The north front

Pages 92-102

Survey of London Monograph 17, County Hall. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1991.

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In this section

CHAPTER VIII. The Northern Front

The northern quarter of County Hall (Section D) was not completed until eleven years after the opening of the building. Although the Municipal Reformers had postponed the construction of Section D in 1908, work on the design had not been stopped and in May 1914 the Council authorized the Establishment Committee to make preliminary arrangements for putting the building in hand. Drawings and bills of quantities were prepared in readiness for the inviting of tenders before the war brought a halt to all such work. (fn. 1)

After the war the high cost of building inhibited any further progress towards the construction of Section D and the subject was not raised again until 1920, when changes to the plan were discussed. Over a year later the Establishment Committee was still putting off a decision on whether to proceed. (fn. 2) One argument urged for going ahead as soon as possible was the perennial need for space. A less obvious reason was that the northern edge of the foundation raft was not properly sealed. Maintaining a dry building required continuous pumping, and there were fears for the structure if the projected extension was not completed soon. Independently of any decision about the superstructure of Section D, therefore, the Committee decided late in 1922 that this raft and the retaining wall should be finished. The work was carried out between 1923 and 1925 by Holloway Brothers at a tendered price of £58,126. (fn. 3)

In this period of post-war recession the Municipal Reformers had maintained their stance as the party of thrift, but by 1928 the economic situation had improved and completing County Hall no longer seemed an extravagance. A more urgent and compelling reason for proceeding, however, was the greatly increased volume of work likely to fall on the Council as the result of Government legislation, then in preparation, to reorganize the Poor Law administration in London. Under proposals which passed into law in 1929, the twenty-five Boards of Guardians, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, the four Boards of School District Managers, and the Central Unemployed Body, were all to be abolished and their work transferred to the LCC. With this in mind the Establishment Committee strongly recommended that the completion of Section D 'should be effected at the earliest possible date', and in July 1928 the Council decided to go ahead. (fn. 4) Bills of quantities were being prepared by September 1929, and in the following May contracts for the superstructure were signed. (fn. 5) British building materials and British oak for the Principal Floor panelling were stipulated, and the Council also wanted the stone to be worked and the joinery prepared 'within the London district (i.e., a radius of 15 miles from Charing-cross)'. (fn. 6) In spite of severe limitations on all public spending imposed by the National Government in the early 1930s, the LCC was allowed to complete the building.

Development of the Plan and Changes to the Design

In the years between 1920 and 1929 the design was considerably modified, partly because the Council was constantly trying to fit more accommodation on the site, and partly to take into account the experience of using and working in the building.

Knott's original design had projected Section D as a range of offices, although on the Principal Floor most of the rooms along the northern front were left unallocated (folded drawing Aiii, overlay, between pp. 62–3). The absorption of additional bodies and the growth of the Council's responsibilities meant that there would have to be more committee rooms, while the absence of any large room suitable for meetings or conferences gave rise to a campaign, initiated in 1920 by the Progressive Member, Percy Harris, for the reinstatement of the 'Public Hall', which the Municipal Reformers had shorn from the original competition design in 1908. It was now proposed that this should be built in the central courtyard of Section D and made directly accessible from the northern roadway. The Establishment Committee, dominated by the Municipal Reformers, confirmed the feasibility of this suggestion, but declined to give the matter further consideration until a decision had been made to proceed with Section D itself. (fn. 7) It was, however, revived in 1922 when Riley showed the Committee a sketch plan with a public hall in the central courtyard, (fn. 8) but was seemingly laid to rest in 1924 when the Committee formally instructed the newly constituted sub-committee for Section D to exclude the public hall from its deliberations. (fn. 9)

A different tactic was then employed by Knott and Riley to get the public hall back into the scheme. Thanks to the efforts of Captain Swinton, the LCC's collection of Chairmen's portraits was increasing, and indeed proving an embarrassment to the Architects, who could not find a suitable space in which to hang it. At the same time the Architects wanted to alleviate what was generally regarded as the tiresome and wasteful corridor system round the perimeter of the building by introducing some kind of central corridor running north from Block 12. In the summer of 1924, therefore, Knott and Riley came up with a scheme in which the public hall was superseded by a picture gallery at ground-floor level, with room for up to two hundred portraits, arranged in an unusual manner around a large open circulation space. (fn. 10) This was the decisive factor, and although the sub-committee was still clinging to the idea of omitting the gallery altogether in 1927, it was reinstated in 1928, now even more strongly justified as an aid to circulation because of the Establishment Committee's decision to pack additional offices into Section D by putting them on both sides of the corridor. (fn. 11) This 'double banking', as it was called, gave an increase of about twenty-five per cent over the singlesided layout used generally in Sections A, B and C. (fn. 12) (fn. a) In July 1928 the Council formally agreed that the construction of the picture gallery should proceed concurrently with the rest of Section D, though the final designs had still to be worked out. (fn. 13)

