Deptford Town Hall, sculptural decoration by Henry Poole

Deptford, near Greenwich and Woolwich in South London, has one of the more decorative and flamboyant Edwardian town halls on the smaller scale. It is in the Edwardian Baroque style, and is by the excellent architectural partnership of Lanchester, Stewart and Rickards, with the architectural sculpture by Henry Poole. It was completed in 1905.

Deptford Town Hall, as it is (left), unchanged from when it was put up (centre), and plan (right).

The building (which incidentally is now owned by Goldsmiths' College) is close to New Cross Gate Underground Station, on New Cross Road. It is a fair size for a London town hall, but achieves an effect of grandeur beyond its physical dimensions. The building is seven bays wide, and mostly two storeys high, though their height is extremely generous, and the ground floor bays have Doric pillars to each side. The central portico, arched, is up several steps, and has a prominent bay window on the floor above it. Above that is a central third storey, or wide tower with gabled roof, and on that is a small square clock tower with balcony around it and a concave-sided little steeple on that, bearing a weathervane. The building is almost symmetrical, but the right hand side has an arched door at ground level, presumably to allow entrance to some yard behind, or at least the movement in and out of bulky deliveries; this bay lacks the side pillars. There is an iron fence in front, and a basement storey of which the tops of the arched windows are visible from across the street at ground level. And there is a lot of decorative sculpture.

View of interior staircase, and principal sculpture on frontage.

The theme of the sculpture is nautical, and this is reflected on every level of the building. Thus on the ground floor, the central portico has two Tritons leaning over it, acting as supports, thus Atlantes (male supporting figures, the equivalent of the more familiar Caryatid – see this page; for more on Tritons, see this page). They have excellently long, sinuous tails complete with fins. The arms vanish into the architecture, with further fins. Unusually, these Tritons also have wings. Between them, the iron grill above the door includes two seahorses.

Portico, and detail of one of the Tritons.

There is an arch to the right hand side of the building as we look at it, and in the keystone position is a coat of arms. In the centre, a cartouche with low relief carvings of three birds, a ship in dry dock, a make figure with crown above his head, and a rampant horse. To left and right are upward-pointing tridents, each with an eel coiled around its shaft, and to left and right of those are large, scaly and gasping fishes; another fish stares out from above (if you like fish sculpture, see this page). Finally, at the base of the keystone is a crab, and behind and around all is splendidly carved seaweed of the bladder-wrack kind. Excellent decorative work.

Statues of Robert Blake, Francis Drake, Nelson and 1905 admiral.

Moving upwards, the first floor contains the principal sculpture: four full sized statues of Naval heroes: Francis Drake, Robert Blake, ‘father of the Royal Navy’, Nelson, and some modern (1905) figure who is meant to be typical rather than any specific person.