is monumental in dimensions, its bulk emphasised through the simple solid design. The horizontality of its layout is balanced vertically through the central portico – with its four unadorned columns that extend to the full three storeys of the building – and the tall, square, green clock tower that rises from the flat roof.
As was common in civic buildings in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, the design of the Town Hall façade is based on an austere style of Scandinavian modern architecture known as Nordic Classicism. The Swedish influences in the design are to be found not so much in the building’s restrained classicism; but more in its elongated windows, wrought-iron balconies, decorative sculptures, and the distinctive copper-clad clock tower with its octagonal lantern.
The forecourt is laid out on formal lines with a central circular pool and recently restored fountain, originally installed to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II.
At the rear of the Town Hall are five larger than life sculptures by the noted Irish sculptor John F Kavanagh (1903- 1984), representing fellowship, motherhood, work, education and recreation.
The central figure representing fellowship is in fact modelled on William Morris, one of Walthamstow’s most famous sons; and the Borough motto of “Fellowship is Life” which adorns the Assembly Hall is taken from “The dream of John Ball” by Morris.
Hidden beneath the foundation stone at the main entrance there is an airtight chamber containing keepsakes from the late 1930s and documents that detail the hopes and aspirations of Walthamstow’s citizens at that time – so in generations to come people can have an insight into the lives of people in the borough before war.
Construction began in 1937, but by the time WWII broke out it was still only a shell. With the war putting pressure on the nation's finances, the interiors were completed more simply than Hepworth had originally intended.
Walthamstow Assembly Hall was eventually finished after the Blitz in 1943 and was host to Classical music, Opera and Ballet during further heavy bombing raids. The hall attracted luminaries of the day including Rawicz and Landauer, Eileen Joyce (who famously played the music from the 1945 film Brief Encounter) and the Ballet Rambert.
Its superb acoustics mean that it is constantly in demand by large orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic. It has also been used, most notably by Decca, for recording classical music and opera. Some of the first pioneering stereo recordings were made at the hall including Benjamin Britten’s Masterpiece Peter Grimes. More recently it has hosted concerts by notable artists such as Placido Domingo and Yehudi Menuhin.
Other artists to play and record at Walthamstow Assembly Hall include The Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden, New Order and Sandy Denny.
Although the buildings have a Grade II Listed status, they are not frozen in time. They play an important role for the population of the borough.