Survey of London Monograph 17, County Hall. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1991.
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CHAPTER VII. London's Hôtel de Ville: The 1922 Building
County Hall was opened formally on 17 July 1922 by George V, accompanied by Queen Mary and the Duke of York. They were met at the Belvedere Road entrance at noon by the Chairman of the LCC, F. R. Anderton, the Home Secretary and various other national and London dignitaries. Standing on the Members' Terrace steps, the King replied to an address made by the Chairman of the Establishment Committee and declared the building open (Plate 10a). After a flourish of trumpets the King descended the steps and met some of the people involved in the project, including the site foreman and other workmen, all of whom had been given the day off with full pay. (fn. 1)
The King and Queen then inspected the Council Chamber, where Ralph Knott handed the King the key with which the room was officially opened. Though there were some 52 rooms for the use of the public or Members on the Principal Floor, not all of these were finished. (fn. 2) However, the royal party toured the Main Committee Room, two committee rooms on the Belvedere Road front, and the Members' Refreshment Rooms, Reading Room and Library. They left by the Members' Entrance, which was thronged by council staff and building workers (Plate 11).
Though parts of the building had been occupied by government staff during the war, and LCC employees were working in the building from 1919, photographs show that large sections of the riverfront were still under scaffolding in October 1921, as was the whole of the first and ground floors of the Westminster Bridge Road front (Plate 9b). Unfinished areas had to be disguised 'so that on the opening day it should not be in any way obvious that parts of the building were incomplete'. Crittall's bronze doors on to the Members' Terrace were only fixed during the weekend before the opening. (fn. 3)
Contemporary Comment on the Building
On the whole architectural opinion was favourable, though after the battles over the competition, it was difficult for critics at the time of its opening to find anything new or very original to say. As early as 1908, the Architectural Association Journal, reviewing Koch's book, had recommended it to 'anyone not heartily sick of the competition and all pertaining to it'. (fn. 4) The half-finished building had become familiar to Londoners during the war, and even now it lacked the northern quarter postponed by the LCC, leaving, in Clough Williams-Ellis's words, 'certain shameful and hinder parts unfairly exposed on the north-eastern flank' (Plate 9c). (fn. 5)
The Times thought the building was 'in every way worthy of the great municipality which has grown up round the historic capital of the Empire'. It also saw significance in its location, reiterating the hopes of the Establishment Committee which selected the site, by suggesting that it might 'foretell the coming of a new and brighter era for the people of South London'. (fn. 6)
Newspapers were uncritically enthusiastic, while the architectural press tended to be restrained but polite, with the exception of the Architectural Review, which carried an effusive article by Aston Webb's son, Maurice, a close friend of Knott. (fn. 7)
Much comment on the building was concerned with the question of architectural style. Knott himself said that it 'may perhaps be best described as a free treatment of English Renaissance'. (fn. 8) Not everybody agreed. Professor C. H. Reilly (himself a competitor in 1907), writing in Country Life, (fn. 9) felt that Knott had broken with English precedents, and 'shown great courage' in doing so:
His building belongs neither to the English classical tradition nor to the English Gothic. If one had to assign it an ancestry one would say it came from the Low Countries by way of Mr. Norman Shaw.
The Architect, too, detected the influence of Norman Shaw, whose late work, and that of his followers, it felt to be a 'true advance' towards building up a living English tradition of architecture. County Hall was seen as a 'late example of this movement', leading to the rather surprising conclusion, that for this reason, 'we think [it] a more valuable contribution to contemporary architecture than has yet been recognised'. (fn. 10)
The Builder, in one of the more detailed reviews, (fn. 11) recognized the complexities of such a building, pointing out that County Hall combined 'some elements of the palace and the Parliament House, with the functions of a depository, a studio, and laboratory'.
Its correspondent commended the chief materials used externally – Cornish granite and Portland stone, bronze panels, and red 'Roman' tiles for the roof; these, he felt, were materials that had proved their worth in the 'exacting climate' of London, and which would 'improve in colour and texture as they weather and mellow under its influence', particularly if spared the action of the 'steam cleaner'. He did, however, criticize the way in which some other materials were used, notably such contrasting materials as white glazed bricks and granite, placed in positions where both could be seen, as in the Members' Carriage Drive (Plate 38b). Conceding both the utility and costliness of white glazed brick, the writer complained that its juxtaposition with the granite and the stonework raised 'the question as to which is the real standard of sound construction – the white, clean, flat expanses of the brick, or the heavily rusticated and ribbed greyness of the "architectural" portion below?'. In this comparison the fine architecture was found wanting, because it was made to appear a 'cleverly and elaborately constructed sham, not an added grace blooming directly from the main stem of practical convenience and good sense'.
Another criticism was of the lack of structural logic in many of the highly decorated parts of the building. Just as the white glazed tiles pointed up a contradiction externally (Plate 38c), the vaulted spaces internally could not be understood except as indications of confused architectural thinking. The vaulting of the Main Committee Room (Plate 24a, fig. 35) was found unconvincing because the ceiling of the press gallery which overlooked it was flat, and the corridor vaulting on the Principal Floor had a contrived look, again because it was decorative rather than structural.
C. H. Reilly was strongly critical of the treatment of the great Crescent, despite the fact that in 1907 he had included a similar crescent in his own unsuccessful design (fig. 20):
It seems to me that a central feature which is to command a very long front must come boldly forward or go boldly up. It cannot come forward and then retreat in the middle. By doing so it becomes a weak feature where a strong one is needed.
He felt that viewed from the Westminster Embankment 'the building – to use a somewhat rough simile – seems to have had its centre feature knocked in' (Plate 10b). The Builder too was disappointed with the Crescent, finding the use of columns on the curved front rather less than happy:
Just as the roof surface scored by its simplicity, the wall below might have been made to count as a great cylindrical expanse left free for the play of shadow and reflected light.
That opinion showed the changing sensibilities of the times, but it was in these new times that County Hall was judged. Indicative of this attitude was the Evening Standard's retrospective comment that when the sculptor Ernest Cole had occupied a room in the partially completed building for a studio, 'the unfinished hall in its naked purplish brick was more impressive than it will ever be again'. (fn. 12)
The Builder did not go as far as this, and chose to end its criticism on a polite note, uninterested perhaps in pursuing arguments against an outdated architectural style:
While one detail or another may be open to criticism there is not the faintest doubt that the main effect is altogether right. It is to Mr Ralph Knott's credit, as an artist, that he has done the great things greatly and has created a work of architecture in harmony with the spirit of the city of which the County Hall is a representative building.
County Hall was remarkable for its complex planning, and the way in which it was designed to channel several different types of user along different routes. This was achieved by a series of different entrances and severe stratification.
The 'wedge-shaped' plan of County Hall as finally completed is in outline an elaborated trapezium, whose long axis runs north-south through the Members' Entrance in Westminster Bridge Road, a distance of some 750 feet (folded drawing A, between pages 62–3). At the heart of this plan lies the Council Chamber, centred on the intersection of the long axis and the short east-west axis, the latter passing the middle of the Belvedere Road front and the riverside crescent. The two long north-south sides of the building are not parallel to each other but to the river on the west and to Belvedere Road on the east. Consequently the short east-west axis which is at right angles to both the long sides has a bend in the middle. The east-west cross-blocks are all parallel to each other.
