Fifty years ago, at the end of March 1965, London was a lot smaller than it is today. The County of London was home to just over three million people, and stretched from Stoke Newington in the north to Streatham in the south and from Putney in the west to Plumstead in the east. It had been created as part of the Local Government Act 1888, taking over the administrative area of the Metropolitan Board of Works, an unelected body charged with coordinating London's infrastructure, particularly sewerage, parks, streets and bridges. Through administrative inertia its 1855 boundary somehow survived for over a century, until the London Government Act 1963 grasped change and extended the capital's area fivefold.
Fifty years ago, on the 1st April 1965, Greater London was born. This enlarged administrative area extended the old County of London by including almost all of Middlesex, plus large chunks of Essex, Surrey and Kent. The capital now consisted of 32 new boroughs, each created by combining two or three existing boroughs or districts - a mighty complicated jigsaw. In the process all 28 metropolitan boroughs of the County of London were extinguished after 65 years in existence, and most of their Town Halls rendered surplus to requirements.
Below I'm looking at what ended up where in what's now Inner London, and later we'll move onto Outer.
Westminster = Paddington + St Marylebone + Westminster
Population 1965: 266,000 / Population 2015: 227,000 Paddington: Originally the Vestry Hall and dating from 1853, Paddington's classical Town Hall on Harrow Road was enlarged in both 1900 and 1920. Reorganisation in 1965 led to its closure, and it was demolished four years later to make way for the Westway urban motorway. St Marylebone: Designed following a competition in 1911, but not opened until 1920, the classical Graeco-Roman town hall on the Marylebone Road is faced with Portland stone. The building is now Westminster Council House, and contains not just the main council chamber but also a register office suite in which numerous famous people have been married (currently closed for refurbishment until 2017). Westminster: This metropolitan borough became a city in its own right in 1900. An early town hall, known as Caxton Hall, opened in 1883 round the back of St James' Park station (it's now luxury flats). Shortly afterwards Westminster City Hall (aka Cavell House) was built in classical style along the curve at the southern end of Charing Cross Road (beside the Garrick Theatre).
Hackney = Hackney + Shoreditch + Stoke Newington
Population 1965: 251,000 / Population 2015: 258,000 Hackney: The 'French-Italian' style town hall in the Narrow Way (now a Coral betting shop) was replaced in 1937 by an Art Deco town hall in Mare Street, and retained as the Town Hall for the modern borough of Hackney. Shoreditch: The magnificent town hall on Old Street started out as a Vestry Hall in 1865, and became an independent arts venue following a major refurbishment in 2004. Stoke Newington: In 1900 this was the London borough with the smallest population, a mere fifty thousand. The town hall on Church Street was built in the mid-Thirties in an English Renaissance style with art deco interiors, then restored byHackney in 2009 with the Council Chamber and Assembly Hall now available for hire.
Tower Hamlets = Bethnal Green + Stepney + Poplar
Population 1965: 200,000 / Population 2015: 273,000 Bethnal Green: Smallest of the three constituent Tower Hamlets boroughs, its Town Hall in Patriot Square was opened in 1910 and extended in the late 1930s. In 2010 the building was reopened as a luxury apartment hotel, retaining much of the original art deco interior, but a world away from the community it was built to serve. Stepney: This slum-packed borough declined significantly in population over the first half of the 20th century. St George's Town Hall on Cable Street is most famous for the Battle of Cable Street mural painted on an exterior wall. Poplar: A long thin borough, stretching south from Bow to the tip of the Isle of Dogs. Its first town hall in Poplar High Street was recently flogged off cheaply to a friend of the current Mayor, while its 1938 replacement in Bow Road was unashamedly modern and is now the Bow House Business Centre.
Greenwich = Greenwich + Woolwich Was nearly called: Charlton
Population 1965: 231,000 / Population 2015: 264,000 Greenwich: Until 1939 the town hall was at West Greenwich House on Greenwich High Road, now home to the West Greenwich Community and Arts Centre. A larger Art Deco Town Hall andBorough Hall was then opened further up the road - the brick edifice with the tall rectangular tower. Most of the building was sold off in 1970, while the main hall now houses Greenwich Dance Agency. Woolwich: A peculiarly-split borough, with a tiny fraction to the north of the Thames. North Woolwich had been part of Kent since the 11th century, thanks to William the Conqueror's allocation of land to his lords, becoming part of south London in 1889, then Newham in Outer London in 1965. Woolwich's ultra-ornateTown Hall is now the administrative centre for the borough of Greenwich.
