Party was sad full stop to a late golden age for Hornsey Town Hall
PUBLISHED: 10:00 30 June 2018 | UPDATED: 15:24 19 July 2018
Since Haringey passed the keys of Hornsey Town Hall to FEC in May there have been few signs that much has changed.
A marketing suite has opened, some FEC banners in racing green with a peculiar pixellated motif hang round the square, and a hoarding has appeared in front of the annexe.
The debate about the future of the Art Deco Hornsey Town Hall (HTH) has been a long and passionate one. Haringey ignored a 7,000-signature petition pleading for a halt to the disposal and instead pressed ahead with a hardcore commercial solution for the future of this much loved building.
It was opened in 1935 at the end of a boom of municipal building across the country.
The fast expanding borough of Hornsey had long outgrown its 40-year-old offices in Highgate. Following a competition, Reg Uren was appointed to design the Scandinavian-inspired building.
The distinctive ironworks of the front door reflect the rural heritage of Hornsey, featuring trees, hills and animals.
On the final day of June’s hugely successful Crouch End Festival, there was an event that further demonstrated how important HTH was and is in the lives of so many.
Two hundred people packed the committee rooms for a tribute ceremony organised by Rosalie Kuyvenhoven.
It was the culmination of a project that had been gathering memories of HTH during the festival.
As Rosalie says: “The ceremony was aimed at celebrating all the good memories and the special connection between the hall and the people.
“The transition, or redevelopment, evokes mixed feelings.
“Some are angry and concerned; others see it as an opportunity to bring the building back into its old glory.
“Whatever the feelings, they all have in common a deep love and special connection to the building. “
The collected comments have symbolically been handed over to MAKE, the project architects and, if they get the promised resources, their respect and enthusiasm for the building will deliver a first class restoration of this rather tired and tatty old building. Encouragingly, FEC have confirmed that the two war memorials will be restored and remain.
At the event, attendees spoke of the bands they watched, husbands they met, and of sitting outside with their fathers feeding the pigeons and throwing coins into the fountain.
The paradox of HTH is that inadequate stewardship has meant roofs started to leak, structural cracks appeared, electrics deteriorated and asbestos went uncleared.
But the neglect also meant that virtually all of the interior and exterior ornamental details and features remain – not in good condition, but there.
There is a wealth of panelled rooms, marble staircases, purpose-built signage, cabinets and shelves, fabrics, door furniture and light switches – then the magnificent foyers, council chamber, assembly hall, mayor’s parlour and committee rooms and much more. Faded but defiant.
As emotional and heartfelt as the tribute ceremony was last Saturday’s HTH/ANA Arts Centre closing party. Several hundred people attended and for quite a few of us it was not just a celebration but a sad full stop to one of HTH’s golden eras.
When ANA arrived, it found a down at heel building that in parts was simply dangerous.
On a shoestring, its members worked all hours to open up what Haringey had shut behind lock and key.
A priority was to engage with community and arts groups: within weeks they were starting to host and put on all manner of events, talks, and performances including the legendary Halloween and New Year parties. Understanding that HTH was a community asset, events were often free.
In 2016 the Crouch End Festival had access all areas to HTH and a new generation of people walked through the doors in amazement at the fabulous building at the centre of their community.
ANA also offered a home to more than 100 small businesses.
Many remain and the new operator Time and Space is doing its best to extend licences until the main works start.
However, because of the commercial nature of the disposal and the sacrifice of the East Wing to become a hotel, Time and Space will have no access to public arts funding – nor the cross subsidy from rents to help arts and the community.
However, the binding community use and access agreement contains a condition that a community-based steering group is set up to advise the operator on community use and access.
Although it is unclear when FEC will actually start the project, there is a clear need for Time and Space to show good intentions by establishing the Steering group straightaway to ensure important decisions are made with community assent.
Crouch End author and poet Alan Wolfson wrote a poem for the occasion, which was read out on the final day. It said:
“It’s all right for some, but it does split Crouch Enders
into those comfortable numb, and those uncomfortably tender.
It’s progress. It’s history. The politics are a mystery.
It’s a treasure, it’s a pleasure. Could be a centre of leisure.
“Hornsey Town Hall has been in decay for decades.
But it’s soon to be restored after being ignored.
This place that suffered terribly from Haringey’s neglect
will shortly be available to the loaded select.
In fact there are flats up for sale right now
in this magnificent Grade 2 Listed Cash Cow.
499,950 quid, that’s all.
Call it half a million pounds. That is the target.
The price of a one-bedroom flat. And it’s already on the market
Yes, a one bedroom apartment.
meant to be a part of the heart of Crouch End.
A one-bedroom property, people are saying probably
for that kind of money you could have had it all.
The whole of the brand new Hornsey Town Hall.
Back in 1933, when Reginald Uren, for it was he.
who found inspiration in the form and functionality
of modern Scandanavian architecture. It was his vision
that won the competition, and put him in the position
to design a building of the future, this fabulous Art Deco place.
They say you could have had it all.
The foyer, the staircase, the clockface, the tower
the council chamber, the assembly hall, the gallery, and now a
One bedroom flat might buy you all that.
So they say, but they,
Would be wrong.
By a long way.
Reginald’s budget was 100 thousand pounds.
That was a lot of mone when Reggie was around.
But since 1933, money’s worth has taken a dive.
So you wouldn’t get a whole Town Hall.
No, you would get five.
David Winskill is a former Crouch End councillor. He is a member of the HTH Appreciation Society