The revisions to Section D were not confined to the plans; some important and telling changes were also made to the design of the northern façade. This had always been regarded as the least important of the four elevations, fronting only on to a narrow road and in any case obscured by other buildings to the north. In 1907 the competitors had not even been required to submit an elevation for this front, and in Knott's design the only important features here were the two corner pavilions, matching those on the south front. By the 1920s, however, there were plans to clear the area to the north of County Hall as part of the proposed scheme for a new Charing Cross road bridge. If carried out this would expose the northern elevation of County Hall to full view from the proposed new bridge, and Knott was concerned about the effect of the great expanse of featureless walling between the two pavilions. He therefore re-designed this front, moving the pavilions away from the corners nearer to the centre, and extending the rustication from the pavilions round to the east and west fronts. The Council approved the amended elevation in October 1928. (fn. 14)

During the late summer and autumn of 1928 the socalled 'picture gallery', initially rectangular, evolved into a large elliptical Conference Hall ringed with spaces for hanging pictures (fig. 40). It was raised to Principal Floor level in order to make the space below available for a Licensing Hall for the Road Fund and Motor Car Driving Licences Section of the Public Control Department. The urgent need for additional space for Licensing had been discussed by the Section D sub-committee in 1927, when it was decided to transfer the department to the northern end of the building, (fn. b) but the earliest reference to the Licensing Hall being beneath the Conference Hall is in September 1928. The cost of this change was not an issue because the building work would be paid for by the Ministry of Transport.

The evolution of the Conference Hall shows the close working relationship and more relaxed collaboration which had developed between Knott and Riley since the war. Towards the end of November 1928 Knott sent a revised plan for the hall to Riley, who retained responsibility for 'matters relating to internal economy'. This plan, which has been lost, was described as circular, consisting of a Conference Hall with radiating bays around its edge for the Picture Gallery. The round form was an innovation, Knott's previous rectangular plan being now dismissed by him as 'boring'. (fn. 15) Riley welcomed the change but saw that where the circular plan met the rectangular blocks, there was an awkward junction, and he suggested a 'slightly elliptical' plan, reducing the north-south axis and giving more generous access to the hall. He sketched his suggestions and sent them to Knott, who adopted them without hesitation. (fn. 16)

Knott evidently intended to have a skylight in the centre of the hall roof, and to light the gallery bays, which were to match the hall in height, by means of fully glazed roofs. Riley suggested changes here as well: why not, he asked, lower the gallery roofs and use clerestory lighting instead to light the hall, thus giving the galleries better proportion and more effective lighting. (fn. 17) Again Knott saw the sense of these proposals and agreed immediately. (fn. 18) It was this alteration which facilitated the later development by which the Education Library was placed above the Conference Hall (fig. 42).

Change of Architects

In the early days of 1929 Knott was busy working on the revisions. But on 25 January 1929, three days after writing his last letter to Riley, he unexpectedly died after a short illness. (fn. 19) He was only 50 years old. In 1931 the Council ordered a bronze plaque to be set up in his memory in the Members' Courtyard, on the east side of the Members' Entrance. Designed by Gilbert Bayes and made by Morris Singer, it has a profile of Knott in low relief and was unveiled in June 1932 (Plate 17c). (fn. 20)

Fig. 40. Northern quarter of County Hall (Section D). Section through the building looking east, showing, from left to right, Block 15 (the northern front), with Entrance Hall and offices above, the 'Drum', containing the Education Library, Conference Hall and the Vehicle Licensing Section, and Block 12 (the northern end of the 1922 building). The Bridge Passage at Principal-Floor level was built at the same time to connect with the former Main Committee Room (Room 129)

