Berkhamsted Town Hall
196 High Street, Berkhamsted
Berkhamsted Town Hall was built 1859-60 for the Berkhamsted Parish Council. It was designed in a highly ornate Gothic Revivial style by the architect Edward Buckton Lamb (1806–1869) and funded by public subscription. Its exuberant design features an octagonal turret and spire, tall lancet windows, intricate Gothic ornamentation and a projecting clock over the High Street.
The Town Hall provided meeting chambers for the council and a magistrates court, replacing the old Court House next to St Peter’s Church. It also contained a market hall on the ground floor, to replace the Tudor market hall which had once stood on the High Street but had burnt down in 1854. Several noted local figures had supported the creation of a Town Hall, among them the Rector of St Peter’s, Rev James Hutchinson, General John Finch (1792-1861) of Berkhamsted Place, Lady Marian Alford and her son, John Egerton-Cust, 2nd Earl Brownlow, who made a substantial donation to the project.
The official opening of the Town Hall took place on 22 August 1860. Present at the ceremony were Rev Hutchinson and General Finch:
“The new Town Hall at Berkhampstead – in the old English style of architecture – was opened in due form. It is a large and well-lighted room, built by Messrs. Matthews and Nash and designed by Mr. Lamb, the architect. This being the first public meeting held within the walls, we have the pleasure of stating that for light, sound, &c., it has fully answered the expectations of those interested in the undertaking.”
The Rev. James Hutchinson said “Respecting the origin of the movement… you all no doubt recollect when the old market-house was burnt down, and it was subsequently suggested and agreed, that a market-house, with a town-hall, should be built – a committee was appointed, subscriptions were raised [a bazaar raised £600]. It is the opening of the Town-hall alone which is now finished and conveyed to the trustees. We are much indebted to [Mr. Hazell, Mr Nash and] General Finch, of whom I should like to make a request, that he should consent to have his likeness painted by an eminent artist, and then placed in this room as a memento of his kindness.”
The glee singers then sang “The Chough and Crow.”
Lieut.-General the Hon. J. Finch then rose, amidst the most vociferous applause, to return thanks.
Bucks Herald, 22 August 1860
Berkhamsted Town Hall was also home to the Berkhamsted Mechanics’ Institute, an educational establishment for working men that was enthusiastically supported by Rev. Hutchinson’s successor in the Parish, Rev John Wolstenholme Cobb (1829–1883). In 1890, the Town Hall was extended at the back to provide additional accommodation for the Mechanics’ Institute.
Another prominent supporter of the Mechanics’ Institute was “The Grand Old Man of Berkhamsted”, Henry Nash. Writing in his Reminiscences of Berkhamsted (1890), Nash pays tribute to General Finch:
“The part he took in the erection of the Town Hall called forth the admiration of all who were acquainted with the difficulties surrounding it … His determined perseverance combined with influence which he exercised in high places enabled him to bring it to a successful issue.”
In 1898, the Berkhamsted Urban District Council (UDC) was created, and this larger municipal administration needed new premises. In 1938, a new Civic Centre was opened on the opposite side of the High Street, marking a change in the town’s municipal history. The Old Town Hall remained in use as a venue for public functions. In the 1970s it fell derelict and was threatened with demolition, as it was deemed economically unviable. A local campaign to save the building was led by former town mayor John Cook, who won support from local celebbrities such as Graham Greene, Richard Mabey and Antony Hopkins. Eventually the Old Town Hall was saved from destruction and restored.
In the 1980s and 1990s the ground floor market hall became a small shopping arcade with an array of restaurants and independent craft shops, known as The Making Place (later renamed re:create), with a walkway through to a public garden at the rear. Eventually the arcade was closed and converted into a single space which has been let to a series of restaurant businesses: Caffé Uno, Brasserie Chez Gérard, Carluccios, and now the Copper House.
Berkhamsted is fortunate to have retained this beautiful architectural gem, and today the Old Town Hall is a Grade II listed building which continues to offer a venue for public events, craft fairs and weddings.
We remember with gratitude the people behind the town hall: Rectors Hutchinson and Cobb, both of whom are buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery. General Finch is not buried here, but lies buried in Packington Hall, the seat of the Earls of Aylesford; his wife, Katharine Finch, is interred here in Rectory Lane.
The Town Hall architect Edward Buckton Lamb later went on to work for Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, remodelling Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire. He died nine years after his Berkhamsted masterpiece and was buried on the western side of Highgate Cemetery in London.
Discover the memorials in Rectory Lane Cemetery with historical links to Berkhamsted Town Hall
7 burials are found — click on a burial below to find out more: