Berkhamsted Civic Centre
161 High Street Berkhamsted
Berkhamsted Civic Centre stands on the south side of Berkhamsted High Street, opposite the main row of shops. It is a brick building designed in the Georgian Revival style which became popular in the inter-war years, and typifies many municipal buildings of the era. The modest but solid frontage features sash windows, a brick arched main entrance and a Juliet balcony topped with a neoclassical pediment. The Civic Centre was built in 1938 to provide a meeting chamber, municipal offices and a Police Court for Berkhamsted Urban District Council (UDC).
At ground level, foundation stones on either side of the main entrance record the following:
OPENED BY THE
COUNCILLOR W. PITKIN J.P.
JR HADFIELD A.M.I.C.E.
Walter Pitkin, the chairman of Berkhamsted UDC, had served as a councillor since 1920 and was a respected figure in the town. For his last two years on the council, he served as chairman, and led the establishment of the new Civic Centre. The architect, JR Hadfield, was a civil engineer who served for many years as the surveyor to Berkhamsted UDC.
In the 19th century, Berkhamsted Town Council and the Magistrates Court were housed in the ornate neo-Gothic Town Hall that was built in 1860 by Edward Buckton Lamb on the other side of the High Street. Berkhamsted UCD was formed in 1898, and this larger municipal administration needed new premises. For a time, the UDC occupied the former premises of William Nash & Sons Builders and Contractors on the High Street.
In the Berkhamsted Review of December 1973, Townsman records that when the council was looking for new premises, it considered purchasing a number of different properties around the town, including Highfield House (later demolished to make way for council housing) and Egerton House (demolished and replaced with the Rex Cinema). Eventually the fishmonger’s shop next to the UDC offices came up for sale; the council bought the shop, demolished both the fish shop and the former Nash premises and built a smart new Civic Centre on the site.
The official opening took place on 14th October 1938, beginning at the Old Town Hall at 5.30pm with a procession across the road to the new Civic Centre Buildings, where Mr Pitkin ceremonially unlocked the gate. After a tour of the building, the Chairman was presented with a memento for his service in the Council Chamber. The Old Town Hall remained in use as a venue for public functions.
Change came around again with local government reform in 1974. The Urban Districts were abolished and Berkhamsted became part of a new, larger Dacorum Borough, ruled from Hemel Hempstead. The Old Town Hall fell derelict was threatened with demolition, but was saved from destruction in a campaign led by former town mayor John Cook. The redundant Berkhamsted Civic Centre remained, and today its large wood-panelled hall continues to provide a venue for Film Society screenings, Art Society exhibitions, Music Society concerts and other public events.
Berkhamsted still has an elected Town Council today, but this body is a Civil Parish, the lowest tier of local government in England and Wales. It has limited powers, but can look after certain local facilities such as allotments, bus shelters, litter bins, parks, footpaths, cemeteries and the High Street Markets.
Walter Pitkin died aged 63 in 1945, only a few years after the Civic Centre was opened, and he was buried in the middle of Rectory Lane Cemetery, close to the Memorial Arch.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Berkhamsted Civic Centre
2 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: