The Staines Town Hall

Rotarian Peter Jackson recently gave members and guests a presentation on the history of Staines Town Hall, accompanied by historic images from the Spelthorne Museum archive.

an illustrated history

Peter explained that the need for town halls had arisen to cope with soaring population growth in the 19th Century which was overwhelming the local Government systems of the Parish Councils and the Lords of the Manor.

National government had responded to the increased population pressures with a raft of new legislation such as the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act and the 1858 Local Government Act that created Local Government Districts(LGDs). The ancient parish of Staines became an LGD in 1872, the same year that saw a Town Hall Commission requiring the LGDs to provide office space for their staff.

A town centre site for a Staines town hall was fortuitously available from the 1832 relocation of Staines Bridge some 300 yards upstream from earlier bridges, leaving their approach road as a largely abandoned cul de sac. By the 1870s the hostelries on the approach road that had once enjoyed a healthy passing trade had now closed through lack of customers and were set for demolition.

In 1876 the Staines Parish LGD announced a competition for the design of a suitable town hall building .The completion was won by architect John Johnson, District Surveyor of East Hackney.

In January 1880 the LGD formally approved John Johnson's design and accepted a tender for its construction from Brunsdens of Brentford. Mr Brunsden wasted no time. The site had been cleared in May, laid out in June; the building had been constructed up to the roof by September; and the roof tiling was completed in December.

Land at the north west corner of the town hall was reserved for a fire station. A tender for its construction was accepted in May 1883. Building work was again rapid and in August the completed station was approvingly accepted by the Fire Brigade Captain.

In 1981 after the fire engines had moved to larger premises opposite Ashford Hospital the vacated old fire station became the home of Spelthorne Museum.

The Staines Parish LGD was short-lived. The 1894 Local Government Act restructured it as Staines Urban District Council (SUDC), covering Staines Town. and created Staines Rural District Council (SRDC) covering  a wide swathe of the adjacent area.

After the First World War, riverside land to the South of the town hall was bought by the SUDC chairman John Drake to provide a memorial garden for his son and other Staines folk killed in the war. The garden included a war memorial, unveiled by the Fifth Earl of Lucan in December 1920. The garden as such was opened by Mrs Drake on Whit Monday 1921.

Staines RDC disappeared in 1930, losing its territory to newly designated urban districts including Sunbury on Thames UDC while Staines UDC was expanded to include Ashford, Laleham and Stanwell. The increased SUDC duties meant that they ran out of office space at the town hall. Many staff moved out to nearby premises. By 1937 plans were prepared for larger SUDC premises at Knowle Green but World War II and is aftermath delayed the move until 1970.

In the meantime other departments left the Town Hall. In 1946 the Town Clerk moved into Elmsleigh House, 83 High Street, later the site for the Elmsleigh Shopping Centre.

The 1970 opening of the Knowle Green offices led to a proposal to demolish the town hall building. Local residents including Peter and Anne Harris of Church Street and Graham and Claudette Curtis Jenkins of Richmond Road banded together to create the Staines Town Society with the aim of preserving the building and achieved its Grade II listing in 1973.

The building continued to be used for concerts and public meetings. In 1982 it was used for filming a trial scene in the film Gandhi, the original trial room in Delhi being unavailable.

In 1982 work began to convert the town hall into an Arts Centre with the public hall and stage refurbished for use as a theatre and the basement fitted out as a function room. It was opened on 15th April 1994 by actor Kenneth Branagh but was not a commercial success and closed in 1999.

In 2004 the building was sold and re-opened as a pub/wine bar. This too failed commercially and closed in 2012.