Theatres and Halls in Rotherhithe, London SE16
See also in this area: The Star Music Hall, Bermondsey
Formerly - Terriss Theatre
Above - A Sketch of the Terriss Theatre, Rotherhithe. (The Theatre would later become known as the Rotherhithe Hippodrome in 1907) - From the ERA, 14th of October 1899 - To see more of these Sketches click here.
Terriss Theatre which stood at 34 and 36 Lower Road, on the corner of Culling Road, Rotherhithe, was built by Messrs Walter Walliss & Co to the designs of the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague, and opened on Monday the 16th of October 1899 with a production of the Drury Lane drama 'The White Heather.' (Note: Part of Culling Road still exists today but all the houses on it have long since been demolished.)
The previous year an advertisement had been carried in the ERA in their 9th of July 1898 edition (shown right) which stated:- 'The Terriss Theatre, Rotherhithe. From Plans by the Eminent Architect, Mr W. G. R. Sprague. To be Opened early in 1899. Opposite the Town Hall, Rotherhithe, close to Spa road, Rotherhithe, South Bermondsey, and Deptford-road Stations. Splendid service of Trains passes the doors. Decorations and Furniture by Waring's. Magnificent structure to hold 4,000 People. Entirely Lighted by Electricity. Popular Prices. All communications to Mr E. G. SAUNDERS, Managing Director, 11, Garrick street, London, W.C.'
Despite the advertisement though the Theatre actually didn't open until much later the following year, and with a much reduced capacity of 2,087 overall, with Stalls seating 754, Circle 349, Gallery 648 and Boxes seating 60 people. The stage was 70' by 32'.
Whilst the Theatre was still under construction The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the Theatre, along with the sketch shown right, in their April 21st 1899 edition saying:- 'The above theatre, the subject of our illustration, is now in course of construction in the Lower-road, Rotherhithe. The building is being erected from the plans of Mr. W. G. R. Sprague, the architect of many of the new theatres recently opened in the Metropolis. The elevation to the Lower-road is of stone and brick, and will present a very imposing frontage. The auditorium is about 65ft. by 58ft., the dress circle and gallery being constructed entirely without the usual obstructive columns, thus insuring an unimpeded view of the stage from all parts of the house.
The auditorium, front block, and dressing-rooms are constructed of fire-resisting material throughout. The stage is about 70ft. wide by about 32ft. deep, with a height of about 60ft. This portion is constructed of timber, but is separated from the auditorium and dressing-rooms by double asbestos fire-resisting curtain and iron doors. The internal decorations will be executed in fibrous plaster, and the style adopted will be French Renaissance, artistically decorated in gold and colour, in harmony with the prevailing shades of the draperies and upholstery. It is proposed to light the building by electricity, which will be introduced to form part of the scheme of decoration. Gas will also be provided as reserve in event of the failure of the electric light. The building will be heated by hot water, on the low-pressure system, and an efficient and ample hydrant installation is provided.'
The above text in quotes, and its accompanying image, were first published in The Building News and Engineering Journal, April 21st 1899.
In their 14th of October 1899 edition the ERA printed a preview and sketch (shown top of page) of the new Theatre saying:- 'On Monday the latest addition to the ranks of the suburban playhouses - the Terriss Theatre, Rotherhithe - will be opened to the public. As seen from the road the building presents a most imposing appearance, with its red brick exterior, faced with York stone, and its pilastered front, and the architect, Mr W. G. R. Sprague, in overcoming the difficulties of the site, has succeeded in producing a building worthy of the reputation he has gained in this branch of architecture.
The interior decoration, which has been entrusted to Messrs Waring, reaches a high standard of excellence. The general scheme which is of the Louis Quatorze period, is carried out in a harmonious blending of ivory and gold, whose rich tones are enhanced by the deep ruby tint of the upholstery, while the general effect is heightened by the auditorium ceiling with its Picturesquely painted centre and side panels. This ceiling. which has been made the subject of special study by Mr Sprague, would evoke admiration wherever seen for its elaborate mouldings and soft tones, while the final touch of beauty is given by the finely moulded procenium arch.
Left - The Terriss' Theatre, Rotherhithe - From a postcard - Courtesy Debbie Gosling.
