Plans unveiled to demolish Archway Methodist Hall and restore it as community arts hub
- Credit: Archant
The transformation of Archway has brought the status of two of its most iconic buildings back into the public eye.
But as the stalemate regarding the ongoing closure of the Archway Tavern has been well documented, the future of the dilapidated Methodist Hall has been forced to play second fiddle.
Now, developers have drawn up plans to demolish the historic building and transform it into a 400-capacity community and theatre space with offices above it for local businesses.
Swedish architects White Arkitekter are behind the six-storey design, which will allow the venue to also be used for music concerts, conferences and training, yoga, community workshops, art exhibitions and also have a cafe and bar.
Bringing the hall back into public use has been a long time coming. It’s been empty, aside from property guardians, since 1989 and is said to be owned by a Gibraltar-based company.
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A bid to demolish the building within the façade and turn it into flats fell through in 2015 and local campaign group the Better Archway Forum launched a campaign, still ongoing, for it to be used for the arts.
The hall was built in 1934 to replace an existing 1864 church building. It was the last hall built by the Methodists and was funded by passionate Methodist and British film legend J Arthur Rank, who is credited with influencing the cinema-like design of the building.
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However Jan Tucker, chair of the Archway Town Centre Group, said the design wasn’t so popular with everyone.
“In order to appease some of the congregation who had some reservations an illuminated cross was fitted to the top of the building,” she said.
Designed by George and K Withers, it had a 1,300 seat auditorium, offices, a Sunday school and eight shops along with the 500 seater hall.
Inside, it was more like a concert venue than a church, with tip-up seats and concealed organ pipework. The cinema screen, which would show cartoons on a Saturday afternoon and features at night, was operated by a large pulley system.
Some people had other interpretations of the design. “Most of the interior walls were tiled and it was recorded that when it opened people were often found wandering around with towels around their necks ‘looking for the swimming baths’!” added Jan.
During the war, the basement was used by the council as an air raid shelter for 600 people.
“Every night throughout the blitz huge queues formed waiting to gain entry,” continued Jan. “It was remarked that at times the building resembled a West End theatre owing to the size of the queue and the amount of buskers entertaining the crowds.
“The enterprising minister even wrote ‘The Archway Air Raid Shelter Hymn’ which was sung every night before lights out!”
Concerts and dances were also held during the war in a bid to keep morale up. But on the night of November 5, 1944, the hall was used for a very different reason.
After a V2 rocket came down in nearby Grovedale Road, killing 31 and injuring another 84, it was used as a makeshift mortuary for the victims.
After the war competition from other venues saw the hall’s popularity decline and the owners began renting it out to youth clubs, until it was eventually closed as a venue in the ’60s. But it wasn’t finished yet.
“There was a reversal in fortunes when John Beech became minister in the late sixties,” Jan added. “He opened a new club for the disaffected youth in the area.
“He had a background as a missionary in Ghana and worked in particular with black youth in London. The youth club took off in a big way and membership reached over 600.”
Its success also brought problems, though, and it eventually closed after Beech and his wife spent too much time disarming youths carrying knives and drugs began to be used and sold on the premises.
Now, 30 years after the auditorium was last used, there is hope it will once again be used to serve the community, although founder of the Better Archway Forum Kate Calvert does not want to see the building bulldozed.
“Demolition seems unnecessary and would mean losing the potential to cater to multiple community, arts and cultural needs in the diverse population of Archway and beyond,” she said.