Designed by Caesar Augustus Long and built on the site of the old Fuller’s Hospital. Shoreditch’s combination of countryside close to the City of London was to make it popular with benefactors wishing to make provision for the care of the poor and as the 17th century progressed, a number of wealthy City merchants left money in their will to establish almshouses. The first of these arose from a bequest made by John Fuller, a judge and sometime Treasurer of the Inner Temple, in his will of 1592. Fuller set aside funds to build an almshouse for 12 women in Shoreditch and his widow acquired land on the south side of Old Street. The almshouses were completed in 1605. Fullers Hospital moved to Wood Green in 1867 and the site is now part of Shoreditch Town Hall.
Shoreditch Town Hall opened in 1866 as the Vestry Hall for Shoreditch. With its high-coved ceilings, Doric columns, large chandeliers and stained glass windows the Vestry Hall (now known as the Council Chamber) was thought of as “the grandest Vestry Hall in London”.
Throughout the building the motto ‘More Light, More Power’ can be seen beneath the crest of Shoreditch. This motto, together with the statue of Progress on the front of the tower, commemorates the reputation that the Vestry, (later the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch), had as a progressive local government, particularly in its provision of electric power to the borough. From the Vestry of St Leonard Shoreditch Electric Light Station, later known as the Shoreditch Borough Refuse Destructor and Generating Station and now as The Circus Space, the borough’s rubbish was burnt to provide steam for the generator sending electricity throughout the borough. The waste heat from the fires was used to heat the public baths. The motto for the Electric Light Station was ‘Out of dust, light and power’. The Town Hall’s tower stood as a beacon shining light over the borough. Today the statue of Progress proudly holds aloft a burning torch in commemoration.
From its earliest days Shoreditch Town Hall was at the heart of civic life, managing all aspects of the parish, one of the densest in Europe, for law and order and of course the recording of births, marriages and deaths.
On 12 November 1888 the Vestry held the widely reported inquest into the murder of Jack the Ripper’s last victim Mary Kelly. The Jury lodged a verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ and no further inquests took place. A full transcript of the inquest can be found online.
In 1902 William Hunt led a series of expansions, including the addition of the large Assembly Hall, office accommodation, a new tower and the Caretaker’s Cottage.
Following a fire in 1904, which led to extensive damage to the Assembly Hall and Council Chamber roof, the new extended Assembly Hall was opened in 1907.
As well as being a centre for civic duties the Town Hall provided entertainment for the borough in the Assembly Hall, packing the building with variety and music acts from across the land.
In 1933 the Shoreditch Housing Association held a Shakespeare Festival to raise funds for a local housing estate. The festival attracted the Bishop of Stepney and HRH The Princess Royal with a matinee of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ being followed by a procession down Curtain Road to the site of the Curtain Theatre.
Throughout the Second World War the Town Hall acted once more as a beacon for the borough. It was here people would come to be evacuated to the country and for help and support when the blitz came to East London.
During War Week the borough of Shoreditch raised 3million in war savings.
In 1965 Shoreditch Town Hall ceased to be a centre of municipal administration, when the boroughs of Shoreditch and Stoke Newington merged with Hackney to form the larger London Borough of Hackney.
In the 1960s the Town Hall’s Assembly Hall became one of the East End’s premier boxing venues until in 1969 when, after a hard-hitting fight against Joe Bugner, the tragic death of Trinidadian boxer Ulric Regis led to a ban on boxing throughout Hackney.
Gradually the Town Hall began to fall into disrepair, Sadly, the building was placed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register in 1996.
Shoreditch Town Hall Trust was formed in 1997 with a mission to restore the decaying fabric of the building and regenerate its role as a commercial and community resource. In 2002 the Trust obtained a 99-year lease from the London Borough of Hackney and commissioned the first phase of a large-scale restoration of the building.