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The Former New Peoples Palace, Tower Hamlets

Description: The Former New Peoples Palace

Grade: II
Date Listed: 24 February 2009
English Heritage Building ID: 505211

OS Grid Reference: TQ3599982286
OS Grid Coordinates: 535999, 182286
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5231, -0.0411

Location: 327 Mile End Road, Poplar, Greater London E1 4DQ

Locality: Tower Hamlets
Local Authority: Tower Hamlets Borough Council
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: E1 4DQ

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Listing Text

788/0/10256 MILE END ROAD
24-FEB-09 MILE END
The former New Peoples Palace

GV II
Former New People's Palace, 1936-7, by Campbell Jones, Sons and Smithers, sculpture by Eric Gill, the interior by cinema architect George Coles. Alterations in 1955-6 by Playne and Lacey and at later dates.

PLAN: A large auditorium accessed through a foyer facing Mile End Road and a smaller hall running above the foyer in a transverse direction.

EXTERIOR: The building is clad in buff-coloured brick with a grey granite plinth and reconstructed Portland stone facing to the Mile End Road façade, continuing part of the way along the eastern return. Originally just the centre of the block was stone-clad, but this was extended to the side sections and return in the 1950s. The main façade has five tall, vertical windows with metal glazing bars, those to the first floor in the original design; those to the ground floor of the 1950s replacing former entrance. In between the two floors are five low-relief panels by Eric Gill depicting Drama, Music, Fellowship, Dance and Sport. This central section is flanked by projecting bastions which contain the staircase lobbies. They retain their original bronze entrance doors with carved architraves and a simple band of fluted cornice, but the stone and bronze flagpole sockets they once supported have been removed. Above the two doors are further relief panels by Gill, depicting Recreation. Staircase bays flank these bastions and conclude the elevation. The western return and rear are obscured by later buildings, but were always fairly utilitarian. The eastern return features a single storey link corridor of 1955-6 in reconstructed Portland stone with horizontal banded rustication. This has a large square lobby with a wide portal lit by a round lantern.

INTERIOR: The design was always intended to be more subtle than contemporary cinema interiors; as the press noted 'interior decorations will be quiet and restrained ... so that they do not clash with any social activities...'. The foyer has been refurbished but retains its travertine marble paving and coffered ceiling. The small hall is entirely modern in its décor. The main auditorium, on the other hand, is largely unaltered. Its half-height walnut panelling to the stalls and stage survives, above which there is plasterwork decoration to the proscenium arch and two boxes. The latter also retain their original curved balcony fronts and Deco-style metal-work grille. The main balcony is complete with original seating, lights, metal grilles, railings and further plasterwork to the two large windows. The auditorium ceiling is hexagonal with a coffered band. A first floor foyer retains ceiling plasterwork, lighting and double doors dating to the original scheme. In the 1950s link corridor, which retains its original finishes, there is a large memorial stone to the philanthropist whose bequest funded the People's Palace. JT Barber Beaumont (d 1841) was buried in a vault in the East London Cemetery (now Shandy Park), from where this stone was moved in 1979.

HISTORY: The original People's Palace stands next door on Mile End Road and is now the Queen's Building of Queen Mary University and listed at Grade II. The Palace was established to provide East Londoners with 'intellectual improvement and rational recreation' and its first building was constructed in stages from 1886-92 to designs by ER Robson. In his 1882 book, 'All sorts of conditions of men', Walter Besant has envisaged a 'palace of delights' with evening classes, a library, reading rooms and recreational activities. This idea was developed by a group of Unitarian philanthropists, the trustees of an endowment left by a JT Barber Beaumont for the 'mental and moral improvement' of the neighbourhood. With this money, and following public donations in the wake of fears of social unrest in the East End during the winter of 1886-7, they purchased the Mile End site of Bancroft's School and Almshouses from the Drapers' Company for the new building. The Drapers established two technical schools next to the Palace and also financed the final stages of building works. In 1931 the main concert hall was damaged in a fire necessitating the construction of the New People's Palace. The old Palace building, which had been more successful in its educational purposes than its social ones, came under the sole use of the technical schools, which were then known as East London College until 1934 when they received a royal charter and became Queen Mary University.

The New People's Palace was opened by the newly-acceded George VI on the 13 February 1937. This was the King and Queen's first public drive through London after the abdication of Edward VIII, the route taking in the Mall, the City and on to Whitechapel and the East End. The visit continued the tradition of royal patronage of the People's Palace, established when Queen Victoria opened the original building as the first official engagement of her Jubilee year in 1887. The new building featured prominently in the architectural and local press: the former published photographs and plans; the latter celebrated the 'new and even more magnificent successor' that was 'finer and more beautiful' than the old Palace.

The building originally had two halls, foyer and basement restaurant. In 1954, the New People's Palace was acquired by the rapidly-expanding Queen Mary University and alterations took place. A series of photographs published in the Architects Journal and Builder magazines shows the original scheme. The foyer was accessed up a flight of granite steps in the centre of the façade, under a bronze canopy with concealed lighting panels and travertine marble-clad reveals. The foyer had bronze ticket booths as well as travertine marble surfaces and Indian laurel doors with bronze fittings. The second hall had three mural panels by Phyllis Bray. The exterior had two flagpoles in bronze and stone Deco-style sockets and the panel of Portland stone in the centre of the façade was inscribed with the words 'The People's Palace / MCMXXXVI' in a slender, sans-serif, capitalised font. In 1955-6, Queen Mary University's architects Playne and Lacey removed the lettering, canopy, granite steps and flagpoles and switched the entrance to the eastern return, where they added a link block to the main Queen's Building.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The former New People's Palace is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* a unique building type: an entertainment and recreation hall inspired by Walter Besant and built through philanthropic endeavours to alleviate poverty and boredom in the East End of London;
* architectural interest of the blockish, stripped-classical interwar building by Campbell Jones and Sons and Smithers;
* artistic interest of the façade's seven low-relief panels by Eric Gill;
* well-surviving interior, in particular the auditorium, by cinema architect George Coles;
* the architecture of the new building stands in contrast to its florid neo-Grecian Victorian predecessor next door, with which it has group value.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

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