Within the envelope formed by the four outer ranges of the building the space is divided up by the cross-blocks into courtyards and light-wells. In Knott's competition plan these were to provide light to the offices – those offices which lay on either side of the much-criticized central, and therefore dark, corridors. With the addition of a Members' Entrance from Westminster Bridge Road, the courtyard next to the Council Chamber block was enlarged to create a grand formal space, while that next to the Westminster Bridge Road front was reduced proportionally. When the northern section (Section D) was replanned in the late 1920s the Conference Hall and Education Library were added to the northernmost courtyard, and while this did not become in any sense a formal space, it largely lost its original function as a lighting area.
The Principal or Ceremonial Entrance to the building is situated in the centre of the Belvedere Road front (Plate 13, folded drawing B11, between pages 110–11), where there are also a number of everyday entrances for staff and visitors. From Westminster Bridge Road a carriage entrance of great architectural drama, with inconspicuous doorways for staff, leads straight into the Members' Courtyard where the Members had their own separate entrance. In the original 1908–12 scheme a roadway along the northern front was intended to provide access for those whose job it was to maintain the huge building. As built in 1930 3 this was retained, but in addition a formal, though relatively little-used, entrance to the Conference Hall was also provided. Although the river front is generally thought of as being free of entrances, there were in fact two staff entrances here, one in the centre of each wing, north and south of the central crescent. These entrances were closed sometime after 1931, and railings built across them. (fn. 13)
The building stands on a plinth of grey Cornish granite which is adjusted in Westminster Bridge Road and Belvedere Road to take account of the sloping site. On this rugged base sits Knott's great composition in Portland stone (Plates 10c, 13a, 14a). The ground floor has heavily rusticated banding, finished by a plain stringcourse, from which rise the Principal Floor window surrounds and the plain rusticated panels between them. The first or Principal Floor is treated as a piano nobile, with a range of segmentally pedimented windows, expressing externally the use of that level by Members and department heads. Above two further storeys in plain ashlar is one whose windows, equal in width to those below, sit within a rudimentary frieze. The wall is topped by a deep moulded cornice.
The Architects themselves admitted that the steeppitched roof – 'the prominence of which is emphasised by the Italian roofing tiles, of rich red colour' – was 'unusual in this country'. The use of bright red tiles may have been an attempt to introduce some colour into the building, something that was held to be lacking in London. (fn. 14) (fn. a) In some quarters it was felt that the new roof was altogether too red, though as Sir Aston Webb pointed out, 'we can depend upon our climate to put that right soon enough'. In the nationalistic atmosphere of post-war England it was stressed that the so-called 'Italian' tiles were, of course, of 'British Manufacture'. (fn. 16)
Within the roof are two further floors of offices, lit by copper-clad dormer windows. The fifth-floor windows correspond with those in the lower floors, while on the sixth floor they occur in alternate bays. Large chimney stacks in Portland stone punctuate the roof on all sides of the building, although Knott abandoned the idea put forward in his competition design to carry them around the roof of the Crescent (fig. 16a). Each stack has a door in its base at roof level, and handrails around the tops of the stack to protect the sweeps when cleaning the flues (Plate 38a). The sweep would enter the door, climb to the top, and lower his brush from above, weighted by a large iron ball.
The flèche in the centre of the Crescent is a steelframed wooden structure sitting on a platform within the tiled roof (Plate 12c, fig. 29). Like the dormers, it is clad in copper. The design of this feature went through many modifications from its original appearance in Knott's competition entry. It had been intended as a smaller and more delicately detailed element, the final changes to its design, emanating from Riley but readily adopted by Knott, coming in 1921. (fn. 17) These modifications concerned the general scale of the flèche, including larger mouldings which would read better from a distance, as well as a change from a round top to a pointed one. Knott's competition design had shown a ship as weather-vane; as built the vane is topped by a dolphin.
The Crescent itself on plan is an arc whose centre lies roughly on the middle of the embankment promenade (Plate 12a, b). In place of the grand portico with its double row of paired columns, the actual building has the sweep of sixteen Portland stone Ionic columns following the curved face of the Crescent, for which Shaw had fought so hard. The order is repeated on the in antis columns within the pavilions which flank and give visual support to the recess. The capitals, with their pronounced upper curvature, are a variant of those on the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, and were fashionable at the time. (fn. b) The order differs from the classical original in having volutes set parallel rather than diagonally, unfluted column shafts of squatter proportion and quite different bases, and a pulvinated or cushion frieze in the Roman style of Piranesi, which Wren used occasionally.
The crescent has a high stone parapet – a wall with a central oval window and then alternating circular windows and framed panels carved with the arms of London boroughs. Behind and above this, the sixth floor is lit by a strip of windows largely concealed by the parapet. The great depth of the entablature in the Crescent means that the accommodation behind on the fourth and fifth floors is starved of light. To alleviate this Knott transposed the relative positions of the offices and the corridors hereabouts, the latter being brought to the front of the building where they are lit, indirectly, by the circular windows in the parapet wall (see folded drawing B11, between pages 110–11).
The Westminster Bridge Road front (Plate 14a) is a more compact and dramatic composition – the most successful of the three completed in 1922, in the opinion of more than one contemporary critic. It may have been consideration of this elevation that led Knott to change the design of all the corner pavilions. Originally these were to have followed the same design as central pavilions, with columns in antis (fig. 17a). But on this front the pavilions are relatively close together, and he might have felt that his dominating original design would have thrown the façade out of balance by being repeated in such a short space. The revised version has the same jagged voussoirs above arched attic windows, but in place of the columns, a greater expanse of rusticated stonework.
The focus here is concentrated about the lofty arched entrance to the Members' Carriage Drive (Plate 14d), its keystone rising into an oval window framed with excellent stone carving by C. H. Mabey. The carriage entrance is guarded by tall wrought-iron gates – made by Strode & Company – and flanked by granite 'sentry boxes' serving as entrances for pedestrians. The latter were designed as pedestals for equestrian groups – similar to those planned for the internal courtyard (Plate 16a) – which were never executed and are today surmounted by bronze lighting standards made by Strodes.
The great vaulted tunnel of granite and rusticated Portland stone which leads from the Westminster Bridge Road entrance to the Members' Courtyard is the most overtly dramatic architectural sequence at County Hall – Pevsner calls it 'frankly operatic' (Plates 14b, 15, fig. 30). Although foreshadowed in several of the competition entries, among them Lanchester & Rickards', Jemmet & McCombie's and H. T. Hare's (fig. 8a, b), this was a late addition to Knott's design and it plays havoc with the circulation in the cross blocks. Nevertheless, this feature, with its suggestion of great and dramatic architecture, is very skilfully handled.
The tunnel is 140 feet long and only 17 feet wide and is divided into three bays. The central bay contains an open saucer dome surmounted by a balustrade, while the other two finish in groined vaults supported by six massive piers on each side of the road. The bays have pedimented aedicules at high level, those in the central bays having a circular opening beneath them giving glimpses of the white-tiled light-wells beyond. There are staff and public entrances at the south end (Plate 15a) and an independent entrance to the Lady Members' accommodation at the north end.