Lambeth = Lambeth (+ some Wandsworth)
Population 1965: 331,000 / Population 2015: 315,000 Lambeth: The modern borough is unusual in that it comprises just one pre-1965 borough plus the eastern slice of sprawling Wandsworth, essentially Clapham and Streatham (more specifically "so much of the metropolitan borough as lay east of Hazelbourne Road, Cavendish Road, the railway between Balham and Streatham Common stations and the railway between Streatham and Mitcham Junction stations"). The Town Hall in central Brixton is constructed from red brick and Portland stone, topped off by a 41m high clock tower, and was completed in 1908. A current austerity-inspired project aims to condense 14 council buildings into just two, to create Your New Town Hall.
Wandsworth = Battersea + Wandsworth
Population 1965: 326,000 / Population 2015: 311,000 Battersea: The former Battersea Town Hall on Lavender Hill (opened in 1893) is now the Battersea Arts Centre. Alas the building was ravaged by fire earlier this month, destroying the Grand Hall and Lower Hall and causing the central tower to collapse. Wandsworth: Covering 37 square kilometres, this was the largest borough in the County of London. Hence it got split, with a little given to Lambeth and most being combined with Battersea. The town hall on Wandsworth High Street is architecturally restrained, with "historic scenes in stone bas reliefs running the length of the facade", and was opened in 1937.
Kensington & Chelsea = Kensington + Chelsea (obviously)
Population 1965: 215,000 / Population 2015: 156,000 Kensington: A royal borough since 1901, at the posthumous request of Queen Victoria who was born at Kensington Palace. The Italianate town hall, built in 1880, was controversially demolished in 1982 and replaced by a bland shopping parade opposite High Street Kensington station. Its replacement up Hornton Street is one of Sir Basil Spence's brickier behemoths. Chelsea: Chelsea may have been the minor partner in the merger, in both population and size, but somehow retained its name, this being the only one of the 1965 boroughs to namecheck both of its constituent parts. The old town hall on the King's Road is hired out by the council as an events venue.
Fifty years ago, at the end of March 1965, the Home Counties nudged a lot closer to central London than they do today. Those living to the east of the River Lea were still in Essex, including everyone in Stratford and Walthamstow. Residents of Bexleyheath and Orpington were still very much in Kent, while the population of Wimbledon and Richmond belonged wholly to Surrey. Meanwhile Middlesex still existed as a crescent-shaped swathe to the northwest of the capital, including the suburbs of Acton, Golders Green and Tottenham. Middlesex was an ancient county of Saxon origins, bounded by the Colne and Lea, with parliamentary representation since the 13th century. By the 20th century it was one of the smallest counties in England, behind London and the Isle of Wight in terms of area, and with its own administrative HQ on Parliament Square. And fifty years ago today it only had one more day to go.
Fifty years ago today, on 1st April 1965, Greater London was born. This enlarged administrative area extended the old County of London by including almost all of Middlesex, plus large chunks of Essex, Surrey and Kent. Potters Bar in Middlesex escaped, transferring to Hertfordshire, while Barnet Urban District switched the other way from Herts to London. Essex had already lost control over West Ham and East Ham, long since unitary authorities, while Kent surrendered only a small fraction of its land. Surrey found itself in the most awkward situation, with its county council now based extraterritorially across the border in Kingston upon Thames. All in all more than fifty boroughs and districts from the shires found themselves in Outer London overnight. Here's an overview of what ended up where.
Redbridge = Ilford + Wanstead and Woodford + Dagenham (part) + Chigwell (part)
Population 1965: 248,000 / Population 2015: 288,000 Ilford: The ornate Renaissance style town hall on the High Road, begun in 1901, has been retained as Redbridge's town hall. Wanstead and Woodford: The council used to meet on the High Road, South Woodford, their ceremonial mace presented by local MP Winston Churchill. Dagenham: "The boundary between Redbridge and Barking shall be such as the Minister may by order determine on or near the general line of Billet Road." Chigwell: Only 81 acres of Chigwell Urban District, around Hainault, transferred to London in 1965 (the remainder stayed in Essex).