But the dominant characteristic of the whole building is one of space. It is, as it were, a protest against the stifling restrictions of modern life. A large and handsome crush room, flanked on either side by two broad staircases, which lead to the top of the building, a pit second to none in London, and, together with the pit stalls, seating about 800 people, a gallery accommodating 1,200, a fine circle, spacious and lofty saloons, all combine to form a breadth of effect which few theatres can surpass. Nor, in thus providing for the interests of the playgoers, have the artists been neglected, for comfortable dressing rooms have been provided them, replete with every convenience. Mr E. G. Saunders is managing director of the new house, which will be run in conjunction with the Coronet and Brixton Theatres, both of which are under the above management, as is also the New Camden Theatre, which is being erected from Mr Sprague's plans, and under his superintendence.
The auditorium is about 65ft square, with a stage of about 68ft wide and 35ft deep, separated from the auditorium by a double asbestos, fireproof curtain. Electricity is used for lighting throughout, with gas in reserve in the event of failure of electricity supply, and ample provision is made for security by numerous hydrants and by the fireproof curtain already mentioned, which is under the instant control of the attendant. The building has been carried out entirely under the supervision of Mr Sprague, the architect, by Mr Walter Wallis of Balham.
The theatre will open on Monday with The White Heather, for which piece the large size of its stage renders it peculiarly fitted, and the scenic effects of the well-known Drury-lane drama will be reproduced with as much ease as at the Place of its birth. A theatre so well appointed and situated as it is in a populous neighbourhood, which has hitherto been unaffected by the prevailing boom in Suburban theatres, must needs appeal to the playgoing public, and it will doubtless long remain a prosperous and enduring memorial of "Will" Terriss.'
A few days after the Theatre opened on the 16th of October 1899 the ERA carried a review of the completed building and the opening night production in their 21st of October 1899 edition saying: - 'A private view of the Terriss Theatre, of which we gave a description and illustration last week, took place on Saturday afternoon, when a large number of ladies and gentlemen availed themselves of the opportunity of inspecting the new house at Rotherhithe, named after the actor who was so cruelly murdered outside the Adelphi Theatre nearly two years ago. Mr William Terriss had decided to build a theatre on the same site, and had made an appointment to settle certain preliminaries in connection with the acquisition of the land, but only the day before he was struck down by the hand of the assassin. The directors have accordingly linked his name with the new venture as being both appropriate and commemorative.
As we stated last week the Terriss Theatre has been erected from the designs of the well-known theatrical architect, Mr W. G. R. Sprague. Mr E. G. Saunders is the managing director of the new House, which will be run in conjunction with the Coronet (Notting-hill) and Brixton Theatres, both of which are under the same management, as is also the New Camden Theatre, now in course of erection from designs by Mr Sprague.
At Rotherhithe, as at Balham, the architect has been careful to give the audience a full view of the stage from every part of the auditorium, which is about 65ft square, the stage being 68ft. wide and 35f t. deep, separated from the auditorium by a double asbestos fire-proof curtain. The proportions are handsome and well-balanced, and the scheme of interior decorations harmonise admirably with the beautiful lines of architecture.
The decorations are in the style of Louis X V., the prevailing tints being cream and gold, with rich and effective draperies of ruby and gold, the whole presenting a warm and cheerful effect. Electricity is used for lighting throughout. Handsome and commodious saloons are provided for the various sections of the house, and everything possible has been arranged for the comfort and safety of the patrons of the establishment, which is constructed to accommodate 3,000 persons. On the drop curtain has been painted an historical picture representing Queen Elizabeth knighting Sir Francis Drake on the Pelican at Deptford in 1579.
Above - Postcard for 'The Soldier's Wedding' at the Terriss Theatre 1906 - Courtesy Debbie Gosling
Amongst those present at the private view on Saturday were Mr S. Marler, chairman of the syndicate ; Mr Richard Mansell, general theatrical manager to the syndicate ; and Mr E. G. Saunders, managing-director of the new house; the Rev. Dr. Hopkins, Messrs W. G. R. Sprague (architect), Isaac Cohen, Fredericks (of Stratford), Edward Ledger, W. Clarkson; Miss Ellaline Terries, Mr Seymour Hicks, Mr W. H. Denny, Mr Edwin Barwick, Mr Paul Valentine, and many other professional ladies and gentlemen.
