Explore Hackney Town Hall with free public tours
A town hall is more than just a building: it represents both local government and the community, and provides a public space where the two can meet. Now an illuminating display in Hackney Town Hall’s newly refurbished vaults will shed light on the building’s origins and proud history.
To celebrate London History Day on 31 May the vaults will be opened to the public for the first time, as part of the Town Hall tours, which will now take place on a regular, twice monthly basis.
Opened in 1937, to great fanfare, then mayor of Hackney, Herbert Butler, called Hackney Town Hall a ‘great dignified centre of public life’.
It was designed by architects Lanchester & Lodge, who also designed the Grade II-listed Parkinson Building in Leeds, and won a competition for the honour. In keeping with the beautiful Art Deco architecture, most of the furniture and fittings in Hackney Town Hall were specifically designed for this new, modern civic hub.
Original plans show the spaces allocated for local government functions like paying rates, now known as Council Tax. Important life events – such as registering a birth or a marriage – have always been marked by a visit to the town hall. Although the registrars are now based in Hackney Service Centre, people can still get married in the Town Hall.
To celebrate its recent refurbishment, and in keeping with the ideals of the original builders, a new permanent display has been created in the Town Hall Vaults. It highlights the separate aspects of the building, both physically and symbolically.
The three rooms focus on the building itself, its representation as the symbolic centre of civic pride, and its function as a home of local democracy.
Items that were found during the extensive 12-year restoration are included in the display. Many of the original features had not been touched throughout the Town Hall’s history, and 1930s era technology remained untouched for decades. For example, a central vacuum system, which is built into the walls.
The Town Hall was designed as a place for people to be proud of. That pride is also symbolised in the regalia worn by the mayors of Shoreditch and Stoke Newington, which only became part of the London Borough of Hackney in 1965. The public can admire the chains of office and maces in all their early 20th century glory. The old Hackney chain and mace have been updated with a new coat of arms, and are still in use today by The Speaker of Hackney.
Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the work of the Council and the ways in which residents are able to influence its policies. Designed to be used by schools, pupils will be able to learn more about voting in local elections and other ways in which their voices can be heard, such as campaigning or signing petitions.
Morningside School Council got a sneak peak behind the scenes before the opening, Ebenezer Zelalem, year 5 school councillor said his favourite room was were all the debates happen, in the council chamber, he said: “I would like to be the Mayor of Hackney one day, I would say other children should come and visit as you can see a lot and learn more about what they do at the Council.”
It is important that the citizens of Hackney have a sense of civic ownership and can explore their town hall, the heart of civic life in the borough, to find out more about its history and what actually happens in its four walls. The tours and new history exhibition really brings to life local democracy and activism; and explains how residents have always played a key role in shaping this building and the borough's politics. I hope it will inspire renewed engagement as it explains how people can get involved, and the different ways to make a positive contribution to the borough. I welcome all residents to come along and discover more about the building which continues to serve Hackney eighty-one years after it first opened.
Members of the public can visit Hackney Town Hall’s newly refurbished vaults by booking a place on a free guided tour of the building. For more info on dates and to make a booking visit: www.hackney.gov.uk/speaker; or call: 020 8356 3591. Special tours for school groups are also available.