Havering = Romford + Hornchurch
Population 1965: 246,000 / Population 2015: 242,000 Romford: Upgraded to a municipal borough in 1937, its competition-winning art deco town hall is still used by Havering council. Hornchurch: In 1965 this was one of the most populous urban districts in England. The council's offices were at Langton's, an 18th century mansion, which became the new borough's register office.
Barking = Barking (part) + Dagenham (part)
Population 1965: 170,000 / Population 2015: 194,000
Renamed Barking and Dagenham in 1980 Barking: Barking's Town Hall was built overlooking the abbey as late as 1958, and thankfully got more than seven years of use. Dagenham: Combining Barking with Dagenham very sensibly brought the Becontree estate under a single administration. The long low art decotown hall (opened in 1937) has become the Barking and Dagenham Civic Centre, and thankfully won't now be sold off as a new school.
Newham = West Ham + East Ham + Barking (part) + Woolwich (part)
Population 1965: 254,000 / Population 2015: 318,000 West Ham: In 1901 over a quarter of a million people lived in West Ham, making it the ninth most populous district in England. It was governed from an Italian GothicTown Hall in Stratford, built in 1869. East Ham: West Ham plus East Ham equals New Ham, geddit? East Ham's St-Pancrassy town hall now serves as Newham Town Hall. Barking: "The boundary between Newham and Barking shall be such as the Minister may by order determine on or near the general line of the River Roding and Barking Creek." Woolwich: Until the 19th century these two tiny detached parts of Woolwich were usually described as 'Woolwich in the parts of Essex'. Read more here.
Bexley = Bexley + Erith + Crayford + Chislehurst and Sidcup (part)
Population 1965: 215,000 / Population 2015: 237,000 Bexley: At the start of the 20th century the Council offices moved to Broadway, Bexleyheath. Erith: Erith's Town Hall became Bexley's Town Hall in 1965, until councillors moved out to a new civic centre in Bexleyheath in 1980. Crayford: The 100-year-oldTown Hall (and library site) is beingtransformed (in two phases) into 188 new homes, a new library, "modern community facility", health centre and shops. Chislehurst and Sidcup: Mostly the Sidcup bit, to the north of the A20.
Bromley = Bromley + Beckenham + Orpington + Penge + Chislehurst and Sidcup (part)
Population 1965: 301,000 / Population 2015: 318,000 Bromley: The former Bromley Town Hall, opened on Tweedy Road in 1907, was built "in neo-Wren style using red brick with stone quoins and window dressings". Beckenham: Beckenham's last town hall, built in 1932, survived until 1990 when it was demolished to make way for Marks and Spencer. Orpington: Created as an urban district in 1934 from parts of the abolished hinterland of Bromley Rural District, which explains Greater London's largest concentration of remote villages. Penge: Up until 1866 Penge was officially part of Battersea, a detached hamlet no less. Chislehurst and Sidcup: Mostly the Chislehurst bit, to the south of the A20.
Sutton = Beddington and Wallington + Carshalton + Sutton and Cheam
Population 1965: 166,000 / Population 2015: 196,000 Beddington and Wallington: The council was initially based at 37 Manor Road (now an Indian restaurant), before opening a newTown Hall on Woodcote Road, Wallington, in 1934. It was still used for council meetings until 1977. Carshalton: The former town hall on The Square, Carshalton, became the local library (but was sold off in 2011). Sutton and Cheam: The borough's Municipal Offices opened on the High Street in 1902, but were demolished in the 1970s (Wilkinsons now stands on the site).
Merton = Mitcham + Merton and Morden + Wimbledon
Population 1965: 185,000 / Population 2015: 203,000 Was nearly called: Morden Mitcham: Founded in 1915, this local government district has now been extinct for the same amount of time as it existed. Merton and Morden: After World War II the council moved into Morden Hall in Morden Hall Park, now a post-Whitbread husk. Merton's modern civic centre rises nearby above Crown Lane. Wimbledon: The original Town Hall was on The Broadway, replaced by a new buildingon the corner of Queen's Road in 1931.
