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In 1855 London Government was restructured. The vestries reverted primarily to their original ecclesiastical functions. The new civilian vestries elected by ratepayers and incorporating the Improvement Commissions were created. However it was only in 1894 that all civilian powers, in particular powers to raise rates, were transferred. Due to the size of their population both Kensington and Chelsea became Metropolitan Vestries. Their powers included paving, lighting, watering, cleansing, building and maintaining sewers and drains, nuisance removal and public health. Regular committees, annual reports and accounts, and the appointment of statutory officials all date from this time. The Vestry Clerk was retained and three new paid posts were created; the Surveyor, the Medical Officer of Health and the Public Analyst. In 1890 a Lighting Engineer was added.
New Vestry Halls were built to reflect their new status and to accommodate the increased staff. Chelsea Vestry Hall on the King’s Road was completed in 1859. It was enlarged in 1886 and again in 1905 but the nucleus of the original Italianate building still stands. The building of Kensington Vestry Hall on Kensington High Street led to accusations of extravagance by ratepayers. They accused the vestrymen of being more concerned with their accommodation and “gold lace on the Beadle’s uniform” than the ratepayers. Despite these complaints a new and even more imposing hall, since demolished, was built in 1880 and the old Vestry Hall was converted into a Central Library.
Chambers Leete, Vestry Clerk, in his official regalia
Watercolour of Kensington Vestry Hall by the architect James Broadbridge, 1852