Mr E. G. SAUNDERS, addressing the company from one of the private boxes, first paid a high compliment to Mr Sprague, the architect, remarking that in the designs of every new theatre he planned he seemed to surpass himself, so that they might expect to have in course of time an absolutely perfect theatre, if this was not already the case with the Terries. With regard to the stage productions, they would cater there for a working-class population, and their programme would include both strong drama and musical attractions. At Christmas a pantomime on an elaborate scale would be produced. He felt sure that the inhabitants of the locality would give the theatre their hearty support. In conclusion, he thanked the company for their attendance that afternoon.
The Rev. Dr. HOPKINS, vicar of St. John's, Notting-hill, who spoke next, said he had watched the progress of the Coronet Theatre under the direction of Mr Richard Mansell, and he would like to see such houses in every part of the United Kingdom. He was one of those people who regarded the drama as an absolute necessity. People must have recreation and it should be of the highest-class. So long as theatres were managed as well as the Coronet they deserved success. They were, before the theatre was erected, getting very dull at Notting-hill, but now they had the very best amusement brought to their doors. If the Terries Theatre was conducted on the same lines, as he had no doubt it would be, the inhabitants of Rotherhithe would also have an opportunity of enjoying the best amusement in the best way under the best management. He had much pleasure in proposing a vote of thanks to Mr Mansell and to Mr Saunders.
Above - Postcard for 'The Soldier's Wedding' at the Terriss Theatre 1906 - Courtesy Debbie Gosling.
When Miss Ellaline Terries and Mr Seymour Hicks appeared in a private box they were greeted with loud applause. Mr Hicks came forward and said that in his wife's name he wished the new theatre every success. She was delighted at the association of the new theatre with the name of Terriss. Refreshments were served on the stage, and the proceedings were enlivened by a programme of music played by the orchestra, the first item being the Terriss Festival March, composed for the occasion by M. Louis La Rondelle, who wielded the baton.
The new theatre was opened on Monday with The White Heather. The drama is so well known by playgoers that any description of its plot or action must he superfluous. Suffice it to say that it received a most enthusiastic reception from the crowded house. Every effort has been made to obtain realism in details. The scenic effects are excellent, the picturesque setting of the scene on the moor being greatly admired, while the diving scene, which is splendidly mounted, is a very fine production evoking applause all over the house. The dresses, too, are magnificent, and those used in the Ball scene are the originals from the celebrated ball at Devonshire House. The drama is interpreted by an efficient company. Miss Susie Vaughan reaches a high level of dramatic excellence in the part of Lady Janet Maclintock, and wins the hearts of her audience. She is ably seconded by Miss Eily Malyon, who as Marion Hume appears to great advantage. Miss Moyra Creegan acquits herself well as Lady Hermione De Vaux. Miss Ella Essington is excellent as Lady Molly Fanshawe; the Hon. Blanche Rossiter is well played by Miss Lilian Lee; and Miss Smithson and Miss Easterleigh appear as society ladies. Miss Barton is an engaging little Donald, and Miss Lucy Murray and Miss Maud Yates are interesting as the garrulous old Scotswomen. Mr Julian Boyce makes a decided hit as Lord Angus Cameron; Mr Edwin Palmer gives a dignified rendering of Lord Shetland; and Mr Wilfred Taylor carries his audience with him. Mr Lewis Edgard as Dick Beech is very successful. Mr Arthur Rowlands gives a vigorous rendering of the character of James Hume. The comic element is in the capable hands of Mr Lionel Victor, who appears as Edgar Trefusis, and is assisted by Mr F. W. Cane as Horace Saxonby. Mr Stephen Ewart as Captain Dewar Gay causes much amusement. Mr Ernest Woodbury is excellent as the family doctor, and Mr Allan Pollock is a typical sailor, Mr Audibert making a first-rate city man. Praise is certainly due to the manager, Mr Richard Mansell, and to Mr Louis La Rondelle, musical director, who conducts an efficient orchestra.'
A visitor to the site, Christopher Lordan, has sent in the following information about the Terriss Theatre during the Great War, and its association with the local Albion primary school, Christopher writes:- 'Many boys / men from Rotherhithe left the area to fight in the great war, most knew one another as they were from a close knit community and had, as boys, attended the same school (Albion primary). A lot of them failed to return, being killed during the conflict. About 1919 the survivors arranged for a special one off show at the Terriss Theatre and made a profit of about £100. This was placed in a special trust, the annual bonus of which was to be spent on prizes for children at Albion Street primary school.