E. Stone Collins's partnership with Knott (see page 38) provided continuity while the Council considered what to do. As Knott's contract with the LCC had been a purely personal one, Collins had no automatic right of succession. In the event, however, the Council chose to employ him, but decided that the time had come when Riley's services could be dispensed with, partly because his continued presence was seen as an arrangement which involved 'considerable administrative difficulty and is at times the cause of some embarrassment'. As Architect to the Council he had been succeeded ten years earlier by George Topham Forrest, with whom his relations were strained. It is reasonable to assume that Topham Forrest felt uncomfortable with the older man prowling the corridors and peering over his shoulder. The Council provided a substantial douceur for Riley, who retired on 11 June 1929, the day that Collins's appointment as Knott's successor officially began. (fn. 21)

The Re-siting of the Education Library

The final major change to the planning of Section D was made in the summer of 1929, following Knott's death. It came quite unexpectedly, and was quickly agreed upon and incorporated into the design and bills of quantities. This was the Education Library, one of the more unusual pieces of design in the whole complex of County Hall.

In 1889 the School Board for London had formed a small circulating library for the use of teachers in infants' schools. Known as the Pedagogical Lending Library, it was originally accommodated in a committee room of the London School Board Offices on the Embankment. As the library grew it developed into a lending library for teachers, as well as a 'circulating library scheme supplying books to secondary schools and literary institutes for the use of pupils taking advanced courses, etc'. (fn. 22)

In 1922 the library moved to County Hall, where it had been allocated space on the ground floor of Block 12 (Plate 35b). Under the management of G. H. Gater, the Council's Education Officer from 1924 to 1933, the borrowing system was re-organized and the circulation rocketed. By 1926 the premises in Block 12 were no longer adequate and books were spilling into the corridors outside. In 1929 Gater appealed to the Establishment Committee for a purpose-built library in Section D, to hold between 70 and 80,000 volumes. (fn. 23)

Gater's appeal came long after the other departments had claimed their share and there seemed to be nothing left to give away. Yet it appears that he went to the Committee with a plan already formed to place his library on top of the Conference Hall. The records which trace the development of this scheme are so slight as to make any definite conclusions about its origins impossible. The idea could have originated with Collins, or even with Knott. It is strongly reminiscent of the latter's abortive scheme of January 1909 in which he proposed placing the Members' Library above an oval Council Chamber (see page 44).

The Establishment Committee, meeting in July 1929, thought the idea excellent, and a sum of £25,000 was allocated. Collins confirmed that it was technically feasible, and the job was immediately put in hand by the architect and the structural engineers, Whitaker, Hall & Owen. (fn. 24)


In 1928 Knott had proposed a steel-frame structure clad in stone as being a quicker and lighter building method than the load-bearing brickwork used for the first three sections, and although Riley thought this might lead to cracks appearing where the two constructions met, it was the method adopted. When the construction of the earlier sections was being discussed Riley had objected to steel framing, and indeed to innovative construction techniques generally, partly on the pretext that the Model Bye-laws were under review, but by 1928 he could hardly stand in the way of what had by then become standard methods. (fn. 25)

Construction work began in the early part of May 1930, delayed somewhat by the late inclusion into the plans of the Education Library, and went ahead regularly, if a little slowly. The main contractors were Gee, Walker & Slater, while the steel frame, designed by Whitaker, Hall & Owen, was built by A. D. Dawnay. (fn. 26) (fn. c) The total cost of the building was approximately £1 million.

The riverside block was ready for occupation in the middle of February 1932, the northern block late in the same year, and the whole section was opened on 27 January 1933. The general economic gloom meant that a lavish formal opening was out of the question and the occasion was marked by an afternoon party given by the Chairman of the Council with an 'appropriate ceremony' in the new Conference Hall. (fn. 27) Later, in March, the Chairman entertained the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, to luncheon in the Conference Hall, and the Chairman of the Establishment Committee presided over a celebratory dinner. (fn. 28) A bronze plaque commemorating the completion of Section D was set up in the new bridge passage.

The new section contained some 300 rooms, bringing the total number in the whole building to about 1,200 (including store rooms). There was now accommodation in County Hall for approximately 3,500 staff, enabling the Council to dispose of a number of scattered offices. However, the transfer of the work of the Poor Law authorities meant that it had to retain the old Spring Gardens building, which was occupied by the Valuation, Estates and Housing Departments. (fn. 29) The Fire Brigade and Tramways departments were also housed elsewhere. Thus, even before Section D was complete, there were plans to develop the land across Belvedere Road, and centralize the LCC offices once and for all.

