Although some have mistaken this grand old building at 411-417 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton as an old theatre, it was in fact a built as a billiard hall by the temperance movement.
The movement hoped to keep the working classes away from the demon drink by providing non alcoholic alternatives to pubs.
Victorian Web describes how the temperance movement grew in the late 19th century.
The temperance movement aimed to combat alcoholism by building ‘dry’ recreational halls and hotels which rivalled the architecture of the opulent public houses of the late C19.
The buildings often used the same decorative materials that pubs used, such as tiled facades and stained glass windows, to create the congenial atmosphere of a public house without the pitfalls of available alcohol. Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd initially targeted the suburbs of south London, where many new pubs had been built in the late C19, as well as north-west England where the firm originated.
By the beginning of WWI, however, billiards halls had been built across London, by both Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd and Lucania Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd, the two principal firms in operation.
By 1939 there were over 50 temperance billiard halls in London, though few are of comparable quality to the first tranche built before WWI. After WWII, billiards declined in popularity as did, at a much speedier pace, the temperance movement. Many halls were converted to snooker or bingo halls and public houses.
The top photo [© Lambeth Landmark] shows the old billiards hall in use as a Continental Foods supermarket in 1975.
This modern view above shows the building more or less intact, although the frontage has been split up into smaller shop units, with the rest of the building in use as a hotel (of sorts). A community police station opened up to the left of the main entrance in August 2005.
An ugly large road sign now dominates the view, although the trees go some way to softening the scene. You can’t really see it behind the trees, but the dome happily still survives too.
Sept 2003 view of the old billiard hall, as seen from the roof of Connaught Mansions at the junction of Coldharbour Lane and Rushcroft Road.
Sharing a near-identical design is the now listed former Temperance Billiard Hall at 41, King’s Road and Flood Street, Chelsea, London SW3, which was designed by T. G. Somerford. c. 1912-14.