British School from 1850, Council Offices from 1898
A school from 1850-1897
In 1850, Sir John Lawes provided the site and paid for the construction of a building for Harpenden British School, the first local school to provide education for children of the ordinary working-class folk of Harpenden. Previously there had only been plait schools – where children were taught a bit of reading and writing while producing as much straw plait as possible to supplement the family income. The National School (now St Nicholas Primary School) came nine years later.
When state education began following the 1870 Education Act, the British School became a Board School and in 1897 when the school roll grew beyond the capacity of the building, the school was moved to a new building in Victoria Road. In 1939 the Board School moved to new buildings on Manland Common, and became known as Manland Primary and Secondary Schools. The secondary school was renamed Sir John Lawes School in the 1980s, in recognition of his role in establishing the school.
Council offices from 1898-1931
When Harpenden Urban District Council (HUDC) was formed in 1898 the old school building became the Council offices and the Public Hall. Then, in 1931, Harpenden Hall became vacant and the HUDC moved there. The Public Hall in Leyton Road continued to be used for meetings and entertainment – even after the new Public Halls had been built in 1938.
The Old Public hall had an important role during the Second World War when the ARP headquarters were there.
Park Hall from the 1970s
At the change of local government in 1974 the hall (now called Park Hall) passed to St Albans District council who, after long negotiation, leased it to Harpenden Town Council and permitted the building of the new Town Hall to the rear, and the refurbishment of Park Hall for continued community use. The Fire Brigade, which had occupied the classroom block adjoining the main building, moved to the Heathfield site when the classroom block was demolished when the Town Hall was built.