Architectural Description

The North Façade

Fig. 41. Central section of the north façade of County Hall. The shields in the frieze show, from left to right, the arms of Hampstead, Hackney, Lambeth, Fulham and Finsbury

The main changes to the design of the north elevation and the reasons for them have already been briefly described on page 93. This front (Plate 18a, fig. 41) is nearly half as long again as the Westminster Bridge Road front, but its pavilions are almost exactly the same distance apart as their southern counterparts. All of the extra width is taken up in the rusticated walls which run to the corners of the building east and west of the northern pavilions. Because the northern roadway is at basement level, the basement storey here is treated as part of the façade, making it the tallest of the four façades at County Hall, and the resulting proportions are much more harmonious than those of the Westminster Bridge Road front.

The lowest storey falls within the 'plinth level' of the whole building and is faced with grey granite which is extended up to first-floor level within the pavilions. This is the only front where the granite gains an architectural presence beyond its role as a plinth designed to deal with the awkwardness of a sloping site. The nature of the stone has influenced the detail of the entrances at the base of the pavilions. Two square-headed arches, for vehicle access, are each flanked by two lower tunnel-like entrances for pedestrians in a pleasing composition, combining good proportion with strong modelling (Plate 18b). Less successful is the treatment of the three central entrances leading to the Conference Hall and Public Control rooms, whose presence is marked by voussoirs (fig. 41). Above the plinth the façade rises in Portland stone, detailed in a very similar way to the earlier work. At cornice level a frieze of coats of arms completes the list of London boroughs represented in this way at County Hall (Plate 18c). This frieze and the other architectural sculpture on Section D were carved by C. H. Mabey. (fn. d)

The roof above the north façade has the usual two rows of dormers but departs from the arrangement on the other fronts in having one window above another on both levels. Elsewhere (except in the Members' Courtyard) the upper row has only half the number of dormers. Great stone chimney stacks rise through the roof, matching those of the earlier building, but only for reasons of symmetry, since in Section D only rooms on the Principal Floor have fireplaces.

In the absence of Ernest Cole, the sculptural groups for the four pavilions on Section D were carved by Alfred Hardiman (see page 65). Intended to be representative of the departments that were to occupy the new building, they take the form of four heroic nude or semi-nude figures – two male and two female – three of whom are supporting children (Plate 31c, d). The iconography may be less obscure than Cole's, but the themes of the groups are not self-evident. That on the river front is 'Open Spaces', and the two on the north front are 'Education' (west pavilion) and 'Healing' (east pavilion). It is not known what the seated male on the Belvedere Road front represents. (fn. e) (fn. 31)

'Open Spaces' was the cause of some embarrassment to the Chief Officer of Public Assistance, who occupied the second-floor room immediately behind it. In June 1933 he complained to the Establishment Committee of the effect produced by the presence outside his window of the seven-foot high 'piece of statuary comprising two figures in the nude – an infant supported by an adult male, both facing the river'. Not only did it interfere with his view, it disturbed his visitors:

notwithstanding the artistic merit of the statuary in the aspect for which it was worked, the appearance of this arresting and, from the reverse, meaningless figure in its full height in such proximity and with the consequential exaggeration of outline – particularly, for example, of the glutaeus maximus – provokes comment and is likely to continue to do so, with such frequency as to prove tedious to myself and to destroy in large measure the amenities of my room.

He wanted eight of the panes of clear glass replaced by stained-glass panels designed 'to portray in symbolic manner that part of the Council's care of the poor and needy' which came within the ambit of his department. (fn. 32) A list of suitable subjects was drawn up, and it was proposed to have the work designed and made by students at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, but the scheme was never carried out. (fn. f) Instead, panes of frosted glass were installed, which have since been removed.

The Plan

Fig. 42. Isometric projection, from the south-west, of the 'Drum' in the courtyard of Section D, containing the Vehicle Licensing Department (basement), Conference Hall and Education Library