Emerging from the carriage drive into the Members' Courtyard (Plates 16, 17), the visitor has almost the impression of arriving within a fortress. The apparently low block on the north side containing the Members' Entrance, with its attic storey surmounted by rows of dormers, and the massive central feature of a rusticated doorway crowned by a winged trophy, has the look of the corps de logis of a French château (Plate 17a). This is the only internal court to be given the full-blown Portlandstone-and-granite architectural treatment of the exterior, the effect of which has now been spoilt by the curtainwall infilling of 1972–4. Although the courtyard itself is rectangular the roadway is circular, formed by the upper surface of a drum-like structure which housed the basement record office (Plate 16b). Outside this drum the walls of the court rise from the basement level. At the four corners of the court prominent square lavatory-towers with well-handled stone detailing reach almost to the top of the roof. In 1922 C. H. Reilly had felt that the 'fine appeal to the imagination' made by the covered approach was 'a little dissipated' when 'you walk through the arch and find the circular court suggested is not really circular'. The cast-iron lamp-holders on the granite wall surrounding the central enclosure were made by the Bromsgrove Guild (Plate 16c). On the north side of the court a short flight of steps leads to the bronze doors enriched with ornaments modelled by George Alexander (Plate 17b). The two flanking granite plinths are surmounted by stubby stone columns each carrying a pair of illuminated glass spheres.
The second long frontage faces Belvedere Road (Plate 13a, b, folded drawing B1), and here the central feature is a broad and massive attached 'portico', projecting only slightly from the main body of the building. Set between pavilions similar to those flanking the riverfront Crescent, it corresponds with the Crescent in width, as Aston Webb suggested it should, to distinguish externally the 'county hall' part of the building from the 'county offices' part. In its design this portico virtually reproduces the river-front colonnade for which Knott had fought so tenaciously, but unsuccessfully, in 1910, and which was itself a development of his original scheme (Plates 5b, 13a). Thus it gives the clearest idea of Knott's architectural style at the time of the competition, being almost identical to his prizewinning river-front elevation, albeit expressed as an attached feature rather than extending forward as he originally intended.
On the ground floor five wide doorways, each fitted with pairs of heavy bronze doors, interrupt the rusticated banding and granite plinth. The tall central opening, which cuts through the stringcourse and is dressed with a pediment decorated with anthemion acroteria, is the Ceremonial Entrance (Plate 13c). The ground-floor storey provides the base for the five-bay colonnaded screen, whose pairs of columns, rising through three stories, carry a plain entablature surmounted by a deep windowless attic. The latter consists of a large plane of stone, relieved only by a stringcourse near the top supported on four lion's-head brackets, and a bronze fitting for the flag-pole (Plate 13b). Like the parapet wall in the Crescent, this huge panel deprives the accommodation behind of most of its light, a defect which Knott here alleviates, as in the Crescent, by reversing the positions of the offices and corridors.
The northern front was, of course, not completed until 1933, and is discussed in Chapter VIII.
The Principal Floor
The completed County Hall was a happy blend of materials, of which many Londoners could be proud. Reginald Blunt visited it soon after it opened:
Internally, the impression is chiefly one of finely proportioned chambers with oak wainscotting carried up to the frieze, in spacious panelling relieved about the mantels and doorways by some suggestive carving; of the use of dark Ashburton marble and Hopton Wood stone for pillars and fireplaces; of inverted electric light which gives an excellently even illumination reflected from the ceilings; of floors of teak and oak, and, in passages, of inlaid rubber composition, quiet, easily cleaned and wonderfully durable. (fn. 18)
But however impressive the building, its very size and the diverse nature of the accommodation make it a confusing place. The inherent problems of finding one's way about in its miles of corridors are further compounded by the interruption to the circulation caused by the Members' Entrance, and the absence of completely consecutive room numbering, inevitable in a building planned with cross blocks.
The arrangement of the accommodation within the building generally follows the principles set out in the 'Suggested Plan' of 1907 (fig. 4). On the Principal Floor were concentrated all the committee rooms, and offices for the Chairman and other important Members, and for the Chief Officers. The distinctions between minor committee rooms and important offices were blurred, and these rooms often changed their uses. However, there were certain zones which were dedicated to Committee use or office use almost throughout County Hall's occupation as a centre of local government. Thus the rooms overlooking the Crescent were all for the use of Members, either as public rooms or offices, as was the range to the north. The southern end of the riverfront and Westminster Bridge Road front was occupied by officers. The central section of the Belvedere Road front housed some of the most finely finished committee rooms of the 1922 building, with smaller rooms on either side, whose use seems to have varied over time between smaller committee rooms, and offices for either Chairmen of Committees or Chief Officers.
The Belvedere Road Entrance and the Ceremonial Staircase
County Hall's Belvedere Road entrance (Plate 13b, c) had two functions: as a ceremonial entrance and as the main staff and public entrance. From Belvedere Road one enters a wide hall with a low coffered ceiling, which sits below the committee rooms on the Principal Floor (Plate 19a). The floor is of grey marble mosaic (by Art Pavements and Decorations, Limited) (fn. 19) with decorative banding and the LCC coat of arms at its centre, and the walls are lined with Roman marble. The decorative stone carving above the ten doorways and over the fireplaces was carried out by A. H. Wilkinson. (fn. 20) It was for the two chimneypieces here that the Council used the gift of Verde Prato marble from the Italian Government (see page 67). This replaced the black Belgium marble which Knott had intended in 1915, (fn. 21) but without any significant change to the somewhat Art Deco-ish design (Plate 27c, fig. 28). (fn. c) The room was intentionally austere, but a fine one, and makes a fitting prelude to the more elaborate ceremonial route beyond. At the same time the restrained decoration avoids too jarring a contrast with the ground-floor offices ranged along utilitarian corridors to which the hall also gives access by steps rising out of it to left and right.
Elegant bronze and wrought-iron gates, designed by Knott and made by Singers of Frome for £295, guard the entrance to the Ceremonial Staircase leading to the Council Chamber and the Principal Floor (Plate 19b). (fn. 22) An amusing insight into the Council's view of its own popularity comes in a letter concerning these gates from Knott's office to Riley, in October 1921. Riley had earlier written suggesting that the gates ought to be reduced in height. Knott replied that he gathered from the discussion in the Committee, when the gates were originally proposed, that they should be of 'such a nature that they could not easily be scaled by an angry mob', and, he added, he did not feel that 'the idea of merely suggesting that ingress is forbidden to the public at that point is what was intended by the Committee'. (fn. 23)
Doorways either side of these gates lead to the public galleries in the Council Chamber. Since 1955 the righthand passage has also led to the Staff Chapel (see page 90).
The marble-lined walls of the Ceremonial Staircase support a colonnade of coupled columns carrying a barrelvaulted ceiling, which is intersected by the groins of semicircular windows which light it from above (Plate 20a). The staircase balustrade and the railings guarding the opening on to the stairs from above were made in cast iron and bronze to Knott's design by the Bromsgrove Guild (fig. 26a). To Charles Marriott this staircase recalled the 'classical reconstructions' of such artists as Alma Tadema. (fn. 24) The lobby at the top of the staircase forms part of the marble-lined corridor or 'ambulatory' which surrounds the Council Chamber at Principal-Floor level (Plate 20b, c). Most of the marble used here is white Pentelic, from the old Athenian quarry, relieved by bands of Sienna or Cipollino. The many columns in this part of the building are of black Belgian, Bleu de Savoie, or Ashburton marble. (fn. 25) The white marble walls provided suitable spaces for the LCC's War Memorial, and for lists of Council office-holders.
