Sunday, 30 August 2015

The New People's Palace, Mile End Road E1

The original People's Palace, an exotic confection intended to bring culture and improvement to the working classes, burned down in 1931 and there was a clamour for it to be replaced.
The New People's Palace, designed by Campbell Jones & Smithers, was finally completed in 1937 and was going to be opened by King Edward VIII but he abdicated before he could get round to it and the ceremony was performed by his brother George V and Queen Elizabeth - their first public engagement.
The typically Art Deco building is decorated with carvings by Eric Gill. Over the side doors are a couple of rather androgynous figures representing Recreation, one playing some sort of woodwind instrument and the other reading Unto This Last, a proto-socialist tract on economics by Ruskin that I certainly wouldn't read for recreation.
The larger figures represent Drama, Music, Fellowship, Dance and Sport.
Gill usually preferred to work on the stone in its position on the building, but in this case most of the work was carried out at Gill's workshop in Ditchling (near Brighton). They were then installed and he finished them off in situ.
The New People's Palace was not to last, however. Despite the pressure for the old one to be rebuilt, it seems the arrival of real socialism in 1948 was bad for philanthropic social enterprises - the Ally Pally is another example. After years of losses, the New People's Palace was sold to Queen Mary College and converted into a hall.

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