Externally, there was little change to the pre-war design, with the exception of the additional public vehicular access, and the alteration to the corner pavilions on the north front. Internally, however, the changes were more substantial, although the organizational principle of the building remained the same. The Principal Floor was for the use of Members and departmental chiefs, the floors above for general offices, the ground floor was open to the public (being mainly taken up by the counters of the Public Control Department), while the basement and subbasement were for storage and maintenance. However, a very much larger part of the Principal Floor was devoted to committee rooms than in Knott's earlier scheme (folded drawing Aiii). In addition, the 'drum' containing the Conference Hall, Education Library and Vehicle Licensing Hall made significant changes to the workings of the plan throughout the Principal Floor. A bridge passage, lit by small round skylights, was built from the centre of the Main Committee Room, passing through Block 12 – the northernmost block of the 1922 building – and leading into the new Conference Hall (Plate 42d). Thus circulation was improved, but at the cost of making room 129 – the Main Committee Room – part of a through route. For this reason room 129 ceased to function as a committee room and was reserved for the use of Members and their visitors. (fn. 34) Together with adjoining rooms 128 and 130, it became known as the Ceremonial Suite. The Conference Hall itself became part of the circulation space when not in use for meetings or cinema performances – hence its role also as a portrait gallery.

The other major change to the plan was the addition of offices on the courtyard side of the corridors. There was insufficient room to carry this around the existing Block 12, but along the north, east and west sides of the courtyard, offices are distributed in a way which presages the post-war 'infill' in the Members' Courtyard and H courtyard.

The staircases, too, are treated more freely, opening up a corner space of light and movement (Plate 32c) to contrast with the long and rather boring corridor plan which the original scheme had bound the later phase to follow. Fire doors added in the 1960s to meet new regulations have to a large extent destroyed this sense of flowing space.

Fig. 43. Fireplace designs by E. Stone Collins for Committee Rooms in Section D, showing (above) the earlier designs and choice of marbles, and (below) the revised designs using mainly English materials

a For room 142, where Kilkenny and Purbeck replaced Breche Violette and Brun Fleuri

b For rooms 145 and 152, where Ashburton, Birdseye, Cumberland, Leopard (from South Africa) and Hopton Wood replaced Black and Gold, Tinos Green and Black Belgian

c For room 158, where Purbeck and Hopton Wood replaced Sienna, Blue and Black Belgian, and White Statuary

d For room 164, where Derbyshire Fossil, Hopton Wood and Purbeck replaced Greek Cippolino, Tinos Green, and Blue Belgian

Simple but significant architectural advantages were gained internally from the decision to move the northern pavilions inwards. Instead of two rather small rooms at the corners, each with a grand window but awkward in plan and proportion, as occurs in the Westminster Bridge Road pavilions, there were now four 'pavilion rooms', each properly planned and proportioned. While the arrangement is clearly an improvisation within the general lines of Knott's earlier plans for Section D, the ensemble has been made to work because the corner staircases (D and E) have been re-designed. On the Principal Floor rooms 143 and 153 interrupt the corridors running north and west into the corners, which are diverted into the staircase landings. By thus annexing part of the corridors Knott has increased the width of the two corner rooms, making them wider than any other room in the building, apart from the Main Committee Room. Indeed these two rooms are among the finest in County Hall, and reflect the freedom in planning created by the new arrangement (Plates 33c, 34a, folded drawing Aiii).

The Principal Floor

Most of the detailed design work for the interior decoration of Section D was undertaken by Collins, after Knott's death. On the Principal Floor there is no radical change of style, but Collins's designs have a greater suavity and a slightly more modern feeling. This is particularly apparent in his Art Deco chimneypieces, which are made from English 'marbles' – Hopton Wood, Derbyshire fossil, Purbeck, Sussex, and others – and are subdued in tone with browns, greys and dark greens predominating (fig. 43). The use of native marbles was presumably a consequence of the Council's insistence on British materials; Collins had originally designed the chimneypieces for imported marbles in a brighter range of colours. (fn. 35) (fn. g) The main rooms on this floor have enriched plaster ceilings and full-height oak panelling. A number of rooms have carved decoration by Alfred H. Wilkinson. The oak panelling and false plaster vaulting in the corridors are, of course, copied after Knott's original designs.

On the Belvedere Road front are two committee rooms (155 and 158) and one room for committee chairmen (164).

Each room has an individually designed chimneypiece, that in 164 having a particularly 'moderne' profile. Latterly these rooms were used for offices and most of their original light-fittings have been removed.

The large square corner room behind the Belvedere Road pavilion (153) was designed to function as a luncheon room as well as a committee room (Plate 34a), (fn. 37) and is equipped with a servery in room 154. In the west wall of 153 are three sets of double doors, two of which communicate with room 152. This allows the two rooms to be used en suite during social or ceremonial occasions. Above the doors are carved wooden panels incorporating in one case the arms of the Borough of Lambeth, in another those of the LCC, and, in the centre, a clock (Plate 29b). These panels, together with the frieze and the architraves around the doors, were designed and carved by Wilkinson. (fn. 38) The ceiling is decorated with a large circular plaster wreath enriched with anthemions and floral motifs. All the original wall and ceiling lights have been preserved.

