Welcome to Westminster Council House, the former Marylebone Town Hall and also home to the Westminster Register Office. The building is featuring as part of London Open House for the fourth time.
Westminster Council House was formerly the Town Hall of St. Marylebone Borough Council, established in 1900 by the London Government Act 1899. In April 1965, it passed into the ownership of the present City of Westminster, which was formed under the London Government Act 1963, by the amalgamation of the Metropolitan Boroughs of Paddington and St Marylebone and the Old City of Westminster.
Design of Building Competition
The site on which the Council House stands was purchased from the then Viscount Portman for a sum of £39,200. It had taken St. Marylebone Borough Council nine years to find and acquire a suitable site for the erection of municipal buildings, in which all of the council’s departments could be housed.
Upon purchase of the site a special Town Hall Committee was formed, and designs were invited by public competition for the new building. Mr Henry T Gare F.R.I.B.A., an eminent architect, was appointed as the assessor.
The most noticeable feature of the competition was the large number of designs submitted, 181 in total.
The designs of Mr. T Edwin Cooper were unanimously adopted. Chief points of the winning design was the provision of adequate and equally distributed light and the convenience of direct approach to the Council Chamber and the Large Committee Rooms.
The prize awarded for the winning design was £300 (to be deducted from commission when work proceeded).
Main building contractors
John Greenwood,Ltd., London
Internal Roman Stonework to Staircase, AnteRoom, etc. Messrs. J. Whitehead & Sons, London
Fibrous Plaster to Ceilings
Messrs. F. De Jong & Co., Ltd., London
All Internal Wood Carvings
George. Haughton, Worcester & London
Metal Work Mr. W Smith of Balcombe Street
The foundation stone for the new Town Hall was laid on 8th July 1914, (a month before the outbreak of the First World War) the ceremony being performed by the Princess Royal, Duchess of Fife. Beneath the foundation stone Her Royal Highness placed a sealed-up casket containing copies of several current newspapers, certain documents of local importance, and a complete set of all the coins then current in the United Kingdom.
Official Opening of the Building
Although it had been anticipated that the new Town Hall would be completed and opened for use by the Council and its officers by September 1915, the completion was delayed firstly by labour troubles and then by World War I.
Upon completion the building was then commandeered for Government purposes (War Office/Pensions Issue) until 1st December 1919.
The formal opening of the building took place on Saturday March 27th, 1920. The ceremony was performed by Prince Albert (who later became the Duke of York, father to the present Queen and King George VI). The Prince having unlocked the main door with a golden key, proceeded to the Council Chamber, where the remaining portions of the ceremony were performed.
Sir Thomas Edwin Cooper (architect)
Thomas Edwin Cooper was born in Scarborough on 21 October 1874 (died 24 June 1942 of a heart attack). Aware of her son’s talent his mother had him articled to an architect in Yorkshire. After studying in Italy and France Cooper became an assistant in the offices in several London Architects. He was articled to and later entered into partnership with J. Hall and Herbert Davis.
Around the turn of century Cooper joined with Samuel Bridgman Russell who had already achieved success in competitions with his first partner. Jointly their competition victories were many. They included:
1. Guildhall and Law Courts (Hull)
2. Rochester Technical Institute
3. Middlesborough Public Library
4. Burslem Public Buildings
In 1912 Russell left the partnership. Cooper carried on alone and his successes continued. Cooper’s first win on his own was St. Marylebone Town Hall, Marylebone Road, NW1 (1911) and later its extension.
His next competition win was the monumental Headquarters of the Port of London Authority, Trinity Square, EC2 (completed after 1st World War). This building was also open as part of London Open House yesterday.
Many more commissions came to Cooper principally in London. They included:
1. Star & Garter Home Richmond Surrey (1921 – 1924)
2. College of Nursing, Henrietta Street, W1 (1922 – 1926)
3. Port of London Buildings Tilbury Dock (1922 – 1926)
4. The Banque Belge, Bishopsgate, EC2
5. Lloyds Underwriters,, Leadenhall Street, EC3
6. St Thomas’s Hospital
7. The Royal Mail building
Many distinctions were conferred on him. He was:
1. knighted in 1923
2. elected A.R.A in 1930 and R.A seven years later in 1937
3. awarded the Royal Gold Medal in Architecture in 1931
4. elected as honorary member of Lloyds 1937
5. succeeded Sir Edwin Lutyens as President of the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors 1937 (fellow of R.I.B.A since 1903)
In all his work scope was given to craftsmen; he disliked synthetic materials or reflecting surfaces. His hobbies included the study of watercolors.
All the main public rooms on view today are on the first floor of the building. The remainder of the building is office accommodation, which is not open to the public.
The building is designed in a classic manner (carrying on the traditions of the English Renaissance) relying on mass and volume for the broad fronted composition with elaboration reserved for the Wren-inspired Central Tower. Its exterior is entirely of Portland Stone.