Knott had hoped to use marble for the flooring of the 'ambulatory', to correspond with the rich marbling of the walls, but the Establishment Committee felt that it 'might tend to wear slippery', and at Knott's suggestion a non-slip patent linoleum product called 'Ruboleum' was selected. (fn. 26)
The location of the Council Chamber illustrates one of the problems created by the wedge-shaped plan. The short east-west axis is 'bent' in the middle to make a right angle to each façade and the Chamber has its centre on the intersection of this bend with the north-south axis. Consequently the centre line of the Ceremonial Staircase aims towards the centre point of the Chamber rather than towards the Chairman's seat opposite. One commentator thought 'a pair of attendants in gorgeous uniform, standing ready to open the bronze doors, might compensate for the lack of the vista'. (fn. 27)
The Council Chamber
The octagonal Council Chamber (Frontispiece, Plates 21, 28a, figs 31, 32) provided accommodation for 200 Members, rather than the 144 actually elected to the Council, in order to allow for possible future increase. The plan adopted here is foreshadowed not only by the 'Suggested Plan' for the new County Hall (fig. 4), but also by the extended chamber at Spring Gardens (fig. 1). There the LCC had replaced the MBW's 'House of Commons' style face-to-face seating plan with a horseshoe arrangement of benches, while also installing press and public galleries, and Ayes and Noes Lobbies (with entrances on either side of the Dais). These features are all incorporated in the larger Chamber at County Hall where benches are arranged in tiers. Four galleries overlook the Chamber, that behind the Chairman's Dais being for the press and the others for the public. Doors leading to the Ayes and Noes Lobbies are on the north and south sides of the Chamber respectively.
The centre of focus within the Chamber is the Dais and the Chairman's seat, the latter elaborately carved, and veneered in black oak from a tree dug up at Villiers Street. (fn. 28) The Chairman's bench, and the officials' bench immediately in front of it, are decorated with lions' heads and enriched mouldings carved by George Alexander, who was also responsible for the carved ends to the Members' benches. (fn. 29)
The lower parts of the Chamber are faced with marble. For the plinth, the capping of the dado and the framing of the doorways, black Belgian marble is employed, and for the filling of the dado, greenish-grey Greek Cipollino from the island of Euboea, which has a very pronounced vein structure. This was a fashionable marble at the time, used to best effect in Bentley's Westminster Cathedral, but also found in Mountford's Central Criminal Court. Veine Dorée, a beautiful marble from the Italian Alps, is used for the columns and pilasters supporting the lintels of the gallery openings. The capitals and bases are made of manganese bronze, as are the elaborately patterned gallery fronts and the radiators (Plate 28d), all of which were modelled by Alexander and carried out by a number of specialist foundries. (fn. 30)
Natural lighting is provided by four tall clear-glass windows, one at each of the splayed corners. In front of these windows are empty plinths, each decorated with a boldly modelled festoon in bronze, and originally intended as bases for statuary groups symbolizing Progress, Prudence, Education and Guardianship. Though these were rejected by the Establishment Committee as early as 1913, an idea of the effect Knott had in mind can be had from a perspective published in the previous year (see Frontispiece). (fn. 31)
To contrast with the green of the Cipollino and the black Belgian marble, a bright blue carpet was laid and the oak seats were upholstered in orange-red leather. (fn. 32) This richness of colouring is another indication of Knott's move away from the polite style shown in the 1912 perspective to a more individual and highly flavoured manner.
There were a number of technical innovations, and Members' benches had an elaborate ventilating system from the beginning (fig. 39, see also page 90), though a loudspeaker system was only added later.
The upper part of the walls and the ceiling of the Chamber are finished in plaster, while in an attempt to anticipate the acoustic problems so easily foreseen, and indeed so early revealed, the circular central panel of the ceiling is of felt. (fn. 33) In this respect the room was regarded as a failure from the outset. The Daily Express dubbed it 'The L.C.C.'s Hall of Murmurs', and observers were unanimous in finding the acoustics dreadful. Knott's original design had put its height at a hundred feet, and although he had been persuaded by Riley to reduce this to fifty-five, it was not low enough, being still about twenty-five feet higher than Spring Gardens. (fn. 34) The difficulty precipitated numerous letters to The Times, each recommending a different solution, as well as one to the Chairman of the Council, which blamed the speakers rather than the room, a theory welcomed by Knott. (fn. 35)
This is a problem which, despite various attempts to overcome it, has never been solved. Reports were prepared by the Building Research Station, and some of their recommendations were tried, but with little apparent effect. In November 1951 the Council decided to install a Tannoy amplification system, operated by a controller who would switch on a microphone in front of each speaker in turn and adjust the amplification level. The system was never entirely satisfactory, being prone to silent lapses and sudden surges of feedback. (fn. 36)
The responsibility for this problem was Knott's, for insisting on a high octagonal ceiling, and blame cannot be attached to either the Municipal Reformers' economical approach, or to the grander ambitions of the Progressives. (fn. d) In fact the brief initially called for a 'conversational chamber', and this instruction was never altered. (fn. 37)
Contemporaries seem to have been generally impressed by the new Chamber. Clough Williams-Ellis saw it as 'octagonal, domed and lofty – where red leather, grey oak and quiet coloured marbles, softly lit by four tall windows, combine to produce an effect of calm grandeur unusual in a secular building'. (fn. 38) But it did not completely eclipse memories of the 'old panelled chamber' at Spring Gardens, which although smaller and less convenient, had a 'homely atmosphere', as Gibbon and Bell recalled in 1939:
The new chamber, even after nearly twenty years, remains a rather aloof personality: it is not exactly unfriendly, but ... it ... does not, as the old room did, prompt the features to relax into an affectionate and reminiscent smile. It is business-like, has an air of dignity and conveys an impression of expense rather than richness. (fn. 39)
The Voting Lobbies
The two top-lit voting lobbies (Plate 22a) are located on either side of the Council Chamber, between the 'ambulatory' and the cross corridors to the north and south. Columns of black Belgian marble with white Pentelic caps screen the lobbies from the 'ambulatory' and corridors, and flank the two chimneypieces within each lobby. The chimneypieces themselves are also made from black Belgian marble, inset with a central panel of coloured marble – lapis lazuli in the Ayes (north) Lobby, red Skyros in the Noes. Both rooms are panelled in highly figured and polished Indian laurel wood, the panelling above the chimneypieces being enriched with carving by C. H. Mabey. (fn. 40) This scheme of decoration was arrived at only after several attempts. The earliest drawing for these lobbies (1913) shows raised-and-fielded panelling – probably in oak – and larger chimneypieces more in the style of those in rooms 169 and 177. A drawing of 1914 has the walls lined with panels of 'Enriched Leather'. In 1919 Knott wanted to use 'greywood' for the panelling, but when this proved impossible to obtain Indian laurel was substituted. (fn. 41) It was for the lunettes in these lobbies that Frank Brangwyn was to have provided murals, and it was here that part of the Portrait Collection was hung. (fn. 42)
The Members' Entrance
Members arriving by carriage from the Westminster Bridge Road, through the rusticated and vaulted tunnel leading to the Members' Courtyard, enjoyed a completely different approach to the Council Chamber and Principal Floor (Plates 14, 15). Here there was no question of an entrance being made to serve two classes of user. The Members' Entrance, in the centre of the north side of the Members' Courtyard, leads directly to the Principal Floor and the Council Chamber. The bronze doors at the top of the steps in the Members' Courtyard open into a small marble-walled vestibule (Plate 28c), where a further short flight of steps leads into a corridor. (fn. e) From here the Members had direct access to all their accommodation: to the cloakroom and lavatories, themselves the subject of admiring comment in the press, (fn. 43) through the Noes Lobby and across the 'ambulatory' to the Council Chamber, eastward to the committee rooms along Belvedere Road, or westward to the Members' Library and to refreshment rooms along the riverfront.