The range of committee rooms along the north front forms a handed sequence comparable to that along the central portion of the Belvedere Road front, although it 'breaks down' in the two pavilion rooms (152 and 145). The east end of 152 is partly screened off by two short projections with detached piers, creating a vestibule between the main part of the room and the doors into 153 (Plate 34b). In 145 the equivalent space serves as a public gallery to the large committee room in the north-west corner. Apart from this, and some minor variants in the detailing of the woodwork, the two rooms are handed and have identical chimneypieces and decorative plasterwork. The original light fittings in 145 have been replaced. Rooms 151 and 146 are the smallest of the committee rooms along this front: both have typical Collins fireplaces and retain their original light fittings. The larger rooms 150 and 147 are self-contained, having no direct access to adjoining rooms, but each has two sets of double doors, opening on to the corridor, dressed internally with broken segmental pediments. They do not have fireplaces. By 1986 room 150 had been partitioned to make two rooms.

In the centre of the north front the corridor widens out to form the Crush Hall, the transition being marked by shallow arches, marble columns and a tessellated marble floor (Plate 33a). On the south side of this space doors open into the Conference Hall and on the north side a ceremonial staircase leads down to the main north entrance, which is protected by a bronze internal porch (Plate 32a). As this entrance is at basement level the staircase has to rise through two substantial storeys. Built of stone, it has a handsome bronze balustrade (Plate 32a, b) which is returned across the edge of the landing. The Crush Hall itself was a rather modest arrangement with similar problems to the Belvedere Road entrance, for it served as a public entrance on special occasions and was also part of the Principal Floor corridor on a daily basis.

Fig. 44. Room 142. Working drawing for panelling and chimneypiece, 1931

The large north-west corner room (143) behind the pavilion on the river front was designed to replace room 129 as the main committee room (Plate 33c). The press and public gallery – for which room 145 was curtailed – occupies a niche on the east side, angled in towards the centre of the room, and reminiscent of a box in a theatre. The gallery has a separate entrance from the corridor and its own independent room number (144). It is furnished with tiers of benches fitted with folding flaps which can be raised for note-taking. In the committee room itself all that remains of Collins's original furniture is the Chairman's bench, the rest having been replaced in the 1960s. The original elegant ceiling lights survive, but the wall lights do not. Double doors in the south wall of the committee room connect with a finely panelled and finished retiring-room (142) whither Members adjourned for private discussions (Plate 34d, fig. 44).

A similar sequence was created along the river front, with a public gallery, committee room and retiring-room occupying rooms 141, 140 and 134 respectively. The retiring-room was formed in part out of a room in the 1922 building which had been used for a servery. Later, when the committee room (Plate 34c) was turned over to office use, the public gallery in room 141 was partitioned off and the seating removed. The former committee room, which retains its original light fittings, has a coffered ceiling. The two double doors opening into the corridor have broken segmental pediments embellished with palmettes. In the south wall two round-headed doorways lead into the former retiring-room. This room has a small square chimneypiece, with a carved overmantel panel and integral clock, and the ceiling is enriched with a Greek-key motif.

The Drum

This elliptical tower, containing the former Licensing Hall, Conference Hall and Education Library (Plate 38d, figs 40, 42), was devised as a way of accommodating these additional and diverse elements into the scheme without disrupting the overall plan. It is a clever and on the whole a satisfactory solution to the problem. The external walls are faced with white glazed bricks, like most of the courtyards at County Hall, and this gives the whole structure a style reminiscent of Constructivist architecture. The discrepancy between the Conference Hall interior and this exterior, however, is every bit as extreme as that between the Council Chamber and its outward form (Plates 21, 33b, 38c, d).