It developed so that near armistice day the children would enact a play, themes varied, before local "dignitaries" i.e. the vicar, school governors, home beat PC and Bob Mellish the local MP. This went on from 1920 up to about 2000 when for silly reasons it was stopped, i.e. in that year the "bonus" amounted to £4 and it was decided that this was insufficient to supply two prizes. I attended the plays from 1980 to 1985 as the Home Beat PC, they were well attended by the group mentioned above and parents alike, and were enjoyed by all, including the pupils. The children selected to receive the prizes were not the top pupils but the boy and girl who had tried hardest throughout the year. I do intend to attempt to resurrect the ceremony once this years armistice day is past.' - Courtesy Christopher Lordan 2007.
The Story of the Terriss Theatre, Rotherhithe 1899 - 1943 by N. M. Bligh From Theatre World Magazine September 1961.
There are few London theatres of the past for which it is not reasonably easy to obtain some measure of information, however sketchy, by consulting standard books and literature. But there is at least one, opened and closed within living memory, for which these sources may be searched in vain. We refer to the Terriss Theatre, Rotherhithe.
Right - A Programme for 'Kick Off' at the Rotherhithe Hippodrome, formerly Terriss Theatre - Courtesy Debbie Gosling - Click to see entire programme.
Though in a locality remote and almost non-existent to the Londoner of the West End, it was a handsome and well-appointed house typical of many on the outer fringe of central London at that time. Set in Lower road, and designed by W. G. Sprague, the exterior in red brick and stone was of pleasing appearance; the finely proportioned auditorium was about 65 feet square, the stage 68 feet wide and 35 feet deep.
The interior decorations were in Louis XV style, cream and gold prevailing; there were two tiers only, and an absence of pillars. The promoters included Sydney Marler (later one of the original board of the London Theatre of Varieties Syndicate) and E. G. Saunders, managing director, the manager being Lauderdale Maitland. Contemporary reports indicate the great delight of the local populace and a feeling almost of incredulity at having a theatre in their midst. The name commemorated, of course, William Terriss who two years earlier had been brutally murdered outside the stage door of the Adelphi. Previous to the opening there was a reception at which was played the Terriss Festival March composed by Louis la Rondelle, the musical director. Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terriss, daughter of William Terriss, and still, at the age of 90, happily with us, arrived from the Criterion where they were appearing in My Daughter in-law, greeted the assembly and wished success to the undertaking.
The opening night was Monday, October 16th, 1899, with The White Heather, a recent drama from Drury Lane, with a cast including Susie Vaughan, Marion Hume, Julian Boyce, and Wilfred Taylor, and all the scenic spectacle of the Lane.
The audience was said to have numbered 5,000, which seems more than an exaggeration, but "no vacant seat" is not surprising. The first succeeding run of shows, mainly by the Henry Dundas company, whose leading lady was Maud Elmore, were of a type finding great favour at the time and were, in order, Thou Shalt Not Kill, A Life of Pleasure (military drama), The Harbour Lights (one of William Terriss's greatest successes), Paul Jones (nautical comic opera), Cheer, Boys Cheer, Alone in London, and East Lynne, with Maud Elmore as Lady Isobel. At Christmas there was Augustus Harris's pantomime. Dick Whittington, "direct from Drury Lane" with Julie MacKay, Ernest Heathcote, Florence Trevelion, and the famous J. A. Cave.
Left - The auditorium of the Terriss Theatre, later the Rotherhithe Hippodrome - From a programme for 'Kick Off' - Courtesy Debbie Gosling.
In October, 1900, the theatre was leased to George Conquest, junr., famous son of the even more famous George, senr., of the Grecian Theatre, and a policy somewhat as formerly was followed. A few of the titles noted in the autumn season are The Cotton King, The Belle of New York, The Mariners of England, and In the Shadow of the Night. The pantomime was Sinbad with Maud Nelson as the principal boy and Conquest himself in the form of entertainment at which he excelled; press reports at the time bestowed the highest praise. The first half of 1901 continued the popular run of plays and melodramas; representative examples are shown by such titles as Why Woman Sins, Two Little Vagabonds, Under the Red Cross (stirring South African drama), The Sign of the Cross (William Greet's company), A Trip to Chicago (musical comedy by Walter Sealby's company), The Bank of England, and "a sensational drama", Secrets of the Harem. March saw the start of grand Sunday concerts with engagements including the Grenadier Guards Band.