The Westminster Bridge Road Entrance Halls
On either side of the Westminster Bridge Road end of the Carriage Drive doors and steps lead down into squarish low-ceilinged entrance halls (Plate 36a). These are at 'ground-floor' level, communicating directly with the corridors through bronze-and-glass doors in the fireplace walls: on the north side partially screened staircases lead to the upper floors and basements. Although primarily intended for staff use, the two halls are nevertheless finished in the same grave manner as the main entrance hall in Belvedere Road. The walls are lined with the same conspicuously jointed Roman marble, and the ceilings are deeply compartmented. The floors are of terrazzo, laid – by Art Pavements and Decorations, Limited – to a pattern which Knott had designed originally for the Belvedere Road hall. (fn. 44) Above the fireplaces are stone-carvings by A. H. Wilkinson denoting the attributes of good government. That in the west (riverside) hall includes the scales of Justice and the wheel of Nemesis, 'representing the impartiality of the guidance of Administration' (Plate 29d), while the carving in the east hall shows 'the winged helmet of Mercury suggesting Rapidity, Power and Wisdom'. (fn. 45) (fn. f)
As in the Belvedere Road hall, Knott uses the combination of expensive materials and austere design to mitigate a steep drop in emotional temperature between one part of the building and another, here between the Piranesian grandeur of the Carriage Drive and the severely utilitarian corridors.
Principal Floor Corridors
The long oak-lined corridors of the Principal Floor are for many visitors one of the more enduring images of County Hall (Plate 26a, c). The receding tunnel-like vistas of white plaster vaults, the dark high-quality panelling with its reiterated emphatic mouldings, over-scaled pedimented doorcases and pervasive acanthus ornament, and the polished parquet flooring, are almost hypnotically powerful. The dominant element in this was not, however, intended originally. At first the walls were meant to be given a Keen's cement dado, the change to oak panelling, which added a further £9,000 to the cost, being advocated by Knott as a way of saving on maintenance. (fn. 46)
The corridors were furnished with oak benches – twelve were ordered in 1922. (fn. 47) Also to be found there was a set of pigeon-holes for the Members' mail, an older-looking piece perhaps salvaged from Spring Gardens, over which a uniformed messenger presided (Plate 26d).
River-front Crescent Rooms (116A, 116, 119–124)
The Crescent and the areas on either side were the exclusive province of Members. Rooms for the Chairman, Deputy and Vice-Chairmen, and for the Whips and the Leader occupied the Crescent, with reading and refreshment rooms for Members on either side. These rooms were decorated with enriched plaster ceilings, often with substantial cornices, oak panelling and carved oak and marble fireplaces of great elaboration. Though the rooms were re-ordered and re-decorated under the GLC in the late 1960s and early 1970s, (fn. 48) the original drawings and contemporary photographs indicate that the standard of design and workmanship was very high. Most of the drawings date from 1912–1915, (fn. 49) but like much of the interior decoration the work was only carried out after the war. Indeed, these rooms were excluded from the royal tour because the panelling was still unfinished in July 1922. This part of County Hall suffered considerable damage in the Blitz, and drawings for reinstatement were prepared but not executed. (fn. 50)
Although in the later years of the Council the allocation of rooms became more flexible, in 1922 the three largest (rooms 120, 123 and 116) were allotted to the Chairman, Deputy-Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively. The Whips occupied the two rooms on either side of the central lobby (121 and 122), and the other smaller rooms were allocated first to the Chairman's staff, and Chairmen of Committees, and later to the Leaders of both parties.
All the rooms were lined with raised-and-fielded oak panelling, enriched with carving by George Alexander, with mantelpieces decorated, as elsewhere in County Hall, in a strictly hierarchical manner. In the Chairman's Room (Plate 24d), entered through a pedimented and pilastered oak doorway, was an oak fireplace with a mantel supported by substantial consoles ornamented with lions' heads, with marble slips and a fine steel grate. At the wall angles on the mantelpiece were two carved owls; above was a panel, and the room was decorated with an acorn and leaf frieze. The Vice-Chairman's Room was treated in a similar way, but there the owls were replaced by eagles. Other fireplaces were lighter in feeling, those in the Whips' Rooms had bolection mouldings round the fireplace, with floral festoons sculptured in limewood above. (fn. 51)
The domed central lobby leading to the Members' Terrace was treated as an extension of the 'ambulatory' and lined with marble – white Pentelic inlaid with pale Siena for the walls, Ashburton for the pilasters and columns, and black Belgian for the pedimented doorcases which dressed the two entrances into the Whips' rooms. (fn. 52)
The Members' Terrace itself lies within the segmental space enclosed by the Crescent and bounded towards the river by the balustrade overlooking the embankment (Plate 12a). It was here that the Opening Ceremony took place in 1922 (Plate 10a), and throughout County Hall's existence as a public building it was used for both formal and informal entertaining, being recalled by many Members with as much affection as the equally famous terrace on the opposite bank (Plate 47c). To Reginald Blunt, visiting County Hall with the London Society in 1922, it was, together with the Members' Courtyard, the most impressive element of the building:
Approached by three broad curved flights of descending steps from the Council Chamber Lobby, the Luncheon and the Reading Rooms, and commanding northward over the river the fine sweep of the Victoria Embankment, with the perspective of Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament to the south, one can imagine the attraction of this spacious pavement on a summer afternoon; and could predict ... that heated Councillors will prefer the discussion of the future of their Metropolis over tea and cakes by Father Thames to even the self-regulated ventilation of their Council Chamber behind. (fn. 53)
Refreshment Rooms (131, 132, 133)
Along the river front, north of the Crescent, rooms 131– 3 were designed as refreshment rooms, with serveries to the north and south in rooms 134 and 125. The refreshment rooms were panelled in oak, with enriched plaster ceilings and oak or marble chimneypieces, decorated with varying degrees of elaboration. The chimneypiece in the Members' and Visitors' Refreshment Room (133) was remarkable for its great scroll-and-ram's head pilasters carved in oak by George Alexander (Plate 27b). This room was divided from the Members' Room to the south (132) by a moveable partition. There was an intention in 1915, apparently never carried out, that room 132 at least should have had a 'decorative frieze in colour'. (fn. 54) In 1933, room 134, one of the serveries, was extended and converted to a retiring-room, and in the 1960s room 133 was divided to make an office for the Chairman and a secretary's room.
The large Members' Refreshment Room (131) was housed within the northern Crescent pavilion. It has a bay window on the west overlooking the Thames, and in the south-west corner a lobby and door with outside steps leading on to the Members' Terrace. Knott designed a pair of very handsome marble chimneypieces for this room and the corresponding room (115) in the south Crescent pavilion (Plate 27a), but neither have survived post-war redecoration. Above the chimneypiece was a panel carved with a rose and leaf design, while round the top of the panelling is a frieze of carved bosses, all the work of Alexander. As part of the post-war refurbishment this room and the adjoining refreshment room (132) had their ceilings lowered, but the original panelling was allowed to remain.