At the heart of this block is the Conference Hall (Plate 33b), accessible from the south by way of the bridge passage and the former Main Committee Room, and from the north through the Crush Hall. The Conference Hall is elliptical in plan, rising through two storeys, with a shallow domed roof. At one end is a removable stage and dressing-room accommodation and at the other a projection room at gallery level above a store. A hoist hatch is concealed in the centre of the floor, giving access to a chair store at ground-floor level below. The twelve columns ringing the main space are made of concrete on steel stanchions, and finished in lapis-lazuli blue scagliola, with black bases and gilded capitals (fig. 45), while the entablature they support was originally a buff colour picked out in light purple. Between them are set singlestorey top-lit alcoves for hanging the collection of Chairmen's portraits. Neatly concealed in the partitions between these alcoves are the structural columns which support the Education Library. Just inside the north entrance is a memorial to Emma Cons, the first woman Alderman on the LCC (Plate 46a). Presented to the Council in 1930, this is a plaster cast of a bronze portrait in bas-relief of Miss Cons by Sir William Goscombe John. (fn. 39)

Fig. 45. Conference Hall. Working drawing for the plaster capitals to the columns, 1932

The Conference Hall is not a very comfortable or gracious public space and it seems to have suffered some acoustic problems, nothing apparently having been learnt from similar difficulties experienced in the Council Chamber.

At basement level, and directly accessible from the northern roadway, was the Licensing Hall, a practical and stylish piece of 1930s glazed tilework in white, grey, blue and black, with hardwood fittings, to which the faceted oval form gave added interest (Plate 36d). This was destroyed when the area was refurbished in 1963, and, after vehicle licensing was centralized in Swansea in the early 1970s, the space was remodelled by the GLC as a staff training centre. (fn. 40)

Above the Conference Hall is the galleried Education Library, with space for 100,000 books. Like so much of the Education Department's accommodation, the library was up-to-date in design and concept (Plate 35a). On plan it is a twelve-sided ellipse linked by bridges to the cross corridors at fourth-floor level (fig. 46). Twenty rows of bookstacks are arranged at right angles to the external walls on three levels: the entrance level plus two levels of galleries. Stairs on the long axis of the ellipse – on the east and west sides – lead to these galleries. Each quadrant of the plan is served by a book lift within the bookstacks. In the roof there is a shallow dished skylight of green and clear glass (fig. 47). A large glass chandelier, which could be lowered on a winch, was originally suspended from the centre of this skylight, but after being broken in a fall, was not reinstated. The gallery fronts were originally green, with steel and bronze railings, and the steel bookstacks were enamelled in dark blue with flecks of black. This Art Deco colouring scheme has since been replaced by white paint throughout.

