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Limehouse Town Hall springs back to like after leaky roof is fixed

PUBLISHED: 16:00 12 April 2012

The old Town Hall at Limehouse has been reincarnated several times in its 130 years—now it's getting yet another lease of life as a community venue that almost goes back to its Victorian roots.

This proud architectural gem at the end of the Commercial Road in London’s East End is half-way through a £130,000 makeover, helped by English Heritage.

The Limehouse Town Hall Consortium Trust held an old-fashioned bazaar last week which attracted 200 people to check out the work so far.

One group taking part was Stitches in Time which ran a ‘make do and mend’ workshop—ironic, given the state of the building when the trust was formed in 2003.

“The roof was about to collapse,” project organiser Nicholas Morgan recalled. “We caught it in nick of time.

“It began to give way over the staircase. Emergency repairs added £9,000 to the restoration bills.”

The building opened in 1881 as the Vestry Hall for Limehouse parish where vestrymen and the local Board of Guardians would meet and where events like bazaars and weddings would be held. It had offices below the grand assembly room, with dressing rooms and caretaker’s accommodation.

But Limehouse lost its municipal independence two decades on when London’s metropolitan boroughs were formed in 1900 and became part of Stepney.

The new authority inherited the vestry hall along with St George’s and Mile End. St George’s was kept as Stepney’s town hall, while Mile End became the Bancroft Library.

Limehouse was left as council offices, mainly housing and welfare, for the next half-century, before Stepney itself became part of Tower Hamlets in 1965 in London’s latest municipal restructure, with two more town halls inherited from Bethnal Green and Poplar.

There was even less use for Limehouse, but it was given Grade II Listed status in 1973 and served as the National Museum of Labour History for a while, then briefly returned to council use in the 1980s as the Wapping Neighbourhood Offices.

But it ended up on the English Heritage list of buildings ‘at risk’ in 2003 because of the leaky roof, when the trust was formed to bring it back to life.

Limehouse Town Hall is now back to being a community centre that currently houses groups like Tower Hamlets Friends of the Earth, Stitches in Time, University of Openness and Space Hijackers—ready to face the next 130 years.

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