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York Hall, Tower Hamlets

Description: York Hall

Grade: II
Date Listed: 28 November 2013
Building ID: 1412973

OS Grid Reference: TQ3498183066
OS Grid Coordinates: 534992, 183015
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5299, -0.0553

Locality: Tower Hamlets
County: Greater London Authority
Postcode: E2 9LJ

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Listing Text


Public hall, swimming pool and baths, formerly incorporating public wash-house and laundry. 1926-9 by AE Darby for the London Borough of Bethnal Green, with superintendent engineer J Berry. Second-class swimming pool rebuilt 1967 by Wakeford, Jerram and Harris (not of special interest). Refurbished 2005-10 by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Reason for Listing

York Hall, a swimming pool, bath-house and laundry complex built in 1926-9 by AE Darby for the London Borough of Bethnal Green, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: an imposing building containing a fine suite of well-preserved interiors;
* Historic interest: a vivid expression of civic pride and social purpose in one of inter-war London's poorest boroughs, with strong (though more recent) associations with the sport of boxing;
* Group value: as part of an important cluster of listed civic, domestic and religious buildings including the former Bethnal Green town hall, the Museum of Childhood, Our Lady's church and priory and the surviving C17 and C18 houses on Old Ford Road.


York Hall was the third in a succession of public baths built in the densely-populated East End borough of Bethnal Green, succeeding the small swimming pool at Mansford Road (1895, taken into public ownership 1898) and the Cheshire Street Slipper Baths (1900). The Mansford Road pool closed in 1920, and in 1923 the borough acquired a site at the corner of Cambridge Heath Road and Old Ford Road. Designs for a new municipal baths complex were obtained from the borough engineer-architect AE Darby; the foundation stone was laid in October 1926, and on 5th November 1929 the building - incorporating first and second class swimming pools (the former with a demountable floor allowing its conversion into a public hall), slipper baths, Turkish and Russian baths and a public laundry - was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, from whom the new facility took its name.
As at many public baths, swimming at York Hall was a seasonal affair, with the flooring in the main hall taken up over the summer and reinstated again for the winter. After about 1950 the first-class pool fell into disuse, and with the rebuilding of the second-class pool in 1965-7 by the firm of Wakeford, Jerram and Harris, the hall became increasingly important as a boxing venue. The sport has long associations with the East End, and until the mid-C20 fights were regularly staged at a score of venues ranging from pubs and mission halls to dedicated arenas like Whitechapel's Premierland, as well as a number of other out-of-season swimming baths such as Haggerston and Hoxton. After WWII their numbers declined, and public bouts increasingly gravitated towards York Hall; several future world champions, including John Stracey, Charlie Magri, Maurice Hope and Nigel Benn, fought there early in their careers, and the hall - though a fraction the size of modern international venues - is now widely referred to as the 'home' of British boxing. Threatened with closure in 2003, York Hall was renovated once more in 2005-10, with the basement area converted into a health spa.


Reinforced concrete frame faced at the front in red brick and Portland stone with a Westmorland slate roof.

