Battersea Arts Centre
Designed and built as Battersea's Town Hall and home to Battersea Arts Centre for the last 30 years. Striking features include a glass bee mosaic floor, marble staircase and stained glass dome. Discover plans to rebuild the Grand Hall after the fire in March 2015.
ArchitectE W Mountford
Lavender Hill SW11 5TN
Sat 11am-4pm. Tours at 11am & 2pm. Max 30 per tour.
87, 77, 156
- Architect on site
- Refreshments available
- Regularly open to the public at no charge
- Toilets available
BAC (Battersea Arts Centre) The first thing to notice, before you even enter the building are the very detailed carvings above the front door. The semi-circular carving, at the very top, is of the Battersea coat-of-arms being supported by “Prudence” and “Justice”. Underneath this are the figures of “Authority” on your left and “Relaxation” on your right. Foyer of Battersea Arts Centre Described as “Modern Renaissance”, this building was designed by Edward Mountford, who along with eleven other architects anonymously submitted plans for the Battersea Municipal Building and Town Hall to the Vestry of the Parish of St Mary. He won. Among other buildings designed by Edward Mountford are Battersea Library, also on Lavender Hill, and the Old Bailey. Building began in 1892. The staircase you can see is made from white Sicilian marble. On the big red marble cornerstones you can see the names of the dignitaries involved with the building. These were hand carved just before the opening to ensure that no-one had died between the carving of the stones and the opening of the building. In 1993, it was estimated that the staircase alone would cost 1m to build now. Also, in the foundations of the staircase there is a time capsule containing local newspapers from the day of the opening. Studio 2 One of the most interesting aspects of BAC is the changing use of its spaces. This was two rooms, not one, when the building first opened. The room nearest the entrance was the Medical Officer’s office and the adjoining room was the Sanitary Inspector’s Office. The dressing room was then a waiting room for people wishing to see either of these important people. Later it became a cinema, you can stil see the little square windows in the room at the back of the studio which would have housed the projection equipment. Now it is our Studio 2, where we show new and developing work by performance artists and musicians. It can hold approximately 50 people. The Grand Hall If you look up, you will see an elaborate stained glass octagonal dome. This covers the entrance hall to the Grand Hall. Around the walls of the lobby are the words “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation; That away men are but gilded or painted clay” and “Mine honour is my life both grow in one”, a little architectural joke as they are illuminated in gold leaf. Also of interest, the marble pillars you can see are not marble. They are made of ostrich feathers which were treated, swirled and dyed, and set in plaster-like material to give a marble effect. In 1893 this would have been cheaper than using real stone. Now this is only made in South Morocco and would be much more expensive than marble. As with the rest of the building, the Grand Hall has had several functions. During the First World War it was used as a recruiting station, administrative centre and conscientious objectors’ tribunal site. It was a Council of Action headquarters during the General Strike in 1926. In the Second World War it had many functions, as a site of rationing control, distribution of gas masks, an Air Raid precautions centre and as a hospital. During the worst of the bombing, whilst the Grand Hall was used as a hospital, the Lower Hall (downstairs) was used as a morgue. In the 1950s the Grand Hall took over from the (bombed) Shakespeare Theatre _ now Shakespeare House in Theatre Street _ as a place for music hall, theatre and live entertainment. In 1993, the building’s centenary year, BAC took over the running of the Grand and Lower Halls. Nowadays they bare mostly used for weddings, conferences, holding examinations and performances. The Grand Hall at Battersea Arts Centre reopened in March 2010 after a two-month restoration and refurbishment programme overseen by Haworth Tompkins. This was the first phase of a two phase project which includes a new floor, decorations, curtains, lighting and power. From upstairs in the main building you can see that the most obvious feature of the building is the mosaic floor. This is made from glass mosaic tiles. Quite why bees are the main feature is nor certtain, however there are several ideas. One is that in the middle ages the bee, like the ant, was a sign of industriousness, so it could be that the borough wanted to portray itself as being hard working, OR Lavender Hill was once a market garden area so it may have been to remember the area used to be full of bees OR it could just be a play on the Bs in Battersea Borough. Interestingly, the same bee design can be seen on the floor of Manchester Town Hall, lending credence to the socialist, worker ethic. Main House This used to be the Council Chambers where local councillors met to debate and govern the borough. Note the “Ayes” and “Noes” signs above the doors to the theatre. The choice of councillors’ door would have indicated his vote.