Fig. 46. Education Library. Plan at entrance (fourth-floor) level. L book lifts

Fig. 47. Education Library. Plan of the glazing in the skylight


  • a. In Sections A, B and C only limited use is made of 'double-banking', thus facilitating the 'infilling' in the larger courtyards during the 1970s (see page 117).
  • b. According to Gibbon and Bell, the number of vehicles registered by the Council rose from 8,268 in 1904 to 37,939 in 1919, and in 1937 reached 74,423. In 1904 the Council issued 18,000 driving licences, in 1937 nearly 361,000.
  • c. The names of the contractors who worked on Section D are included in Appendix IV.
  • d. The boroughs represented on the north front are, from east to west: Lewisham, Woolwich, Stepney (1931), Hampstead (1931), Hackney (1924), Lambeth (1922), Fulham (1927), Finsbury (1931), Shoreditch, St. Pancras and Deptford. Only those with dates had been granted official coats of arms by 1933. For the remainder Mabey was required to carve the seals of the councils. Four panels, two at each end of the frieze, were left blank for subsequent carving and remain blank.
  • e. In 1933 the editor of Town and Country Planning asked the Clerk for a photograph of the statue of 'Town Planning' on the northern front of County Hall, only to be told that the 'significance of the statuary ... is general rather than particular, and that there is no statue specifically symbolic of "Town Planning".'
  • f. The subjects suggested were: St Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar; monks feeding the poor at a monastery gate; King Lear on the heath; the Good Parson from Goldsmith's Deserted Village; Oliver Twist asking for more; and a modern tramp.
  • g. At one stage the three eighteenth-century chimneypieces installed in rooms 127, 160 and 161 in 1933, were to have been used in Section D.
  • 1. LCC Mins, 24 July 1928, p. 227 (16): AR/CB/2/165, 5 Nov. 1914, note by Riley.
  • 2. AR/CB/2/112, 27 Oct. 1921 (35), Estab. Com. meeting.
  • 3. AR/CB/2/163, 2 Nov. 1922, notes by Riley: LCC Mins, 3 July 1923, p. 984.
  • 4. LCC Mins, 24 July 1928, p. 227 (16).
  • 5. GLRO, LCC Contracts, vol. 1, pp. 221, 234: LCC Mins, 20 May 1930, p. 928 (5).
  • 6. LCC Mins, 11 Feb. 1930, pp. 272–3 (32); 15 April 1930, p. 740 (31).
  • 7. Ibid., 13 July 1920, p. 125 (30); 2 Nov. 1920, p. 703 (37); 14 Dec. 1920, p. 1008 (20): AR/CB/2/166, 11 Nov. 1920, notes by Riley.
  • 8. AR/CB/2/166, 30 Sept. 1922, report by Riley.
  • 9. AR/CB/2/167, 26 June 1924, order of Estab. Com.
  • 10. Ibid., 6 Aug. 1924, notes by Riley: LCC Mins, 15 April 1930, p. 740 (31).
  • 11. AR/CB/2/168, 5 May 1927, Section D sub-committee report: AR/CB/2/169, 12 July 1928, Estab. Com. report: LCC Mins, 24 July 1928, pp. 226–7 (16).
  • 12. AR/CB/2/169, 12 July 1928, Estab. Com. report.
  • 13. LCC Mins, 24 July 1928, p. 227 (16): AR/CB/2/169, 22 Aug. 1928, Knott to Riley.
  • 14. LCC Mins. 30 Oct. 1928, p. 447 (11): AR/CB/2/169, 25 Sept. 1928, notes of meeting between Knott, Riley, Clerk, and others.
  • 15. AR/CB/2/169, 26 Nov. 1928, Knott to Riley.
  • 16. Ibid., 6, 17 Dec. 1928, letters between Riley and Knott.
  • 17. Ibid., 17 Jan. 1929, Riley to Knott.
  • 18. Ibid., 22 Jan. 1929, Knott to Riley.
  • 19. LCC Mins, 29 Jan. 1929, p. 89 (8).
  • 20. Ibid., 21 July 1931 p. 194 (34/16); 21 June 1932, p. 90 (23/1): AR/CB/2/174, 15 June 1932.
  • 21. CL/ESTAB/2/4, 21 Feb. 1929, report by Clerk.
  • 22. CL/ESTAB/2/10, 11 July 1929, report by Education Officer to the Education (Books and Apparatus) Sub-Committee.
  • 23. Ibid.: The Teachers World, 9 March 1922.
  • 24. AR/CB/2/169, 23 July 1929, notes by Hiorns: CL/ESTAB/2/10, 29 Oct. 1929.
  • 25. AR/CB/2/169, 5 Nov. 1928, notes by Hiorns on meeting between Riley, Knott and Hall (Knott's engineer).
  • 26. LCC Mins, 15 April 1930, p. 740 (31): AR/CB/2/233,244: GLRO, Architect's Department contract A2573; Completion of County Hall, LCC Pamphlet, 1933.
  • 27. LCC Mins, 31 Jan. 1933, p. 99 (28/7).
  • 28. A.J., 1 Feb. 1933, p. 175: The Times, 2 March 1933, p. 9a.
  • 29. LCC Pamphlet, Completion of County Hall, 1933.
  • 30. AR/CB/2/244, Section D contracts, Nov. 1930: LCC Mins, 27 Jan. 1931, p. 90 (34/26).
  • 31. AR/CB/2/174, 10 Nov. 1930, 18 June 1931, Estab. Com. reports: CL/ESTAB/2/49, W.L. Hare to Clerk, 28 March 1933, and reply, 7 April 1933.
  • 32. Copy of report by Chief Officer of Public Assistance to Estab. Com., in possession of Survey of London.
  • 33. AR/CB/2/174, 19 Dec. 1933, Francis Spear (Central School of Arts and Crafts) to the Chief Officer of Public Assistance.
  • 34. LCC Mins, 7 Feb. 1933, p. 215 (36/17).
  • 35. APR, DD25/03, DD25/06.
  • 36. CL/ESTAB/2/3, 13 Oct. 1932, Collins to Estab. Com.: LCC Mins, 7 Feb. 1933, p. 215 (36/16).
  • 37. APR, DD2/25, DD3/16, 21.
  • 38. AR/CB/2/244, Section D contracts, Dec. 1930: A.J., 1 Feb. 1933, p. 176.
  • 39. LCC Mins, 21 Jan. 1930, p. 56 (32/21).
  • 40. APR, DD4/04: LCC Mins, 21 May 1963, p. 383 (33/7); 19 Nov. 1963, p. 746 (25/5).