Ten giant Corinthian columns front the building, which is approached by a flight of steps, flanked by lions. (A chair lift is available for access by wheel chair users - see disability access section below). There is a bridge link at the side to the adjoining Marylebone Library also built in similar style by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1938-39. Both buildings are listed Grade II.
Unfortunately the building was seriously damaged during the Second World War, requiring the total reconstruction of the Council Chamber and ancillary rooms (and the offices below). The new Chamber was finished in ash panelling on the main walls, with brown leather on the wall behind the Lord Mayor’s dais and on the front of the galleries (originally interior walnut with carved lime-wood trophies).
The official opening ceremony for the rebuilt Council Chamber was held on Westminster Council House on 24th October, 1968.
The interior of the Council House retains a large number of original features, in particular a grand marble main entrance hall and staircase, walnut panelled committee rooms and a magnificent Reception Room. The are many fine examples of carefully detailed classical fireplaces delicately carved with heraldic devices, foliage, flowers and fruit.
The entrance hall is flanked on either side by two fireplaces. The vestibule is walled in Roman stone (commonly known as marble) and leads to the main staircase. At the tenth step a landing (mezzanine level) divides the ascent into two flights, which return on each side of the centre flight and reach the main corridor of the first floor. The Marylebone War Memorial is located on the mezzanine level. Turn left at the mezzanine level and then at the top of the stairs turn right to the end of the corridor along which are hung paintings of past Lord Mayors.
Purple Marriage Room (Room 1)
The first room is currently being refurbished to become part of the suite of marriage rooms and so is not open for viewing today.
Blue Marriage Room (Room 2)
This room is used as one of the principal marriage rooms. Westminster’s Register Office is the venue for more marriages than anywhere else in London. Many famous couples have married in this room, including in recent years the film actors Melanie Griffiths and Antonio Banderas and the pop singer Liam Gallagher and actress Patsy Kensit.
The City of Westminster’s Coat of Arms is on a panel behind where the Superintendent Registrar conducts the marriage ceremonies.
Green Marriage Room (Room 3)
The next room is used mainly as the Marriage Waiting Room and occasionally is chosen by couples who prefer its décor and more relaxed style for their marriage room. On the evening of Council Meetings it is used by the Lord Mayor as her Retiring Room.
Committee Room (Room 4)
The next room is one of a pair of identical Committee Rooms with elaborate walnut wood panelling.
Reception Room (Room 5)
This room is lit down to the floor level by three well-proportioned windows, which overlook Marylebone Road. The walls are panels of figured and quartered walnut. The room is crowned by a recently restored and repainted plaster work ceiling showing an interesting motif of three ovals and an elaborate ceiling frieze. The room is used for civic functions, meetings and on Fridays and Saturdays for weddings.
Committee Room (Room 6)
This room is a mirror copy to the one (Room 3) on the other side of the Reception Room.
Yellow Marriage Room (Room 7)
This is the last of the marriage and committee rooms. It is now increasingly used as a marriage room.
Council Chamber lobby (area 8)
Between the staircase are a few steps up to the lobby to the Council Chamber. Wheelchair users are asked to refer to the disability access section below for the access route
At the top of the steps to the lobby look up into the ceiling to see a recessed cameo in Graeco-Roman style of the god Mercury.
The lobby contains the Honours Boards listing past Lord Mayors, Deputy Lord Mayors, Leaders of the Council, Leaders of the Opposition, Honorary Freemen and Honorary Aldermen of the City of Westminster.
In the centre is the Mayoral Chair from the Council Chamber of the former Paddington Town Hall, which was demolished to make way for the Westway.
Council Chamber (Room 9)
Doors on either side of the lobby lead into the Council Chamber.
This room is part of the rebuilt section of the building. As it is more modern in style it is in stark contrast to the rest of the 1st floor.
Above and at either side of the Chamber are the public and press galleries.
The Register Office
The Register Office holds the historic births, deaths and marriage records for the City of Westminster back to 1837.
At the end of the tour anyone who is interested can visit the vaults where the registers dating back to 1837 are kept, which record the births, marriages and deaths of many famous people.
There is a separate side access into the building for wheelchair users. This is on the Marylebone Library side of the building and will be signposted from the main entrance. There is a stair lift to take wheelchairs up from street to ground floor level from where the first floor rooms can be accessed by a lift near the front entrance.
The stair lift and main lift are not able to accommodate large powered wheelchairs. There is a collapsible wheelchair available for use if required.
There is a ramped side entrance into the Council Chamber, which then gives access out into the lobby. Signs from outside of the Yellow Room (Room 7) mark the route. These signs also point to the disabled toilet on the same floor.
Thank you for visiting the Council House. We hope you have enjoyed it.
Westminster City Council