Borough Hall

An important example of a 1930s municipal building in the Dudok-inspired style and believed by architectural historian Pevsner to be "the only town hall of any London borough to represent the style of our time adequately”.

A view from the balcony to the stage at Borough Hall.
Address
The Borough Hall, Royal Hill, SE10 8RE
Risk Rating
5 (Community Rating: 3, Star Value: 1, Risk Factor: 1)
Architect
Culpin and Son
Date of Construction
1939
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
793 (original capacity); second space - 250

Significance

The Borough Hall was built as part of the former Greenwich Town Hall and is considered one of the most sophisticated and complete town hall complexes in London.

The complex opened in 1939 to great acclaim. It consisted of two main blocks, the Town Hall (now known as Meridian House) that contained administrative offices and the council chamber, and the Borough Hall, with its two public assembly halls for entertainment and social activities.

The design of the building is inspired by the architecture of Dutch modernist architect WM Dudok, in particular his Hilversum Town Hall. It is an asymmetrical composition of stacked volumes with clear lines and a clearly definable horizontal emphasis. The main elevations are faced with orange hand-made bricks, laid in a special bond to create a decorative striped pattern.

The building proved a popular and fashionable venue when opened and hosted celebrity performers of the day staging both concerts and plays.

After the boroughs of Greenwich and Woolwich merged in 1965 the administrative headquarters moved and the Town Hall section of the complex was sold to a private owner and completely refurbished at the loss of majority of the original interior. The Borough Hall remained in council ownership and continued in popularity as a main entertainment venue hosting a variety of live performance including music, theatre and dance. In 1993 the building was let to Greenwich Dance Agency who continued to operate from the building until 2018.

This continued use for entertainment purposes has helped preserve the interior of The Borough Hall. Internally it retains its original plan form in its entirety and is almost completely intact in terms of fixtures and fittings including the marble lined stair and the original timber wall panelling to both halls. Original light fittings, doors, handrails, terrazzo floors and heating equipment all still remain. This high degree of intactness within the building as a whole is increasingly rare and adds to the building’s overall architectural and historical importance and interest.

Both buildings were listed Grade II as an ensemble in 1990. The site lies within the West Greenwich Conservation Area, and the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The Borough Hall is new to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2022.

The building requires significant investment in order to modernise and bring it up to the standards expected by both current audiences and performers. There are also concerns surrounding the level of general maintenance.

There have been various plans for the building over the last eight years. In 2014 plans were submitted for a proposal to modernise the building, retaining it for live performance use but in a scheme that would have seen the loss of some of the important interiors and included controversial extensions to the exterior. The plans did not proceed.

More recently the council and producer and regional venue operator Selladoor commenced negotiations to reopen the theatre as a 640-seat venue hosting performances for transfer to the West End. Sadly, talks collapsed in 2020. The council now plans to sell the building and it is feared that it could be lost to more lucrative commercial development.

The adjacent Meridian House, which is in separate ownership, is proposed for conversion to residential use. If this proceeds, it could cause future operational issues for the theatre.

Although both buildings are now in separate ownership and use, given their united composition and that they were designed as one complete complex, there is real risk that development of either (if not sensitively carried out) will harm the overall significance of the whole.

Theatre potential

The Borough Hall functioned as a place of entertainment for the local community until Greenwich Dance Agency moved out in 2018. As proven by Selladoor’s interest, with the correct investment the theatre has the potential to return to live theatre use and provide Greenwich with a modern performing arts venue that would be a great asset to the local community.

Current situation

Theatres Trust has had various discussions with the council over the years highlighting the importance of The Borough Hall and the opportunity and potential for the building to return to live performance use. We have raised concerns regarding the market sale of the building and requested that the council ensures the future viability of the building for its original use as a performance venue is considered before consideration for non-cultural uses.

We have been strident in our opinion that we do not consider the collapse of negotiations with one theatre operator to disprove viability.

We will continue to champion the future of this historically important theatre with the aim for it to be returned to theatre use and to ensure that any refurbishment or redevelopment of the building is carried out sympathetically and is sensitive to the social, architectural and historic importance of this fine building.

Main image, the interior of Borough Hall by Ian Grundy.