The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

Longfield Hall reclaims its heritage


Alison Rae recounts the history of this community asset

Tucked within the junction of Knatchbull Road and Burton Road, just north of the park, stands Longfield Hall. It was built by architect George Hubbard as a parochial hall. It has also made an illustrious contribution to local theatre.

William Minet, a descendent of the Huguenot family that purchased this land, commissioned the building. It opened in 1889. It was to be a companion to the library on the opposite corner of the road, which was a memorial to William’s wife, Alice, who died in 1887. Architecturally, it isn’t quite the Victorian Venetian Gothic of the years preceding, nor does it belong to the Queen Anne style of the 1890s. From the south, with its curved facade, conical tiled roof and red brick decorative band at the eaves, the view evokes the style of an apse of a Lombardic church.

As well as acting as a church hall for nearby St James, Longfield Hall was taken up as the place for functions, choral societies and Christmas concerts, establishing its long-standing associations with performance and community. Its twin, the library, alas, was destroyed by a bomb in World War II. Pevsner's South London Guide comments that ‘a meek replacement’ was built in 1956. This now houses the Minet Library and the Lambeth Archives.

After the War, the ownership of the Minet Estate, including the Hall, was transferred to Lambeth Council. The community, particularly in the area adjacent to Brixton, was changing. Jamaican-born Frank Cousins, a graduate in acting from the Guildhall School, formed a theatre company called Dark and Light. He was offered Longfield Hall by Lambeth Council, but only two weeks a year were available for performances. Between 1969 and 1975 it toured from this base. It received Arts Council funding for its UK-wide work.

After a change of personnel, the company evolved into The Black Theatre of Brixton, with the focus on local performance. It produced more black plays in its short life than the theatre in England had in the previous 25 years. However, its business model proved unviable, and it closed in 1978.

A year after, Longfield Hall was granted a Grade II Heritage listing. The Friends of Longfield Hall formed in the 1990s. By 2010 it become a charity. In 2014 the charity was renamed The Longfield Hall Trust.

Since then, Brixton-based architects Carver Haggard have been working on the building to make it fit for a host of community activities such as yoga, capoeira, drama and choirs. There is a nursery. The activities take place on different levels so as not to disturb each other. The Hall is home to three church congregations. It is open on Sundays and Christmas Day.

Its attractive new livery of cobalt blue, stylish grey and clean white sets off the original wood features. Judicious rearrangement of walls maximises the light, which sets the scene for the main venue: the jewel-like emerald, green Upper Hall, where most performances take place. Restored period features include the ceiling rose fittings. They recall the light and ventilation of the sun-burners of Victorian Theatres. They also provide the visual identity of the Hall on its website and Twitter.

A vibrant programme and local support have ensured that Longfield Hall continues to serve the local community. Past achievements have been recognised by the new Brixton House Theatre on Coldharbour Lane, the Black Plays Archive, and a blue plaque marking the fiftieth anniversary of Dark and Light.

Do visit or take a class. The Trust warmly welcomes new members and volunteers. There is more information at,, and

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival