Hall of Fame | Philip Davies
When author Philip Davies was compiling his new book for English Heritage, London Hidden Interiors, including Finsbury Town Hall was a must. Here he takes a look at one of the capital’s hidden gems, and explains what makes the hall so special…
With its free Flemish Renaissance style and Art Nouveau details, Finsbury Town Hall has been a local landmark for over 110 years – surviving both the ravages of the Blitz and wholesale post- war redevelopment. Finsbury Town Hall is one of only a handful of British town halls that are Grade II* listed, which puts it in the top 8% of all listed buildings in the country.
Designed by the little-known architect Charles Evans -Vaughan after he won an architectural competition in 1893, the town hall was built in two stages. The first, then called The Vestry Hall, was completed and opened two years later in 1895 by the Prime Minister Lord Rosebery, and faced the newly- completed Rosebery Avenue with a splendid iron and stained glass entrance canopy – a very early use of Art Nouveau on a civic building. The second, replacing an old parish watch house at the rear, opened in 1899 and was given a more florid Baroque character with an elaborate pediment carved with allegorical figures of Peace and Plenty. The building was renamed Finsbury Town Hall in the same year (it was always intended as a town hall), when there was a complete reorganisation of London’s local government the ancient local parishes of Clerkenwell, Charterhouse, Glasshouse Yard, St Luke’s and St Sepulchre were merged to form the new Borough of Finsbury.
‘Finsbury Town Hall is one of London’s most glorious interiors’
As well as designing the exterior, Evans -Vaughan was responsible for the amazing interior decoration. While much is fairly conventional with marble columns, stained glass and tiles in the entrance halls and staircases, the Large Hall is stunning – a huge barrel vault encrusted with plasterwork. The great curved apse at the west end is enriched with figures depicting music and poetry; a grand civic space intended for recitals, receptions and community events. However, what the spectacular interior of Finsbury Town Hall makes Finsbury so special are the magnificent ‘Clerkenwell Angels’ – sexy, winged female figures soaring off the walls bearing sprays of foliage with light bulbs as flowers in full Art Nouveau splendour. There is nothing like it anywhere else in London. The figures were modelled by the well- known plaster makers Jackson & Co., but the sinuous brass light fittings were made locally by Vaughan and Brown in Hatton Garden.
Finsbury Town Hall is one of London’s most glorious interiors and a wonderful example of late Victorian civic pride. Unbelievably, not long ago it was vacant and at risk, but it has now found a new lease of life as the Urdang Dance Academy.hall-of-fame-philip-davies.jpg
London H idden Interiors by Philip Davies ( Atlantic Publishing; £40) reveals 180 of the capital’s hidden gems and includes over 1700 photographs taken by Derek Kendall for English Heritage.