The building occupies a deep rectangular site and comprises an entrance range to Old Ford Road with two large halls and a collection of lower outbuildings behind. The front range has three sets of entrances. That in the centre leads, via a processional sequence of rooms comprising vestibule, entrance hall and crush hall, to the principal public hall which originally doubled as the first-class pool; the hall is surrounded by a gallery accessed via twin staircases in the entrance hall. The right-hand entrance originally led, via separate men’s and women’s corridors and changing rooms, to the second-class pool (rebuilt in 1967 as the main pool, and not of special interest), slipper baths and (in the basement) Turkish baths. The left-hand entrance, now used for events, gave access to the public laundry and wash-house, which occupied a flat-roofed block alongside the main hall, now the bar. To the rear was a boiler room, now demolished although its chimney survives.
Only the elevation to Old Ford Road is intended to be seen. Here the building presents a symmetrical neo-Georgian façade of 17 bays arranged 2-5-3-5-2, the divisions marked by slight projections in the building line and by prominently-placed downpipes. The outer and middle sections are of red brick with a stone plinth, entablature and storey band. Windows are multi-pane sashes with keystones. Steps lead up to the two pairs of side entrances, their stone architraves having fluted brackets and guilloche lintels. A dentil cornice runs the full width of the façade; there is a balustrade above the middle section, which has a mansard roof with dormers. The three central bays break forward and are wholly stone-clad. Here are three round-arched entrance doorways with keystones and decorative ironwork in the tympana; above is a balcony on sturdy Greek key-moulded brackets, with more Greek key in the entablature to the central first-floor window; above the cornice is a square-windowed attic storey, surmounted on the roof-ridge by a timber and copper cupola. On the left-hand side is a short return of three bays incorporating a side entrance. On the far right-hand side is an additional set-back bay, of plain brick with a Diocletian window in a tall relieving arch.
The principal interiors are those that form the processional route from main entrance to public hall. The three central doorways with their glazed hardwood doors and fanlights lead to the vestibule, which contains brass balustrades with lamp standards and, on either side, little polygonal Art Deco ticket kiosks in hardwood with iron grilles. The walls and floor are lined with grey and yellow terrazzo panels. A triple doorway, surmounted by a bronze plaque commemorating the hall’s inauguration in November 1929, leads to the entrance hall, a double-height space, top-lit by a patterned glass dome. Stairs on either side with brass handrails and cross-braced metal balustrades give access to the gallery in the public hall. Below, another triple doorway opens into the crush hall, a barrel-ceilinged room with hardwood panelling; the end walls originally had fireplaces, now replaced by *modern doors.
A final triple doorway opens into the public hall. This is a very large rectangular space with a stage at one end and a gallery running round the remaining three sides. The ceiling is a broad segmental vault with glazed panels and an egg-and-dart cornice. The gallery has ironwork balustrades with semicircular projecting bays and raked seating; the right-hand section has been reinforced by means of a row of tubular concrete columns*, which are not of special interest. The panelling* beneath the gallery is a modern plywood replacement for the original rows of collapsible cubicles and is not of special interest; to the left is the entrance to the bar, which occupies the former laundry area and contains entirely modern fittings*, which are not of special interest. The hall floor of maple boards was designed to be removed in sections to expose the swimming pool beneath; this is no longer done, although the pool itself survives. The proscenium arch is flanked by pilasters with simplified acanthus capitals; the stage itself has been rebuilt and enlarged, and the equestrian relief that once filled the tympanum above has been replaced with the Bethnal Green borough crest.  Behind the stage are dressing rooms and toilets, one of the latter retaining its original tilework and cubicle partitions.
The outer wings and basement have been much altered.  The right-hand entrance originally served the second-class pool and slipper baths, and had separate men’s and women’s lobbies; the glazed timber enclosure dividing these survives, as do the two staircases with their ironwork balustrades and biscuit tiled dados. The slipper baths have been wholly remodelled as changing rooms and a gym, with modern fittings*, which are not of special interest. In the basement, cloakrooms and storage areas have been converted into a health spa, again with modern fittings*, which are not of special interest, but the three chambers of the Turkish bath - tepidarium, calidarium and laconium - survive with their original biscuit tiles and marble-topped benches. Some original plant survives in the basement, including three large filtration chambers.
The present swimming pool* is a 1967 rebuilding of the original second-class pool and is not of special interest. It is a large hall with a steel truss roof and a gallery along one side; light comes from clerestory windows and a fully glazed wall at the north end.

* Pursuant to s1(5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.
In front of the building on Old Ford Road are decorative area railings with granite plinth walls and piers, and curved granite walls flank the central entrance to the public hall. To the rear, in what is now the parking area, the boiler-house chimney survives, a tall octagonal red-brick stack on a square base. 

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.