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Battersea Town Hall

A Memory of Battersea

The impressive entrance on Lavender Hill actually led into the Council Offices, where I started work when I left school in 1966. At that time they had changed very little since their Victorian origins; there was a grand staircase opposite the main door, with a half-landing then curving wings sweeping up on each side to the first floor. A larger than lifesize statue of a reclining woman, who I seem to recall was rather scantily clad, was in place of honour on a marble plinth on the half-landing. The rooms were high ceilinged with huge high windows and marble floors. The senior managers were allowed a small piece of carpet under their desks; the rest of us had to put up with cold feet.  

I was the 'Office Junior' and my main job was to go round the offices once an hour and collect the papers from the 'Out' trays on people's desks, sort them according to who they were to go to, then go round again to deliver then into the appropriate 'In' trays. Between rounds I was sometimes allowed under very strict supervision to make very careful hand-written entries in huge ledgers; everything had to be entered in pencil first and only after it had been checked was I allowed to go over it in ink.

The entrance to the actual Town Hall was in Town Hall Road, to the right of the building. Our annual school prize-giving evenings were held there. It was a very grand ballroom, with a large high stage some five to six feet above the hall floor which had a steep rake making it slightly disconcerting to stand on, and an organ with the console in the centre below the stage behind doors which were kept locked shut when it wasn't in use, and the  huge pipes rising up on both sides of the stage. This organ was played with gusto by our Parish Priest at the prize-givings - I think he must have looked forward to it all year.  The hall itself was richly decorated with lots of gilding and an ornamented plaster ceiling. At the back there was a gallery which was the 'Circle' for stage performances and from where you could look down at the dancers at the regular dance nights. There was a foyer, with a cloakroom where you could leave your coat and change into your dance shoes and a purpose-built bar which had a second counter which was opened into the ballroom during dances so you didn't have to leave the party to get another drink. Broad high corridors down either side of the ballroom led to the backstage area, and were a place to talk to dance partners and giggle with female friends away from the bustle of the hall. There were smaller rooms for meetings and private parties upstairs near the gallery; my wedding reception was held in one of these in 1970.

There was also a Lower Town Hall with the entrance at the back of the building, where Town Hall Road turns ninety degrees  and runs across to join Theatre Street. This was a much less grand affair and was used for smaller dances and parties than the main hall. When I was working in the Council offices in the late 1960s it was used as the staff canteen at lunchtimes, with three-course meals cooked freshly in the kitchen every day.   

Former Battersea School Girl

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