The Conquest lease lasted until the end of August, 1901, and then followed what must certainly have been the most outstanding epoch in the history of this theatre, its purchase by Walter and Frederick Melville and the start of their regime of full-blooded melodrama lasting until 1907. The two brothers, coming of theatrical stock, had a remarkable flair for writing a certain type of lurid melodrama mainly on the subject of dangerous or depraved women, or girls fighting heavy odds against villains, scoundrels, or maniacs in the squalid or vicious levels of London and the great cities. They turned out a flow of these plots and the famous productions so characteristic of their time were played with immense success at the Terriss as well as at the Standard, the Elephant and Castle, and a whole circuit of theatres, and in the West End. But by the early part of the century the more sophisticated West End audiences, except for the cheaper seats, were inclined to regard these passions torn to tatters with an increasing degree of curiosity and amusement. For years, however, such melodramas held their own at the lesser houses and thrilled innumerable audiences with their stories of pathos, crime, and the triumph of good over evil.
Let us recall the titles of some of these Melville classics as here staged - their titles are usually self-explanatory - and the names of the leading players: Between Two Women (1902); The Female Swindler, A Girl's Cross Roads (both 1903); Her Forbidden Marriage, A Disgrace to Her Sex, The Ugliest Woman on Earth (all 1904); The Soldier's Wedding (1906) (See postcards above); Her Road to Ruin (1907). The players included Ashley Page, Algernon Syms, Marion Denvil, Felix Pitt, Leonard Yorke, Violet Elliott, Olga Andre, Eva Dare (wife of Walter Melville), Newman Maurice, and Rule Pyott.
The pantomimes of 1901 and 1902 were both by the Melvilles and entitled, respectively, Cinderella and St. George and the Dragon. Prices at the Terriss were suited to the locality and to the times, when the public, not sated with entertainment, flocked to avail themselves of what the living theatre offered and when an evening's enjoyment could be obtained, as here, from a dress circle seat at 2/- to a gallery seat at 4d. The brothers did not, of course, stage exclusively plays of their own authorship, and amongst presentations by other authors we select at random A London Actress by Emma Litchfield, a well-liked play which has enjoyed revivals up to the present time, Sailors of the King, a drama by F. Bateman, and When Other Lips, a melodrama by T. Arthur Jones.
A new era opened late in 1907 when the theatre was sold to Walter Gibbons who, with considerable difficulty, obtained a licence for music and dancing, but excluding drinks, and in December the house reopened under the new name of the Rotherhithe Hippodrome for twice nightly variety.
Left - A Variety Poster for the Rotherhithe
Hippodrome in August 1921 - Courtesy Val Walker, grandson of the magician
Walker who was headlining on the Bill along with The Decunas, W.
G. Watts, The St. Vincent Sisters, Charlie York, Marcelle De Vere, The
Michaeloff Trio, and The Tossing Testros.
The London Theatre of Varieties Syndicate had been formed by this time and the Terriss under its new name, although frequently leased to other managements, appears to have been under the control of the syndicate for the rest of its history. Plays and full scale productions were by no means permanently lost to the house, but variety seems to have continued until 1918 (Under the management of Charles Gulliver. See programme below left - M.L.) The variety bill for the 1907 re-opening included Hackenschmidt, the famous strong man, and the bioscope. This last is significant, for it is said that cinema items were given here from the early days, usually on a Sunday, and during the variety period a bioscope turn was normally included in the bill.
Every kind of comedian, singer, and speciality act supplied the entertainment over these ensuing eleven years, and the programme often included burlesque, sketches, and even dramatic episodes, as for instance in 1911, The Feast of the Wolves, a story of grim vengeance in the wilds of Northern Russia. From 1918 to 1921 the lease was held by E. W. (Wally) Rice, and revue as well as variety made its appearance with intervals of good touring companies in West End successes such as Seven Days' Leave (from the Lyceum), Three Weeks (from the Strand) and the Bannister Howard company in The Belle of New York.
Left - A Programme for 'Kick Off' at the Rotherhithe Hippodrome - Courtesy Debbie Gosling - Click to see entire programme.
There was again a change of ownership at the end of 1921, and for the following two years revue held first place later giving way mainly to films and variety. In July, 1923, the premises closed and a receiver was appointed; but by December they re-opened as a theatre under the management of Charles Gulliver (again - M.L.) with the very successful Dorothy Mullord company which appears mainly to have been in occupation until 1927, with melodrama once again taking pride of place. The company also included Donald Edwards, Herbert Evelyn, Dorrie Hemming, and Lillian Drake. By now the cinema as an entertainment had been thoroughly established for several years and stage melodrama was very much in decline, so it is of interest to mention the titles of a few of the offerings of the Mullord company which in themselves disclose a fair idea of the nature of the play. Thus we have The Sheik of Araby, A Mother Should Tell, The Face at the Window, The Unwanted Child, and The Lure of the Yellow Man.