Reading Room (115) and Library (114)
The Reading Room (Plate 25c) occupied the corresponding position on the other side of the Crescent to room 131, looking out on to the river and the terrace. It was originally decorated in a similar manner with an identical chimneypiece (Plate 27a) and identical carving above and on the walls and pilasters. This room, too, was altered in the 1960s, but more radically, to make the Chairman's Reception Room (Plate 43c). A door in the south wall gave access to the Members' Library.
This was one of the most gracious and successful of the public rooms created by Knott at County Hall (Plate 23a). It is furnished with oak bookcases, in the manner of an eighteenth-century gentleman's library, as the original drawings depicted (fig. 33). There are two chimneypieces, that at the south end being decorated with a carving by Wilkinson showing 'Truth reading aloud, the second figure recording, with the plumed helmet of Minerva, Goddess of the Arts' (Plate 29c). With its comfortable tables set between the handsome bookcases, and the river before the windows, the library was a room where not only Members and officers but London historians could appreciate the civilized objectives of visionaries like Swinton. Beyond the south fireplace is a small galleried librarian's office complete with oak spiral staircase.
The Members' Library at County Hall housed a publicly available collection of works about London topography and local government, which was one of the most complete holdings on that subject. From 1891 the LCC began to collect works on local government matters for the use of Members, and by 1907 it was responsible for two additional libraries, the Education Collection, and the Horniman. The Harben Collection followed in 1910, and the collection of London material built up by John Burns, M.P. and LCC member for Battersea, was presented by the newspaper proprietor, Lord South wood, in 1943. One of the requirements of Lord Southwood's gift was that the 'premises and surroundings in which it is housed should be conducive to the comfort of members of the public who want to consult and examine it'. (fn. 55)
By 1901 the collection had grown so much that the Historical Records and Buildings Committee decided to hold a student competition for a bookplate for the Council's Library. The results were adjudicated by G.J. Frampton, but none were judged good enough, and on Frampton's advice the commission was offered to Robert Anning Bell (1863–1933). He favoured 'a rather severe treatment – perhaps an architectural frame with the Council's coat of arms and any figures which might be introduced rather subordinated to the set of the design'. A different design (fig. 34) was finally chosen by the Council, described by Bell 'as adapted to the ideas of the Committee ... The seated figure is of course the London County Council – the sturdy tree beneath which she sits may be taken to typify London itself, the scars of old wounds and the fact that it bears fruit and flowers at the same time are obvious metaphors'. (fn. 56) In 1944, W. Surrey Dane (1892– 1978), the printer and publisher, was commissioned to design a bookplate for the Burns collection incorporating the Council's arms, together with a plan of Battersea Park.
Rooms 118 and 179
To the east along the corridor in Block 4, the oak-panelled Waiting Room (118) was given one of the finest old marble chimneypieces in County Hall (Plate 27d). Originally intended for the Large Conference Room (171), it came from a rear room at No. 59 Lincoln's Inn Fields. The carved central panel, representing Aesop's fable of 'The Bear and the Beehive', is by William Collins, the eighteenth-century statuary who specialized in modelling reliefs for chimneypieces, and follows a design by Francis Barlow first published in 1665–6. (fn. 57) This room, too, has been divided.
Room 179 was originally allocated as part of the Members' cloakrooms, and dressing-rooms, needed in a more spacious age. It was later converted to offices.
The Main Committee Room (128, 129, 130) and Conference Rooms (170 and 171)
North of the Council Chamber was the Main Committee Room, originally intended for Education Committee meetings and equipped with galleries for press and public (Plate 24a-c, figs 35–36). It can be divided into three separate rooms by means of two large screens housed in boxes beneath the floor. These partitions are extremely well designed, and fit so subtly into the panelled interior, that when fully open or closed, a spectator finds difficulty in perceiving that the room is possible of such transformation. Though the original drawings date from 1912, only the structural work and the minimum of panelling was completed before the Council had to stop work (Plate 24a), and the enrichments, the fireplaces, and the fitting out of the public gallery were added in 1921. The original scheme had called for decorative painting in the lunettes at either end of the main room. (fn. 58) Each compartment is treated separately, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling in the centre, and at the ends lower ceilings having a wide cove and a deeply moulded central wreath of flowers and fruit. The panelling itself is relatively simple, with a richness of detail given by the carving on the cornice and over the fireplaces by George Alexander. The ceiling and galleries are supported by oak columns with Ionic capitals set on the diagonal. There is a complete carved acanthus cornice, carved swags are placed at the springing of the ceiling vault at the ends of the room, and the gallery ends are marked with carved pine-cone finials. At either end of the room is a large marble fireplace with a carved oak tympanum – in one symbols of the industrial arts in a floral setting, and in the other an open book garlanded by large naturalistic leaves. A suite of removable oak seating and desks was commissioned for this room from the Bath Cabinet Makers' Company, at a cost of £1,700, together with horseshoe-shaped Committee tables and sets of chairs for the two end rooms. (fn. 59)
In the Large and Small Conference Rooms to the east, (rooms 171 and 170 respectively) oak panelling gives way to painted softwood. Both these rooms were designed in 1915, but whereas in 171 the panelling is of the traditional full-height raised-and-fielded variety, that in 170 is composed of narrow panels of a more modern cast. Knott's striking black-and-purple marble chimneypiece in 171 was a late substitution. He had originally intended to place here the well-known 'Bear and Beehive' chimneypiece now in room 118. (fn. 60)
Committee Rooms 169, 172–3, 175–7 and Waiting Room (174)
Knott designed a fine sequence of committee rooms for the central block and pavilions on the Belvedere Road front – 'such vistas of Committee Rooms, great and small' as Reginald Blunt observed. The six which lie either side of the narrow central waiting room (room 174) are handed. They are fitted with elaborate oak and marble fireplaces, raised-and-fielded oak panelling, often with a low dado, and moulded plaster ceilings. The two pavilion rooms (169 and 177), which have central curved window bays, are the most important (Plate 22b). Their coffered ceilings are decorated with interconnecting circle and key bands, the panelling has recessed panels with bead-andreel cornices punctuated by rosette capitals similar to those in rooms 131 and 133, and very handsome red, yellow and white marble fireplaces designed in Knott's office. Rooms 172 and 176 are slightly smaller and more plainly finished, with segmental pediments over the fireplace in which are set clocks salvaged from Old County Hall. The ceilings have scrolled heart bands filled with floral ornament. The inner band has a layered acanthus-leaf border on the outer edge only, giving it a slightly disquieting unfinished appearance. Rooms 173 and 175, on either side of the waiting room, also have elaborate ceilings ornamented with plaster bands, and pedimented oak and marble fireplaces. The waiting room (174) has a deeply undercut circular ceiling and another of the clocks from Old County Hall, set into the oak panelling, but no fireplace.