Kingston Upon Thames = Kingston upon Thames + Malden and Coombe + Surbiton
Population 1965: 145,000 / Population 2015: 167,000 Kingston-upon-Thames: This ancient borough received its charter in 1484, its royal title confirmed by George V in 1927. The council governed from the quaint Market House until 1935, and then from the Guildhall, designed by Maurice Webb. Unlike its modern successor, the pre-1965 borough had hyphens. Malden and Coombe: Because the borough was incorporated in 1936, its civic mace had the rare distinction of carrying the arms of King Edward VIII. Surbiton: The parish of Chessington was added in 1933, nabbed from Epsom.
Richmond Upon Thames = Barnes + Richmond + Twickenham
Population 1965: 180,000 / Population 2015: 192,000 Barnes: Before the war the HQ of this urban district was a Georgian house at 123 Mortlake High Street. Upgraded to a municipal borough in 1932, you can watch two minutes of the Charter Day celebrations here. Richmond: The old town hall near Richmond Bridge, opened in 1893, now houses the Information and Reference Library, the Local Studies Collection, the Museum of Richmond and the Riverside Gallery. Twickenham: In 1926 the urban district council purchased York House, a statelyhome by the Thames, which remains the council's ceremonial hub. Except hang on, the Municipal Borough of Twickenham was in Middlesex, not Surrey.
MIDDLESEX(ceased to exist, 1st April 1965)
Hounslow = Brentford and Chiswick + Feltham + Heston and Isleworth
Population 1965: 207,000 / Population 2015: 263,000 Brentford and Chiswick: The town hall overlooking Turnham Green was opened in 1901. It remains in civic ownership, containing a few council services and a Citizens Advice Bureau, and can be hired out for weddings. Feltham: The Assembly Hall on Hounslow Road was used by the council from 1906. It too remains in civic ownership, for leisure purposes, and can be hired out for weddings. Heston and Isleworth: The Public Hall in Old Isleworth has the look of a small Victorian school. It too remains in civic ownership, although you probably wouldn't hire it out for weddings.
Hillingdon = Hayes and Harlington + Ruislip Northwood + Uxbridge + Yiewsley and West Drayton
Population 1965: 233,000 / Population 2015: 287,000 Was nearly called: Uxbridge Hayes and Harlington: From 1924 the town hall was Barra Hall, a late 18th century manor house in Barra Hall Park, Hayes. The building is now a Sure Start Centre. Ruislip Northwood: Among the first decisions of the new council in 1904 were a reduction in the number of workmen employed on the highways from ten to seven, cancellation of the cleaning of roadside ditches, and a cut in the pay of the lowest-paid man working on the sewers. Much more here. Uxbridge: Uxbridge's town council grew out of the local Board of Health, one of the first in England. Yiewsley and West Drayton:Key House, the old Town Hall, replaced the Yiewsley District Council Offices on the same site in 1930. It now houses Hillingdon Voluntary Services. From 1952 the seat of government switched to Drayton Hall.
Ealing = Acton + Ealing + Southall
Population 1965: 302,000 / Population 2015: 343,000 Acton: The town hall on the High Street was opened in 1910 and extended in 1939, the annexe described as "very noble and thoroughly English without extravagant ornamentation". A recentupgrade has filled the building with swimming pools and a gymnasium, funded by relocating the library. Ealing: The large gothicTown Hall on Ealing Broadway was built in 1886, replacing an earlier town hall on The Mall (now a Nat West bank), and is still used as council offices (subsidiary to nearby Perceval House). Southall: Southall Town Hall was built in debased classical style in 1897 to the designs of local architect Thomas Newall. My thanks to Ealing council for being the only current borough with full information about its three constituent town halls.
Brent = Wembley + Willesden
Population 1965: 291,000 / Population 2015: 317,000 Wembley: Wembley's austere brick town hall on Forty Lane, completed in 1940, is unashamedly modernist, and described by Pevsner as "the best of the modern town halls around London, neither fanciful nor drab." Brent council sold it off a few years ago to a French international school (opens September) when they moved into their new Civic Centre overlooking Wembley Stadium. Willesden: In 1891 civic oversight came from the board offices in Dyne Road, Kilburn, later enlarged to become Willesden Town Hall. Deemed unnecessary after amalgamation with Wembley, the town hall was demolished in 1972.
Harrow = Harrow
Population 1965: 208,000 / Population 2015: 244,000 Harrow: Harrow is unique in Greater London as a borough formed from a single pre-1965 district, hence it was able to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary last year. The Queen came to celebrate its 50th birthday in 2004, an honour she'll be bestowing on absolutely no London borough today. Harrow's monolithic Civic Centre dates from 1972, and looks it.
