Open House Festival

Conway Hall

concert/performance space, community/cultural

Frederick Herbert Mansford, 1929

25 Red Lion Square, WC1R 4RL

The home of Conway Hall Ethical Society, an organisation renowned as a hub for free speech and progressive thought. Grade II listed building with both Arts and Crafts and Art Deco features adding to its distinctive style.

Getting there






98, 19, 38, 8, 55



Accessibility notes

This tour will include spaces only accessible by stairs.

What you can expect

Some seating will be available in each room during the tour. There will be section of the tour where live classical piano is played.



Modestly tucked away in the corner of a not-quite-Bloomsbury square, the narrow frontage of Conway Hall manages to have a lot to say for itself. It’s a brick structure in muted grey and red, with handsome double doors; the canopy above the entrance forming the balcony of a first floor library with a broad arched French window; then third storey with a Venetian window, flanked by two urns, and a pediment spanning the top of the building. It’s busy, but not shouty, which is in keeping with the purpose of Conway Hall as headquarters of a vigorous, freethinking secular movement, the South Place (now Conway Hall) Ethical Society. Its roots were in 18th century religious dissent, but while other congregations had prayers and preachers, the humanists who assembled at Conway Hall chose to hear lecturers and hold discussions. They still do.

The Building

The hall was opened in 1929 – right in the middle of the Art Deco flush – though the architect Frederick Mansford was carefully restrained in the period motifs he chose. The elegance this produced can still be seen in the original fixtures and fittings: metal-framed windows, some deep and slender; others recessed and round – all definitely secular; extensive use of wood; the library’s parquet floor; the metalwork balustrading in the main hall balcony with its lattice design, the light-fittings – even the door handles.

But as well as producing a well-crafted building, Mansford’s other concern was how to fit it into an awkward site. The ground plan is irregular: that narrow façade on Red Lion Square is, in fact, only part of the frontage. Up close, it can be seen that this continues on the right hand side, where a flank runs along Lambs Conduit Passage – at a slight angle to the main entrance. This section of the frontage has long, narrow ground floor windows, and three deep round windows, throwing light into a side of the main hall gallery.

Inside, the layout is intriguingly off-centre; the main hall is not directly opposite the entrance. Instead, the polished stone lobby is dominated by a single stone Tuscan pillar, while the main corridor leads to meeting rooms; the stairwell occupies the other part of the lobby. The stone staircase is cantilevered from three sides of the stairwell. There’s a breathing space on the first floor landing, a built-in stone seat between the main hall and the library.

Mansford’s plan reveals itself both in the artfully dovetailed layout of spaces and levels (Conway Hall incorporates a Victorian house on Theobalds Road), and in the unifying design features. A shallow barrel-vault ceiling with skylights spans the main hall. With a capacity of 400, the hall is intimate rather than intimidating; it’s a space for reasoning, not ranting. The stage faces a gallery running along three sides of the hall with rows of the original fixed leather seats – just comfortable enough to keep audiences alert.

The same spare but stylish fittings are in the library: fully accessible shelving; and a handsome wood fireplace incorporating two deep alcoves where readers can sit. It’s an ideal intellectual inglenook, but no place for daydreaming!

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