Some at least of the oak panelling in the committee rooms and offices was originally treated with potash, 'giving it a deliciously soft and cool effect', but this seems to have worn off in the intervening years, or the treatment has been reversed. (fn. 61)
Rooms 167–168 and 180–184
On either side of the central range of committee rooms along the Belvedere Road front are other oak-panelled rooms which were first occupied by chairmen of committees. To the north, rooms 167 and 168, intended originally as committee rooms, were allocated to the Chairmen of the Education Committee and the Education Sub-Committee. Similar, though not absolutely identical in appearance, both rooms have full-height raised-and-fielded panelling, plain plaster ceilings, and wooden chimneypieces with marble slips framed by carved elongated consoles. The panel over each fireplace – square in 167, oval in 168 – has carved enrichments (Plate 23b).
The four narrow rooms to the south of the central range form a handed sequence – room 180 being paired with 184 and room 181 with 182. All four have two-thirdsheight panelling and moulded plaster cornices. Rooms 182 and 183 also have decorative plaster friezes and integral oak chimneypieces with green-veined marble fillets.
Lady Members' Room (188) and Lady Members' Visitors' Room (189)
A suite of rooms in the eastern half of Block 8 was set aside for women Members of the Council and given its own separate entrance from the Members' Carriage Drive. In its early years, the LCC did not have women Members as such. Those who had been elected to the first Council were debarred by the courts, through legal action taken by two Moderate Members, B. T. Beresford-Hope and Sir Walter de Souza, and no women sat on the LCC until after the passing of the Qualification of Women (County and Borough Councils) Act in 1907. (fn. 62)
Possibly as some sort of amende, the suite provided was particularly elegant. The separate Lady Members' Entrance comprised a small panelled hall with an inlaid marble floor, whence a short oak staircase led up to cloakrooms and to the Lady Members' Room (188) and Lady Members' Visitors' Room (189). The staircase has turned balusters and a flamboyant newel, carved by George Alexander, in the form of a vase supported by two satyr's heads, with flowers and fruits (Plate 26b). (fn. 63) (fn. g)
Knott's original design for rooms 188 and 189, dated 1915, had made use of old onyx columns from Avery Hill Training College in south-east London to frame the chimneypieces; but in 1920, before the work was put in hand, new wooden columns were substituted (Plate 27e). (fn. 64) Both rooms were finished in oak with panels of silk tapestry and silk. In the Lady Members' Visitors' Room there is a white marble chimneypiece with a coloured marble slip and an overmantel decorated with a plaster wreath, and a clock originally intended to be surmounted by a statuette. The Lady Members' Room, which has a bowed east end, was finished in similar style. (fn. 65) By the 1980s both rooms had lost their wooden columns, and the silk tapestry had been replaced by flock wallpaper. They had long ceased to be used exclusively by women Members, and room 189 had been divided in two.
Rooms 135–139 and 159–163
This range of rooms along the south side of the crosscorridor in Block 12 was originally designed for the use of committees and committee chairmen, but was first occupied as offices. Handsomely finished, they have fullheight raised-and-fielded panelling of softwood, painted 'ivory or light stone colour', and enriched plaster ceilings (Plate 25b). Knott had originally intended to use old chimneypieces in these rooms – the reason softwood panelling was used instead of oak – and he varied the design of the overmantel to complement the individual pieces (fig. 25). (fn. h) In the event these were not used, the rooms being furnished instead with wooden chimneypieces of Knott's own invention. (fn. 67) (The eighteenth-century chimneypieces now in rooms 160 and 161, were installed only in 1932 on their removal from Old County Hall in Spring Gardens: they came originally from houses on Millbank.) (fn. 68) In 1933 rooms 139 and 163 were reduced in size when the bridge passage connecting room 129 with the Conference Hall was driven through them.
Chief Officers' Rooms
The more important Chief Officers and their deputies were located on the Principal Floor, and offices also had to be provided for their immediate support staff. To some extent the decoration of the rooms allocated to the Council's officers reflects the hierarchical structure of the organization, although this is not always rigorously pursued. At the top of the tree, so to speak, are the four fully oakpanelled offices, three of them fitted with 'historic' chimneypieces, which were originally occupied by the Architect (104), the Clerk (109), the Chief Education Officer (165) and the Comptroller (194). The marble fireplaces in the Architect's, the Clerk's and the Comptroller's rooms came from Furzedown House, Streatham, bought by the Council in 1908 for redevelopment as a school and training college. (fn. 69) In dignity and finish these rooms are comparable to the Members' accommodation, and the Architect's room, in the south-west corner pavilion overlooking the Thames, was perhaps the best. The chimneypiece here has a central panel of putti leading a goat to the sacrificial altar; down the sides are representations of musical instruments. In the days of the GLC this room was occupied by the Director General and the names of the holders of this post are inscribed above the chimneypiece. The corresponding room in the south-east corner pavilion overlooking Belvedere Road (194) was taken by the Comptroller. The chimneypiece in the former Clerk's room (109) has a sculpted frieze with a cupid and figures representing the arts.
In a class by itself is room 165, which Knott designed for the Chief Education Officer. This is finished in accordance with Knott's drawing of 13 September 1915, (fn. 70) but being the northernmost room of the 1922 building on the Belvedere Road front it may not have been fully fitted out until Section D was built in 1930–33. Like the other Chief Officer's rooms it has full-height oak panelling but of a much more 'moderne' cast, consisting of narrow vertical planks having only the simplest of mouldings at top and bottom (Plate 25a).
The next step down from the fully oak-panelled office was one with painted raised-and-fielded deal panelling and a large apsidal ended panel above the chimneypiece (fig. 37). The best office of this type is the former Deputy Clerk's room (105), which is no smaller than the Clerk's own room further north along the river front, and retains its original light fittings. Other examples are room 196, where the apsidal-ended panel has had to be shortened to fit above a corner chimneypiece, and the much smaller room 192.
Another typical treatment found in both large and small rooms on this floor is a panelled dado and a very characteristic chimneypiece which incorporates a narrow apsidalended panel. Examples of this type are rooms 108, 185, 187, 190, 193 and 197. Not all these rooms were originally occupied by officers, several on the Belvedere Road front being allocated to Chairmen of Committees; however, rather surprisingly, the large room 193 was originally occupied by the Deputy Comptroller. Variations on this theme are rooms with a dado but no chimneypiece (e.g. 103a, 107, 184, 195), rooms with chimneypieces but no dado (112), and rooms with neither (e.g. 106a, 113, 198, 199).
The oak panelled interiors were seen as too sombre by some: as soon as the Clerk, Sir James Bird, was installed in his room (109), he called in Frederick Hiorns, Riley's former assistant and now architect with responsibility for County Hall under Topham Forrest, to complain. Not only did he want the 'balcony' outside his window removed, but he also objected to the 'somewhat sombre effect of the panelling of his room', and wondered if some sort of additional staining or colouring could be carried out to 'make the effect somewhat more cheerful'. (fn. 71)
Furnishing these vast headquarters presented problems. To design and manufacture furniture specially was ruled out as too expensive, and it was felt initially the to install the Spring Gardens furniture would lead to a scrappy appearance undesirable at least on the Principal Floor. In the spring of 1921 the Establishment Committee discussed the possibility of buying secondhand furniture at auction, which Knott, to Riley's surprise, thought an excellent idea, as did Swinton. The sum of £1,000 was approved for a trial purchase so as to be able to compare the results of buying at auction with buying new. (fn. 72)
But this was obviously not the answer, or at least not the cheap answer that the Moderate Reformers were looking for. In the autumn it was decided that any suitable furniture from Spring Gardens or elsewhere in the new County Hall be renovated and moved to the Principal Floor, and replaced by standard office furniture. (fn. 73) As the Builder reported at the time the building opened:
The furniture already placed in some of the minor committee rooms leaves much to be desired, but for this the architect was not responsible. It seems that, after having designed the panelling and the fireplaces in accord with what (despite these criticisms) is a masterly and thoroughly artistic scheme, he was superseded by the Supplies Department, which stepped into the breach and produced the one thing missing, in the traditional British way. (fn. 74)
Some furniture designed by Knott, mostly for the Principal Floor, was made during the war at the behest of Debenham, who was trying to keep the failing cabinetmaking industry alive. In 1914 Knott had four vacancies in his office, due to men signing up, but filled these and began designing the furniture straight away. (fn. 75) As well as seating and desks for the Council Chamber, with their elaborate folding and unfolding, and incorporation of warm air ducts and outlets, he also designed the removable seating made by the Bath Cabinet Makers' Company for the Main Committee Room (Plate 24c).
