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Leyton Town Hall, by John Johnson

Leyton Town Hall and Technical Institute. John Johnson (d.1920). 1894-6. Red brick with Portland stone dressings. Leyton High Road and Adelaide Road, in the borough of Waltham Forest, northeast London.

Leyton Town Hall

Left to right: (a) Highly elaborate Italianate stonework just above the main entrance. (b) Heritage plaque. (c) Windows, with Arts and Crafts style terracotta panels below, and stone-carving above and around.

Despite the terracotta panels with scrolling foliage below the ground floor windows, and a frieze of terracotta swags, nothing seems further from the Arts and Crafts ethos than this highly ornate Town Hall, and attached Technical Institute. Decoration is piled on externally rather than declaring itself organically from the fundamental structure; the whole complex suggests a showy rather than an intrinsic aesthetic. But it is perfectly coherent for all that. The heritage plaque outside says that Johnson was chosen among a pool of thirty architects who submitted plans for the commission, and one can understand why. It is certainly a striking building, "[f]ussy but enjoyable," as one commentator puts it (Cherry et al, 729). This was the period when Leyton's population was expanding rapidly: it grew by 56% between 1891 and 1901 alone (Macfarlane), and no doubt the new town hall was intended not only to serve the enlarged populance but also to raise the town's profile among its neighbours. Some of the most elaborate town halls in London are in the East End, the product of the same kind of rivalry that produced grandiose town halls in the north of England.

The Duke and Duchess of York in Leyton: the opening of the new Public Offices and Technical Institute, Punch, 21 Mar. 1896 (Vol.CX). John Johnson was presented to the Duke and Duchess, so must be shown among those on the dais (maybe the third from the left?). [Click on thumbnail for larger image.]

The government listing describes the building as being in "[r]ich Victorian Eclectic classical manner," with stone banding to the ground floor, and an Ionic porch at the entrance to the main part (the town hall itself), "pedimented with elaborate finial over." The listing text notes various other decorative features, such as the blind arcading, niches (also blind), pilasters, "rich frieze cornice and decorative gable," the pinnacles and the corner buttresses. The carved heads in the spandrels are part of the Italianate effect too.

The Technical Institute

Left to right: (a) The Technical Institute on Adelaide Road. (b) The stone relief over the Technical Institute entrance. (c) The Technical Institute entrance porch, with carved stonework above it.

The Technical Institute is very much of a piece with the Town Hall, with the stone banding continuing on the ground floor level. But it is lower and simpler; the upper storey in particular is much plainer, with no windows to the left. Perhaps a row of stone panels was intended, but only one has been fitted. This shows a student seated at a drawing board in the middle, overlooked by another man in work-clothes, while workmen with a hammer (left) and chisel (right) are executing designs. The one with the hammer also has an assistant. These seem to be working on wrought-iron over heat. There appears to be a kiln in the background. The composition is very nicely varied and balanced, and appropriate to the building's purpose. The whole complex has recently been restored and

Sources

Cherry, Bridget,Charles O'Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner. London 5: East. Buildings of England series. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2005.

"The Duke and Duchess of York in Leyton." The Times. 19 March 1896. Times Digital Archive. Web. 2 Jan. 2011.

"Leyton Town Hall (Part Of)." British Listed Buildings Listing Text. Web. 2 Jan. 2011.

Macfarlane, Mhairi. "Former Leyton Town Hall Restored to Former Glory." Epping Forest, Waltham Forest, Wanstead & Woodford Guardian Web. 2 Jan. 2011.


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Last modified 2 January 2011