From the autumn of 1927 a policy of mixed variety and cinema lasted two years, until in June, 1929, talking pictures commenced, and from then on the house became almost exclusively a cinema. The premises closed in June, 1943, re-opening a few months later for a short final season of plays and variety. Soon after this the theatre closed and was damaged by enemy action; the building was not repaired and remained an empty shell until it was demolished in about 1955. So ended the life lasting less than half a century of a theatre little known outside its own neighbourhood, opened at a time when the thrill of melodrama still held provincial audiences in its grip, but soon having to contend with the growth of easy transport to the West End and changes of taste in entertainment. Closely following this came the immense and rapid spread of the cinema habit and the coming of sound pictures. Such was the line followed by the Terriss until it finally received its death blow in the war time raids.
The above text in from 'The Story of the Terriss Theatre, Rotherhithe 1899 - 1943' by N. M. Bligh - From Theatre World Magazine September 1961.The writer acknowledges gratefully the kind help of the staff of Bermondsey Central Library, the L.C.C. Architects' Department, Andrew Melville, Esq., and various correspondents.
Right - A map of the bomb damage to the area around Southwark Park after the Second World War. Marked are the sites of the Rotherhithe Hippodrome and Town Hall which were both severley damaged. Map reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
The Theatre was badly damaged by enemy action during the Second World War. The last production at the Theatre appears to have been a season of Drama by the Benson Repertory Company in February and March 1944. The Theatre was then put up for sale by auction, along with 12 other Theatres owned by Loughborough Playhouse Ltd, but it didn't sell. It was put up for sale again in April 1948 and advertised as having a claim of £15,000 under the War Damages Act, and being suitable for Studios etc subject to necessary consent.
The Theatre was never to reopen however, and stood empty and neglected until it was finally demolished in 1955.
Above - The Rotherhithe Hippodrome in 1954 after extensive bomb damage to the area and shortly before its demolition - Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
Above - The site of the Rotherhithe Hippodrome from the same angle as the photograph above in August 2009 (Note the houses on Culling Road have also been demolished along with the Theatre) - Photo M.L.
Above - The Rotherhithe Hippodrome during the Theatre's demolition in 1955 - Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
Also see Britain's Hippodrome Theatres on this site here...
Later - The Rotherhithe Museum and Library
Above - The Rotherhithe Museum and Library in 1935, formerly the Town Hall - Reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
In their 11th of May 1895 edition, the ERA printed a report on the application to build a new Town Hall in Rotherhithe at the corner of Neptune Street and Moodkee Street, which read:- 'On Jan. 29th last the Council approved of six drawings in respect of a hall to be erected at the junction of Neptune-street and Moodkee-street, Rotherhithe. The committee reported that they have now received four amended drawings, dated April 18th, 1895, showing a fire-proof curtain and other matters with a view to obtaining a licence from the Lord Chamberlain for the performance of stage plays. They recommended : "That the four drawings, dated April 18th, 1895, be approved, but that the movable wooden enclosure which it is proposed to fix round the back of the platform when the hall is used for concerts be not allowed, and that the works in connection with the drawings be commenced within six months and be completed in accordance with the provisions of the London Building Act, 1894." The recommendation was carried.'
Building work eventually began on the Rotherhithe Town Hall in 1896 however, and the Hall was actually constructed on the corner of Neptune Street and Lower Road, although the rear of the building was on Moodkee Street. The building was finished and opened the following year in 1897 and was fitted with a small stage with a fireproof curtain to protect the main hall from damage in the case of a fire on stage.
Above - An early view of the interior and stage of
the Rotherhithe Town Hall. The Curtain was painted by Mr. Bruce Smith
and represented the Tower of London, as seen from the River Thames -
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the opening of the Rotherhithe Town Hall in their 30th of April 1897 edition saying:- 'The new town hall in Lower-road, Neptune-street, and Moodkee-street, was formally opened by Mrs. Carr-Gomm, lady of the manor, on Wednesday afternoon. The site, which has an area of 1,155 square yards, cost £3,500, and the architects, whose design was selected in a limited competition, are Messrs. Murray and Foster, of Adelphi Chambers, John-street, W.C.