The central administrative staffs of the majority of the departments, some 2,300 officials, were housed in the new building. Three departments – Valuation Estates and Housing, Fire Brigade, and Tramways – and parts of those of the Chief Engineer and the Stores, with a staff of about 800, had to await accommodation in Section D. Until the completion of that section rooms were provided in the completed building for only the heads of those departments.
The ground and upper floors were largely given over to offices with lightweight partitions between the rooms to facilitate amalgamation and sub-division. Offices next to the chimney stacks had their own fireplaces (Plate 37c, fig. 38). The partition separating the offices from the corridors has a continuous 'frieze' of borrowed lights with a characteristic pattern of glazing bars, alternating vertical bars with a saltire cross in the light over the doors (Plate 36b, c). An iron mechanism for opening the door-light was provided and has in many cases survived. Equally typical of the simple but effective style found in the corridors are the unadorned wooden door architraves, relieved only by two flat discs where the upright members meets the horizontal member (Plate 36b) – a device also found on the Belvedere Road front. The walls of the corridors were originally distempered 'a pleasant French grey' and the woodwork painted cream. (fn. 76)
The floors generally, except in the basements, are laid with English and Japanese oak blocks, stained and polished on the Principal Floor, originally polished with beeswax in humbler parts of the building. (fn. 77)
Several of the rooms were fitted up for special purposes, emphasizing the building's varied functions. On the ground floor of Block 12 were the Education Library and sample room (Plate 35b), the Medical Supplies room (Plate 35c), and on the third floor the medical examination rooms. Laboratories were placed on the top floor of Block 12, where it was hoped that the products of chemical experiment would be least obnoxious to other users of the building (Plate 37a). The staff restaurant (Plate 36e) was also on the sixth floor, on the riverside Crescent, and kitchens serving both that restaurant and the Members' Refreshment Rooms on the Principal Floor were located on the seventh floor. The organization and fitting up of these spaces was largely supervised by Sir Isidore Salmon of J. Lyons and Company, Member for West Islington (1907–10) and Hammersmith (1910–25).
The Record Room below the Members' Courtyard (B21) was the only room in the basement to receive special treatment, having plaster panelling to its walls. Most of the other rooms here and in the sub-basement were used for storage. An exception was the miniature rifle range in the sub-basement of the Crescent. Requested by the LCC Staff Association, it was fitted up at the Council's expense in 1924, (fn. 78) and remained in use until 1989.
In 1955, in response to a request from the Staff Christian Union, the Council allocated part of the octagonal-shaped corridor surrounding the heating and ventilation compartment beneath the Council Chamber for use as a Staff Chapel. (fn. 79) This oddly shaped space was hardly ideal for the purpose (see folded drawing A, ground-floor plan), but accommodation in a central position in County Hall was scarce. Dedicated in October 1955, the chapel is furnished with a number of 'historic features'. Linen-fold panelling from a house in Wandsworth, 'demolished for open space purposes', lines the walls behind and to the sides of the dais, and fronting the dais is a richly carved rail of seventeenth-century Flemish oak formerly in the basement of County Hall whence it had been transferred from the Geffrye Museum (Plate 37b). Both the panelling and the rails were restored by craftsmen in the LCC Architect's Department. (fn. 80) In the passage leading to the chapel from the main entrance hall are two large majolica panels, in the style of della Robbia, of groups of choristers framed by borders of fruit and flowers.
Heating and Ventilating
While the Architects had responsibility for all work relating to the heating and ventilation of the building, G. W. Humphreys, the Council's Engineer in succession to Maurice Fitzmaurice, acted as consultant.
The heating and ventilating installation is best described in terms of the three sub-contracts under which it was constructed. The first was for the manufacture of six multi-tubular boilers designed by Humphreys. Each was seventeen feet long by eight feet in diameter, four being fitted to operate as hot water boilers and two as steam boilers. These occupied an area in the sub-basement directly below the Main Committee Room. The contract was awarded to Davey, Paxman and Company.
The second sub-contract, carried out by the Buffalo Forge Company, dealt with the installation of the combined system of heating and ventilation of the Council Chamber and the Main Committee Room. A supply of air was drawn in from either of two alternative positions at the fifth-floor level and passed through a spray chamber where it was completely saturated at a pre-determined temperature, controlled by automatic means, and filtered through a series of eliminator plates. Thermostats in the Council Chamber and Committee room determined whether the air leaving the washer required further heating and automatically opened or closed the steam valves and air dampers. Temperature and humidity were thus controlled. An individual supply of air was provided to each Council Chamber seat, and the direction of the air current could be regulated by a lever placed in front of each seat (fig. 39). Stale air was mainly extracted through ceiling grilles and a lesser amount through gratings at floor level, which were connected to separate fans. All this produced beneath the Council Chamber a room full of ducting which soon became known as the Octopus Room (Plate 37d). A modern architect might have given more prominence to this technical element rather than to the classical orders which enfold the building, but Knott has nested it unobtrusively below the chamber it serves. It is no less remarkable for being hidden away. (fn. 81)
The third sub-contract provided for heating arrangements throughout the building, the hot water supply to basins and sinks, the supply of warm air to the subbasement, and the steam services for cooking and air warming. The hot water system of heating was adopted, using forced circulation, the water being pumped through the four boilers to seven control chambers situated in various positions, and thence to the radiators. Riley claimed proudly that, 'control is so complete that, although the boilers and pumping plant are centralised, the radiators in the most remote parts of the building are effectively heated'. The hot water for lavatories was supplied by storage calorifiers heated by the steam boilers, and circulated through the building by centrifugal pumps. (fn. 82)
Three separate sets of fans and air-heaters with a series of distributing trunks were provided for warming and ventilating the sub-basement. Most of the rooms were ventilated mechanically by exhaust fans. Fresh air entered the rooms through inlets behind radiators (or through open windows) and was removed through gratings connected to the fans by means of air ducts over the corridors. There was some discussion about the effectiveness of this method at design stage, but in the event it seems to have worked adequately. There were, it was estimated, over 2,000 radiators and skylight coils, over 6,000 valves of various kinds and some 30 miles of piping. This contract was carried out by J. Jeffreys & Company Limited, in association with R. Crittall & Company Limited, G. N. Haden & Sons Limited and Norris & Dutton Limited. (fn. 83)