Barnet = Barnet + East Barnet + Finchley + Friern Barnet + Hendon
Population 1965: 314,000 / Population 2015: 369,000 Barnet: Thanks to historical boundary contortions, Barnet lay in Hertfordshire up until 1965 but was almost entirely surrounded by Middlesex. Its former Council Offices were on Wood Street, in the Old Court House, later used as a register office, and more recently refurbished as coroners court for the Northern District of Greater London. East Barnet: The district of East Barnet was buried even deeper into Middlesex than its Barnet cousin. Until 1935 it was known as East Barnet Valley. Its Italianate town hall opened on Station Road in 1892. Finchley: Finchley's Urban District Council initially met every third Monday at offices in Bibbesworth House, Church End, before moving to Finchley Hall in 1902. This was heavily bombed in the war and demolished shortly afterwards. Church End Library stands on the site. Friern Barnet: The imposing town hall in Friern Barnet Lane was completed in 1941, given Grade II listing in 2002 and sold by Barnet council in 2003. Barratts have since converted it into apartments. Hendon:HendonTown Hall, on The Burroughs, is somehow still a customer-facing outpost of Barnet council and its committees meet here. Opened in 1901, it's (in)famous as the place where Margaret Thatcher made her first speech as Prime Minister.
Haringey = Hornsey + Tottenham + Wood Green
Population 1965: 252,000 / Population 2015: 264,000 Hornsey:HornseyTownHall (opened in 1935) is one of Middlesex's finest modernist civic buildings. Alas Haringey council have left the building to decay, and plans to refurbish it for the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts collapsed earlier this year through lack of funds. Tottenham: Opened in 1905, the Edwardian Baroquetown hall fared less well after 1965, ending up on English Heritage's At Risk register. Following redevelopment, the vaulted Moselle Room is one of the grand rooms that can be hired out at 'The Dream Centre'. Wood Green: Council meetings were held at Woodside House, now used by Haringey Adult Services. The borough's Latin motto nostrum viret robur translates either as 'our strength is a tree' or 'Wood Green Flourishes'.
Enfield = Edmonton + Enfield + Southgate
Population 1965: 272,000 / Population 2015: 321,000 Edmonton: The (crenelated perpendicular) Town Hall was built in 1884 and demolished in 1989, but the clock was saved, restored and recently erected on Edmonton Green. Enfield: Until 1961 the administrative HQ was at Little Park, Gentleman's Row, after which the soaring CivicCentre opened on Silver Street - retained for use by an enlarged Enfield borough four years later. Southgate: The borough was administered from Southgate Town Hall on Green Lanes in Palmers Green. In the 1970s the building became became the Local History Archive, but is (imminently) to be converted into 19 flats.
Fifty years ago today, on 1st April 1965, Greater London came into existence. And about time too. The original County of London was considerably smaller than the conurbation that had grown up roundabout, hence the need to enlarge the capital to better reflect suburban reality. But where to draw the line? The Herbert Commission was established in 1957 to answer the question, and published its report in 1960. Its terms of reference included the area now known as Greater London plus a number of neighbouring authorities, shown approximately below in red, pink and green. Areas considered but discounted are shown in green, notably Rickmansworth, Watford, Elstree and Chigwell to the north, Esher, Epsom, Ewell and Banstead to the south, and Dartford to the east. In pink is Potters Bar, swiftly liberated from Middlesex to Herts. And in red are a handful of districts recommended for inclusion but later thrown out by the government, including Cheshunt to the north, Staines and Sunbury to the west, and Caterham to the south.
Fifty years ago today, on 1st April 1965, Greater London was born. You'd think there'd be celebrations, or at least some sort of fuss in the media, but instead the anniversary is being allowed to pass almost entirely unnoticed. Maybe the austerity agenda means councils have neither the cash nor the motivation for a birthday celebration. Maybe the General Election rules prohibit unnecessary drum-banging during the purdah period. Maybe our Mayor hasn't even noticed, who knows. Whatever, the London borough in which you live is half a century old today, so offer it some respect as it enters middle age. And how much longer it has to live depends very much on how long it is until our capital's boundary is redrawn again. Perhaps next time round Watford, Epsom and Dartford will find their time has come... as Harrow, Romford and Richmond discovered fifty years ago.