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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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Rotherhithe Town Hall and Library

Destroyed as a result of bombing in the second world war, Rotherhithe Town Hall was opened with great civic pride in April 1897 by the Lady of the Manor, Mrs Emily Blanche Carr-Gomm.**  It was located on the corner of Lower Road and Neptune Street with an additional frontage to the rear on Moodkee Street.  The site is now home to Neptune Park and the Mayflower Tenants’ and Residents’ Hall whose future is currently under threat.

 

By the end of the 19th century, the increase in the population of Rotherhithe had led to a large increase in the work of the Rotherhithe Vestry.  Many years previously, the vestry offices had been located in two ground floor rooms in a private house in Paradise Street, then later the boardoom and smaller office were rented in the newly built baths and wash-house, also in Lower Road.  More recently the vestry had met in the Boardroom of St Olav’s Workhouse Infirmary but it was now felt that the ever-growing work of the vestry now necessitated a town hall.

 

Rotherhithe Town Hall DSC_0013

The site chosen became partially vacant when a drill hall for volunteers previously located there had burned down, and the vestry also bought and demolished four houses in Neptune Street previously held on a leasehold basis.  The entire site was owned by the Lady of the Manor, Mrs Carr-Gomm, who sold the freehold  to the vestry on favourable terms.  Messrs Murray and Foster were appointed architects who drew up plans for a building in the Renaissance style to include a large public hall, parochial offices, and assembly rooms.  

On the day of the opening ceremony, Lower Road was crowded with sight-seers and a “brave attempt” was made at decorations all along the road.  The ceremony was performed by Mrs Carr-Gomm, accompanied by her husband, and a guard of honour was provided by members of the Royal West Surrey Regiment under the command of Second Lieutenant W H Carr-Gomm, Mrs Carr-Gomm’s son.  The band of the regiment played in the new public hall where the ceremony took place and afterwards the great and the good attended a celebratory luncheon.

 

In 1900, the civil parish of St Mary Rotherhithe became part of the newly formed Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, and the decision was made that Bermondsey Town Hall in Spa Road would become the new borough’s administrative centre. Despite a suggestion that the Rotherhithe Town Hall be sold, it remained in public service and part of the building converted to house Rotherhithe Library which had previously been housed in a building on the opposite side of Lower Road.*** The rooms in the town hall leased by the LCC and used as a Coroner’s Court were retained for this use and the large hall with stage remained as a venue for public events.  The building also housed a small museum which was said to have something for the  'geologist and historian, ornithologist, local recorder, and collector of oddities.'

The building was badly damaged during the Second World War, suffering several attacks during 1941 and 1944, and was totally destroyed at the end of 1944.  Somehow, the library books survived as did the two caryatides, sculptures of classical ladies positioned either side of the entrance on Lower Road and supporting the first floor balcony.  They were moved to the newly built Heygate Estate in 1974 but when that estate began to be demolished in 2011, they were returned home to Rotherhithe and given a new home amidst the greenery of Southwark Park near the Jamaica Gate Entrance.

** Mrs Carr-Gomm had inherited the Manor of Rotherhithe from her Aunt, Lady Elizabeth Gomm

 

*** The Swedish Seamen’s Mission acquired the former vacated library premises

 

Sources:

South London Press: 21 September 1895, 1 May 1897, 8 February 1904