“The building was commissioned to replace a mid-19th-century vestry hall (pictured) in Kensington High Street, which had been designed by Broadbridge in the Tudor style and which had become inadequate for the council’s needs.
The Kensington Vestry Hall was built by Thomas Corby in 1852. It was designed by architect James Broadbridge.
(The Virtual Museum of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea shows a “Watercolour of Kensington Vestry Hall” by the architect James Broadbridge, 1852, with caption:
Many people will recognise this building as it stands immediately opposite the High Street Kensington station. It was built originally as Kensington Vestry Hall in 1852 to the designs of James Broadbridge, Surveyor to the Vestry. Ratepayers complained of excessive extravagance, including gilding railings and chandeliers. Despite this a new and even more splendid Town Hall was built in 1880 and the Central Library was moved into the Vestry Hall in 1889.
Its construction was met with dismay by ratepayers, who complained about the outlandish railings. They were finally removed in 1880.
From 1889 to 1960, the building housed the Kensington Central Library. It was dedicated by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll in November 1889.)
It has been listed as Grade II by English Heritage since April 15, 1969. By 1998, it was “the only substantial remnant” of what the street looked like during the Victorian era.
It is now home to Bank Melli Iran.
*The new building – to become in its turn the Old Town Hall – which was designed by Robert Walker in the Italianate style, was built by Braid and Co. on an adjacent site just to the east of the old building and was completed in 1880. It went on to become the headquarters of the Royal Borough of Kensington when the area secured Royal borough status in 1901. It was extended to a design by William Weaver, the surveyor to the vestry, and William Hunt in 1899.
Following the creation of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1965, the council chose to build modern facilities at the new Kensington Town Hall in Hornton Street.”
From: Massingberd, Hugh, (editor) The Daily Telegraph Fourth Book of Obituaries – Rogues (1998):
“Nicholas Freeman (1939-1989) was Conservative Party leader of the London Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council in the United Kingdom from 1977 until 1989. In 1982 he provoked a storm of opposition amongst people of all political persuasions by using his powers as council leader, without consulting colleagues, to order the overnight destruction of Kensington’s fine century-old Italianate Town Hall on Kensington High Street. The building was due to be given special Listed Status on the Monday, but at 3 a.m. on the day before the façade was smashed to pieces by demolition experts. The Royal Fine Art Commission condemned the action as “official vandalism… decided upon covertly, implemented without warning and timed deliberately to thwart known opposition”…
Freeman remained unrepentant, arguing that by selling off the old town hall site for development the council would be able to build a more efficient and economically run town hall around the corner. Freeman was particularly criticised for failing to find an alternative use for the building. He survived the storm, doubtless helped by the fact that he dominated the council to a degree unusual among municipal leaders, but there was little comfort for the ratepayers: the cost of the new town hall far exceeded his original estimates…
His rejection in 1988 as Conservative Party candidate for Kensington was a bitter disappointment which, he felt, ended his hopes of ever reaching Westminster. Freeman was elected Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1988, resigned as Leader of the council the next year, and announced his intention of retiring from the council altogether in 1990. Colleagues were surprised at his decision, for the borough seemed to be Freeman’s whole life. He spent almost every evening at the town hall…”
Information from websites of archiseek; Twentieth Century Society:
Soon after the amalgamation of Kensington with Chelsea it was decided to replace the two old town halls with a joint Civic Centre in Hornton Street. The architect chosen was Sir Basil Spence; he was commissioned in January 1965, and worked out the basic design within a month. He revised it twice before construction began, and the foundation stone was laid in 1973. The building was completed on 29 November 1976, ten days after the passing of its architect, and opened in 1977.