The style adopted is Renaissance. The elevations are of Portland stone, from the quarries of Mr. J. Barnes, and red bricks, supplied by Mr. Thomas Lawrence, of Bracknell, disposed in bands, and the roofs are covered with green Westmoreland slates.
The main entrance in Lower-road opens into a vestibule, with the vestry clerk's offices on the left, the overseers' offices opposite, and the surveyor's to the right. A staircase of artificial stone leads to the rooms on first floor, including a council chamber, 50ft. by 30ft. and 23ft., panelled in oak, with ceiling of fibrous plaster by the Plastic Decoration Co., who have also supplied the ceiling of the public hall and coroner's court; the latter is on this floor. The public hall, entered from Moodkee street, is 63ft. by 53ft., and 36ft. high, and seated for 574 persons on floor and 307 others in galleries on three sides.
The ventilators have been supplied by Messrs. Kite and Co., and the chimney-pieces by Messrs. Shuffrey and Co. Mr. Howell J. Williams was the general contractor; Mr. John Carter has acted as clerk of works, and Mr. Diprose as general foreman. The total cost of the buildings has been approximately £20,000.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, 30th April 1897.
Above -The site of the Rotherhithe Town Hall, Library and Museum in August 2009 - Photo M.L.
In 1905 the building was converted into a Library for Rotherhithe's citizens, and also a museum which had many items on display including contemporary portraits, and documents, and prehistoric items such as a 3,000 year old item of embroidery, a letter from the Duke of Wellington, a Mummy Case from ancient Egypt, and a 1483 copy of the Book of Thomas Aquinas. The Observer newspaper reported that there was something for the 'geologist and historian, ornithologist, local recorder, and collector of oddities.'
On the exterior of the Town Hall, flanking the main entrance, were two Caryatides sculpted by Henry Poole R A. After the building was bombed during the Second World War and then demolished, the Caryatides were removed to the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, and very nearly all the books from the library were miraculously saved too. When demolition of the Heygate Estate began in 2009 the Caryatides were removed and held in storage until their eventual relocation to Rotherhithe's Southwark Park in 2011. The unveiling of the Caryatides occurred on the 4th of June 2011. (See images and text below.)
Above - The Rotherhithe Town Hall Caryatides in Southwark
Park - Photo M. L. 2012
On the exterior of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall, flanking the main entrance, were two Caryatides sculpted by Henry Poole R A. After the building was bombed during the Second World War and then demolished, the statues were removed to the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. When demolition of the Heygate Estate began in 2009 the Caryatides were removed and held in storage until their eventual relocation to Rotherhithe's Southwark Park in 2011. The unveiling of the Caryatides occurred on the 4th of June 2011.
Above - The sign describing the Rotherhithe Town Hall Caryatides in Southwark Park - See transcribed text below
The Caryatides of Rotherhithe Old Town
Designed and constructed by Henry Poole RA and opened on April 28th 1897, the Town Hall was sited on the corner of 'Neptune Street and Lower Road, with the rear of the building on Moodkee Street.
These caryatides originally flanked the main entrance of the old Rotherhithe Town Hall, which in 1905 was converted into a library.
The building was severely damaged by the `German air raids' of the second world war and subsequently demolished.
The caryatides remained on their original site until 1974 when they were relocated within the Heygate Estate just off the New Kent Road.
In 2009 the caryatides were removed when demolition of the estate commenced, and located back here in Rotherhithe in 2011
About the Caryatides
Caryatides are a Greek architectural support in the form of a female figure which replaces the column or pillar.
The significant differences between the two caryatides is one is detailed with oak and the other laurel.
Oak is often seen as an emblem of virtue, strength, resiliency, longevity and rebirth.
Laurel is a token of peace and quiet but also a symbol of triumph and fame.
Above - An 1895 map updated in the early 1900s showing the position of Southwark Park, the Rotherhithe Hippodrome, and the Rotherhithe Town Hall and Library on Lower Road - Map reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
Above - A modern 1995 map showing the position of the sites of the Rotherhithe Hippodrome and Town Hall on Lower Road - Map reproduced with the kind permission of the Southwark Local Studies Library.
You may also be interested in Andie Byrnes' Rotherhithe Blog which is about the Rotherhithe peninsula, past and present. A fascinating, and well researched, read for anyone interested in the Rotherhithe area.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.