County Hall, Kingston

In 1889 the first Surrey County Council needed to find a home. The Sessions House at Newington, near the Elephant and Castle, had been the home of the Surrey Court of Quarter Sessions for almost a century but south London had passed into the new County of London and no longer formed part of Surrey. The County Council considered a number of possible locations for its headquarters. These included the option of remaining in London, the focal point of the railway system and the city in which many of the members pursued their businesses and professions. Eventually the decision was taken to move into the administrative county and on 15 April 1890, after intense lobbying and amid keen local interest, Kingston was selected as the location of County Hall, defeating Guildford, Wimbledon, Epsom and Redhill.

The first site selected in St James’ Road, on the Kingston Hall estate, was found to be unsuitable. County Hall was therefore built on a two acre site on the Woodbines estate. It faced Grove Road (later renamed Penrhyn Road in honour of the first Chairman of the County Council) which was being improved by Kingston Borough as the main thoroughfare between central Kingston and Surbiton station.

The County Hall architect, Charles Henry Howell, also designed Brookwood and Cane Hill lunatic asylums. Higgs and Hill won the building contract with a price of 41,964.

County Hall circa 1908 (SHC Ref: CC56/9/1)

County Hall circa 1908 (SHC Ref: CC56/9/1)

County Hall was constructed between 1891 and 1893. On 3 June 1893 the Surrey Comet described the “palatial structure in Grove Road”. This covered the north-eastern part of the site and was the most imposing building in late-nineteenth century Kingston. The newspapers drew attention to the sculptures by Farmer and Brindley: Law and Liberty, Peace and Plenty, Justice and Mercy over the windows of the first floor grand hall; the arms of Guildford, Godalming, Reigate, Richmond and Kingston; the arms of the Earl of Lovelace, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, in the southern gable of the facade, together with the royal arms on the western aspect; and the Four Seasons on the tower buttresses.

On 13 November 1893 County Hall was open from 2 to 5pm for viewing by invitation. A band played and the guests viewed every part of the building from the cells and heating chamber to the splendours of the great hall. The next day Surrey County Council met for the first time in County Hall.

County Hall, some of the prisoner's cells (SHC Ref 252 (47))

County Hall, some of the
prisoner’s cells (SHC Ref 252 (47))

County Hall, Prisoner's dock and Public Gallery (SHC Ref 252 (42))

County Hall, Prisoner’s dock and
Public Gallery (SHC Ref 252 (42))

In addition to Council Chambers and offices for various council officials, County Hall also originally housed a court, grand jury room, rooms for witnesses, jurors and barristers and, on the ground floor, prisoners’ cells. The court was later moved to a purpose built building alongside County Hall.

County Hall was originally built to house council and committee meetings, courts and a minimal administrative staff. As the County Council gained new duties and powers, staffing levels increased. By 1914 the County Council occupied five private houses near to County Hall and an office hired from Kingston Corporation. The outbreak of war halted a 1914 plan by the architect Henry Hare to extend County Hall southwards. BY 1927 there were 39 staff working in County Hall and 135 in converted houses in and around Penrhyn Road.

Photograph of HRH the Duke of Gloucester at front door of County Hall 1930 (SHC Ref: CC135/4)

Photograph of HRH the Duke of Gloucester
at front door of County Hall 1930
(SHC Ref: CC135/4)

A new extension intended for 200 staff, designed by Vincent Harris, was opened by the Duke of Gloucester in 1930. By 1934 a further extension was needed, this was built and opened in 1938.

County Hall bomb damage 1940 (SHC Ref: 4272/1)

County Hall bomb damage 1940 (SHC Ref: 4272/1)

County Hall bomb damage 1940 (SHC Ref: 4272/1)

County Hall bomb damage 1940 (SHC Ref: 4272/1)

County Hall bomb damage 1940 (SHC Ref: 4272/1)

County Hall bomb damage 1940 (SHC Ref: 4272/1)

In 1944 a flying bomb demolished the Ashcombe block. War damage was repaired between 1945 and 1950, although shrapnel marks can still be seen in the stonework. The Ashcombe block was rebuilt in 1953. Further extensions were added in 1963 and 1982.

Images to left and right  – County Hall 1944 bomb damage (SHC Ref CC37/12)

The building is now Grade II listed.

Adapted from Dr David Robinson’s “A Brief History of County Hall” (1993)

Surrey History Centre’s July 2019 Marvel of the Month featured a fascinating album compiled by Surrey County Council employee, Winifred Hutchings, recording bomb damage to County Hall during the Second World War.

5 thoughts on “County Hall, Kingston”

  1. DAVID KNIGHT says:


    1. Michael reed says:

      hi would you have any photos of the lcc building from 1950s through to the 1960s,

    2. Michael reed says:

      hi,David I was born in Kingston general this day 14-12-1952,I didn’t really live round Kingston,so I don’t have a lot of memory of the place,my mother was from s e London so I serpose I was there I do remember other places I was at,you see David I was brought up in LLC social care ie children’s homes in other words,I went to city hall every couple of months in the 1960’s,it was in Vauxhall by the river,it’s been turned into a hotel now,the features are still there on the out side,you can google city hall the hotel will come up,listed building I believe today.i was brought up in a village on the A24 in Dorking,called southolmwood you heard of it,I went to primary school in the 1960’s,lovely memories,I try to go back there on days off. Michael.

  2. C. Kingston says:

    Kingston was historically and culturally part of Surrey. And as most folk who were born there and grew up there up till the 1960’s and early 1970’s, we still thought of oursleves as good Surrey folk and Kingston as still very much a Surrey town. We did not like to be called part of London. We felt very aggravated that our identity, culture, history and roots had been ripped from us. That we had been torn from our fellow Surrey folk and homeland of Surrey.

    We still looked yonwards to Surrey for our days out and recreation, many tried to move there. For it was within Surrey that we Kingstonians felt at home, that we felt amongst our own folk, where we shared our ancient ties and a Surrey view of the world.

    Kingston as we know it was in fact founded by we English/Saxons, and was and still is an indigenous English settlement. ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is a misguided and misdirected academic name for we the actual English. That is those of us who are of English stock/ethnicity. We (our nation) did not suddenly disappear after 1066, we still by far made up the majority of the population of England. (remember the English (Angles/Saxons/Jutes) named England after themselves/their shared ethnic and cultural name, England, Land of the English) ..the Normans only making about 2%.

    We also recognized ourselves as being of English stock and ethnicity, and were calling ourselves English long before 1066. In fact our tribal names can be traced back thousands of years.

    You will find the majority of Surrey’s place-names are English. Our early English language being used to denote and create these names. Of course some names of were later of Norman addition or Norman add ons to existing English place-names.

  3. Jon Brosnan says:

    Did anyone commit suicde in the kingston cells?

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