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Friends of Hampstead Town Hall
The Friends of Hampstead Town Hall evolved from a campaign by the local community in response to the London Borough of Camden's proposals to dispose of the site in 1994.
Why the Hall matters - A short history
Hampstead Town Hall began life as the Vestry Hall of Hampstead Parish. It was built in 1878 with money raised by public subscription by the people of Hampstead. In 1910, after the re-organisation of local government, it was officially renamed the Town Hall.
For more than a century it was the focus of thriving civic and community activity in Hampstead, with concerts, meetings and exhibitions. Early on there was a Hampstead Parliamentary Debating Society, the Hampstead Historical and Antiquarian Society; the Freemasons, established in Hampstead as far back as 1767, the Hampstead Popular Concerts, with concerts given by leading artists including Brahms's favourite violinist, Joachim, and the Heath Protection Society, the only organisation still functioning today, now known as the Heath and Hampstead Society.
In more recent times there was an annual Asian Arts Festival, art exhibitions (including works by Hockney, Kitaj, Weight, Berger, etc.) tea dances (many older members of the community remember these with affection), performances by the Hampstead Choral Society, and what was described as "the largest sale of natural history specimens the world has ever seen", ranging from fleas to stuffed elephants and camels!
It was a popular place for marriages and among the many famous names registered in the Town Hall records is T.S. Eliot who was married there. Its facade was also featured in the film "Four weddings and a funeral".
The battle to save it – a community campaign
In 1964 Hampstead lost its borough status and became part of the New Super-Borough of Camden. The LCC became the GLC.
Although the building continued to be used for borough wide services such as registration of births and deaths, highway maintenance and the Council's Finance Department, Camden's policy was to centralize all council services to the south of the Borough and as part of this strategy the Hall was neglected and run down.
After several attempts to dispose of it over the years, in 1994 Camden finally declared the Hall "surplus to requirements" and closed it, causing local outrage.
The community organised a battle to save the building. The Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the South End Green Association mounted a successful campaign to get the building listed Grade II by the Department of Heritage, now DCMS, as "a fine early example of a London Vestry Hall", and the Belsize Conservation Area was extended to include the Town Hall. Its interior contains many original details including cornices, fireplaces, clocks, patterned floor tiles and the Imperial staircase with its elaborate cast iron balusters. There are also two war memorials: to the Boer War and the First World War.
The Working Party swings into action
Several local residents' groups led by the Heath and Hampstead Society, got together and formed a working party to co-ordinate the campaign to save Hall and find a new use for it. There were representatives from the South End Green Association, the Belsize Residents Association, the Hampstead Conservation Area Advisory Committee, the Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee, Redington Frognal Association, the Vale of Health Association and Netherhall Neighbourhood Association
With the help and support of local councillors they got the Town Hall re-opened specially for a public meeting on January 9th 1995. Over 200 people attended and it was clear that they wanted the Town Hall to remain in public ownership and to be used for the community and for a local presence for Council services. Camden Council responded positively and agreed to meet the representatives of the working party to discuss a way forward.
The partnership with Interchange
Interchange Trust, then based in Kentish Town and in need of new premises, was invited to become partners in a project to save the Hall, which could become a new home for Interchange and provide facilities for the local community. A partnership was established and a successful bid for funding was made to the Lottery board in 1996 with the support of Camden Council. A grant of over £6 million was made jointly by the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Boards and a new trust, The Hamden Trust, was set up to hold the lease of the Town Hall and receive the Lottery grants and other funding for the project.
The working party became the Friends of Hampstead Town Hall with the task of raising £70,000 of the matching funding required under the terms of the Lottery Boards. In addition they secured other donations and help in kind worth over a quarter of a million pounds for the project, including pro bono work by the law firm Nabarro Nathanson, art works by Laura Marks and Sir Anthony Caro, and a grant for hearing loops.
Actors and musicians who have donated their services for Friends fundraising events included Peter Barkworth, Michael Palin, Lee Montague, The Endellion String Quartet; Paco Pena, John Williams and Carlos Bonell, with Henry Kelly and pianist, Stephen Kovacevitch.
The freehold of the hall is still owned by Camden Council on behalf of the Hampstead community, whom The Friends represent, thus preserving an important democratic principle. Part of the commitment to the Lottery Boards is that Hampstead Town Hall is open to the local community and the public at large as well as for the activities of Interchange.
The Friends’ role is:
1. To act as guardian and representative of Hampstead community interests:
- To preserve Hampstead Town Hall as an historic building
- To protect Hampstead community interests expressed by the membership and the wider community
- To protect Hampstead Town Hall’s special identity
- To protect & enhance Hampstead Town Hall’s historic architecture and public presentation
- To ensure continuity in the event of management change
2. To support The Hamden and Interchange Trusts
3. To facilitate community based activities:
- Encouragement of full community and revenue generating use of the building.
- Support the establishment, with others as necessary, of Hampstead Town Hall as a cultural centre with a wide ranging programme of activities.
- Encouragement of the London Borough of Camden and other public bodies to participate in the use of the building.
4. To fundraise:
- To initiate fundraising for specific projects
Since the Hall re-opened in 2000 the Friends have continued to support Interchange and WAC. They organised three successful seasons of concerts to re-establish the Hall as a performance space; raised money to restore the clocks and paintings, and funded items such as rostra for the main hall and plants for the town hall gardens. Louise Pennington Legh who has looked after the gardens for many years, joined the Friends’ Committee in 2005. Part of the garden restoration was funded by a magnificent bequest from Friends’ patron, the late Dame Elisabeth Chesterton.
The Friends continue to fundraise for other items to enhance the building and meet the management regularly to discuss joint projects.
The Friends patrons
Sir Anthony Caro
Dr. Peter Woodford
Princess Helena Moutafian MBE
Lady Mary Stirling
The Friends Committee:
Helen Marcus Chairman
Corinne Gibbons, Hon. Secretary
Lysiane Bysh, Hon. Treasurer
Louise Pennington Legh
Committee members are also members of, or have contacts with the following local groups: The Belsize Residents Association, The Heath and Hampstead Society, the Belsize Conservation Area Advisory Committee; the Hampstead Conservation Area Advisory Committee; U3A; Netherhall Neighbourhood Association; Redington Frognal Association; the Vale of Health Association and South End Green Association.
For more information about the Friends please contact:
22 Lyndhurst Gardens,
London NW3 5NN