Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Gleaming in the sunshine following its recent refurbishment, the former Southwark Town Hall in Peckham Road has undergone regeneration and once more houses a bustling community. It is now a part of the Camberwell College of Art (University of the Arts London) and provides student accommodation with 149 units together with a café, artists’ studio and gallery. There is a new building to the rear, new premises for Theatre Peckham.
The former town hall was built in 1872 and known originally as the New Vestry Hall. The old vestry hall had stood on the other corner of Havil Street and Peckham Road and had been built in 1827 to accommodate the affairs of the vestry that were increasing commensurately with a growing population. Before then, the vestry had met in either the workhouse in Havil Street or the vestry room attached to St Giles’ Church. The Vestry Hall appears not to have been popular, William Blanch who wrote a history of Camberwell in 1875 described it as
“very hot in summer and particularly draughty in winter. Externally an abortion, it was internally an infliction to all concerned – members, ratepayers, and press. It is now used as a vaccination station, for which purpose it is no doubt well adapted.” Strong words indeed!
Camberwell Vestry bought the land for the New Vestry Hall on the east corner of Peckham Road and Havil Street where previously Havil House had stood. Notwithstanding the unpopularity of the Old Vestry Hall in certain quarters, the building of a new, larger vestry hall was both justified and needed as the population of Camberwell continued to grow. It was two storeys high and built in the “Renaissance" style. The building was surmounted by an attic which a pedimented clock storey on either side of which were stone figures representing Law and Prudence, with a figure of Justice crowning the summit of the pediment. Mr Blanch described the new building as “noble” and a “credit to all those concerned”.
But by the 1930s, still more space was needed and the building was in need of refurbishment. It had now become a Town Hall with the formation of the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell replacing the Camberwell Vestry. Two floors were added to the existing building and an extension added to the rear. A new façade was built which extended further towards Peckham Road. It’s possible to see the outline of the original building on the elevation in Havil Street. Internally the building was reconfigured and decorated in the style of the time which gives the building an Art Deco character. What would Mr Blanch have made of it?
The building became Southwark Town Hall in 1965 after the amalgamation of the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell and Southwark, and nearly 50 years later was sold to the University of the Arts London when Southwark Council moved their offices to Tooley Street.
New Vestry Hall - "noble"