105 Barking Road
- Original design
- Lewis Angell , 1894
- Richard Ellis, 1992
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme on 21st August.
The hall’s purpose was to provide a public meeting space and to administer council business in the southern part of the borough, where the population had expanded rapidly in the late C19 (the main Town Hall, built in 1867-8 and also by Angell, was at Stratford). The site cost £2,400 and construction £20,000. The library next door was constructed as part of the same development; the philanthropist John Passmore Edwards donated the first thousand books to the library’s collection.
It was at first intended to include public baths on the ground floor of the hall, with a galleried assembly hall on the first floor, but this aspiration was abandoned in 1891 on the grounds of cost. Instead a second public hall-cum-police court and offices were provided. The new hall and library were some of the first public buildings in the borough to be lit by electricity, generated by gas engines on site; these were used until 1898 when the power generating station at Abbey Mills came into operation. When East Ham and West Ham merged to become Newham Borough Council in 1965, the public hall became an adult education institute. By 1989 the hall had been abandoned, but was restored and revived by the local charity, Community Links. Community Links remains the long leaseholders of the building, providing services to the community and hosting a number of other local charities.
The public hall is associated with various prominent socialists and suffragettes, including Sylvia Pankhurst, Eleanor Marx, Keir Hardie, Minnie Baldock and Bertrand Russell who all spoke here. It also has a connection with the trade unionist Will Thorne who, following a speech in March 1889 at what was to become the site of the public hall, established the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers (a forerunner to GMB, now one of the three biggest trade unions in the UK). By late 1889 the Union had 20,000 members and its success prepared the ground for the great dock strike of 1889, and the rapid growth of unionism in East London. Thorne was elected as general secretary of the Union in 1889, to a seat on West Ham town council in 1891, the borough’s mayor in 1917-8, and MP for West Ham in 1906, a seat he held for nearly forty years. A second local public figure connected with the hall is Daisy Parsons, a suffragette and West Ham's first female mayor.
The first thing that strikes the visitor is the hall's impressive façade, ornamented with decorative stone friezes and panels.
Inside, the ground floor has an entrance lobby with a foundation plaque, recording the names of councillors who oversaw the hall’s construction. The lobby has a mosaic terrazzo floor. Two decorative cast-iron, open-well staircases lead from the main lobby to the mezzanine landing, the latter lit by stained glass windows in Art Deco designs. The landing gives access to the assembly hall.
The assembly hall’s principal decoration is its coffered ceiling, which has not been affected by the partial subdivision of the hall in the 1990s. Two of the original chandeliers, vast metal and frosted glass discs, remain in situ. The sprung floor of the original stage also remains, although the stage arch has been partitioned.
Community Links exists to generate change and improve lives in east London.
We support people in coming together, overcoming barriers, building purpose and making the most of the place they live in. From our base in east London we apply the learning from our local work to influence and achieve positive change.
Formally established in 1977, our first major campaign was the resident-led “Tower Blocks” housing campaign in 1983. This resulted in the demolition of Ronan Point and similar unsafe tower blocks. We acquired the public hall in 1991 in one of the first examples of a community asset transfer, and used it as a base for our youth and community services. 128 businesses provided support for the development, which Community Links achieved for £0.5 million.
Community Links has always achieved an impact beyond its immediate neighbourhood. In 1997 the charity took young people to Number 11 Downing St to meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer and discuss Labour’s New Deal programme. Several initiatives emerged, including the £450m Children’s Fund. The 2004 book 'Change the World for a Fiver' was a surprise bestseller for the charity, and spawned influential design consultancy Shift. In 2006 the charity's first social enterpise, Links Events Solutions, begun trading; it is still going strong. Recent work has included the cross-sector Early Action Task Force which led to an influential National Audit Office review. By 2015, Early Action – making the case for investment in people's lives before they get into difficulties – appeared in all party manifestos.
In 2017 Community Links joined the Catch22 Group and launched a new strategy: Ready for Everything Communities. This is the charity's 41st year of leading social change.