|Leeds Town Hall|
Leeds Town Hall in 2006
|Town or city||Leeds|
|17 August 1853|
|Opened||7 September 1858|
|Client||Corporation of Leeds|
|Height||225 ft (69 m)|
|Floor area||5,600 sq yd (4,700 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Other designers||Catherine Mawer, John Thomas, John Crace|
|Main contractor||Samuel Atack|
|Designated||19 October 1951|
Leeds Town Hall was built between 1853 and 1858 on The Headrow (formerly Park Lane), Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, to a design by architect Cuthbert Brodrick. It was planned to include law courts, a council chamber, municipal offices, a public hall, and a suite of ceremonial rooms. With the building of the Civic Hall in 1933 some of these functions moved away, and after the construction of the Leeds Crown Court in 1993, it now functions mainly as a concert, conference and wedding venue, its offices still used by some council departments. It became a Grade I listed building in 1951.
Imagined as a "municipal palace" to demonstrate the power and success of Victorian Leeds, and opened by Queen Victoria in a lavish ceremony in 1858, it is one of the largest town halls in the United Kingdom. With a height of 225 feet (68.6 m) it was the tallest building in Leeds from 1858 until 1966, when it lost the title to the Park Plaza Hotel, which stands 8 metres (26 ft) taller at 77 metres (253 ft). The Town Hall held the title longer than any other building, 108 years. As of 2017 it is the thirteenth-tallest building in Leeds.
The distinctive baroque clock tower, which serves as a symbol of Leeds, was not part of the initial design but was added by Brodrick in 1856 as the civic leaders sought to make an even grander statement despite the poverty in the city at the time; the building cost much more than the original estimates.
The town hall is classical in style but baroque in imaginative power and drama. It stands squarely at the top of a flight of steps (altered from their original curved shape) on a mound made specially for the purpose of increasing its commanding position. The south, principal facade to The Headrow has a deeply recessed portico of ten huge Corinthian columns. Then there is an immense frieze and rising above it all, the clock tower, 225 ft (69 m) high, which was not in the original design.
The two sides and north end of the building are similar to the south front, except that the columns and pilasters which surround them are near to the walls, and the spaces between them have two tiers of circular-headed windows. The principal entrance is a 32 ft (9.8 m)-high archway under the south portico, which contains three highly ornamented wrought iron doors. The carving of the tympanum above the entrance, the sole contribution by the prolific Victorian sculptor John Thomas, represents Progress, Art and Commerce. The four Portland stone lions on plinths along the frontage, an 1867 addition by the sculptor William Day Keyworth Jr, were modelled at London Zoo, and contrast with the sandstone of the building itself.
The sculptor credited for the general carving work on the building is Catherine Mawer who lived in Oxford Place close by. Her nephew William Ingle was responsible for the huge Corinthian capitals and the ornamental turrets on the roof. Her husband Robert Mawer was working on the "large keystones carved with Mythical heads" or "giant masks", between 1853 and 1854, when he died. Catherine Mawer and William Ingle completed the masks and other general carving. Thomas Whiteley, the stonemason associated with Robert Mawer, also worked on the building; he was not a sculptor. The carvings are in Rawdon Hill millstone grit.
The Victoria Hall - originally the 'Great Hall' - rises to 92 ft 6 in (28.19 m) inside the parallelogram of surrounding rooms and corridors and the enclosing colonnades. The striking internal decoration to the design of London decorator John Crace, cut-glass chandelier and the then-largest organ in Europe led one writer to say that it was "the best place in Britain to see what it looked like on the inside of a wedding cake." The frescoes adorning the domed ceiling of the vestibule (see gallery) was the first attempt to embellish a provincial edifice with high art. In the centre of the vestibule stands a white marble statue of Queen Victoria, by Matthew Noble, which is 8 ft (2.4 m) high and was presented to the Corporation as the gift of Sir Peter Fairbairn.
The town hall provided accommodation for municipal departments, a courtroom, police station or 'central charge office', and a venue for concerts and civic events. It still has a role as a council office, although many departments have been relocated. The principal performance space, the richly decorated Victoria Hall, is a venue for orchestral concerts.
Until 1813, the Moot Hall, on Briggate was the seat of Leeds Corporation and was used for judicial purposes from 1615. Leeds went through a period of rapid growth in the first half of the 19th century and by the mid-19th century it became apparent that the court house was no longer large enough for the functions it performed; it was demolished in 1825 and replaced by a new court house on Park Row.
In July 1850, Leeds Corporation held a public meeting, the decision of which was that a "large public hall" should be built in Leeds. Using the precedent of St George's Hall, Bradford, the council proposed to sell shares in the building to the value of £10 but little public interest was shown. In October, a councillor then proposed introducing a specific rate levied to fund its construction instead of using a joint stock company. A decision was deferred until after the municipal election of November 1850 to give ratepayers a chance to express their views. The town hall was approved in January 1851 when the motion was put to the council and carried by twenty-four votes to twelve. The resolution read: "As the attempt to raise funds by public subscription has failed, it is the opinion of this Council desirable to erect a Town Hall, including suitable corporate buildings." The sum voted was £22,000 for the building and £9,500 for the land. It was intended to represent Leeds's emergence as an important industrial centre during the Industrial Revolution and symbolize civic pride and confidence.
A council committee was established to assess the opinions of Leeds's inhabitants. In July 1851, it presented a report, with consultees including Joseph Paxton, the designer of The Crystal Palace, and delegations to other large towns including Manchester and Liverpool to investigate their plans for building public halls. The report's recommendations also identified a site for the hall on what was then Park Lane, now The Headrow, which contained Park House and its gardens. This site was on the edge of the town centre of the time, but required a large parcel of land that was unavailable in the congested central streets. It was purchased from a wealthy merchant named John Blayds for the sum of £9,500.
However, the scheme did not secure universal backing immediately; a council motion in February 1852 proposed it was "unwise and expedient to proceed with the Hall". This and other motions to limit its cost were defeated by a small majority, but this demonstrates that financial prudence was a strong desire among some Victorian local politicians, who disliked spending without proof of genuine advantages. These happened to be in a minority in Leeds, which in the same year backed other large projects such as installing sewers for the city. Support among the public and interest groups also helped - the recently-formed Leeds Improvement Society was in strong support of the hall (despite its doubts on the council's competence to deliver it), as was the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.
No one would wish to underestimate the importance of the metropolis, but, after all, it is not in London that we find the best specimens of our English architecture ... It is in what were once provincial cities or hamlets that we discover the most venerable and the most striking memorials of the taste and self-consecration of our forefathers. And the time may come when the archaeologist of a future age will look for the best specimens of the buildings of the present reign, not to the Law Courts or in the Houses of Parliament, but to some provincial towns, where possibly the hurry and rush of life have not been as great as in the capital.
Park Lane (now The Headrow) in 1847. A small park lies on the site of the town hall
Leeds Corporation tendered for designs from architects in 1852, in an open competition. Sir Charles Barry, at the time still occupied rebuilding the Palace of Westminster, was selected to advise the Town Hall Committee in their judging. Premiums of £200, £100, and £50 were awarded to the first, second and third-placed entrants. The contract was won by Cuthbert Brodrick, an young architect from Hull who was unknown outside his home town. He had travelled extensively in Europe in 1844-5 and acquired a love for its classical architecture. He was only twenty-nine when he won the competition for the town hall, but later designed some of Victorian Leeds's noted landmarks - the Corn Exchange, Mechanics' Institute and Turkish Baths.
Second place in the competition was given to the partners Henry Francis Lockwood and William Mawson, who had designed St George's Hall, Bradford in 1849, and later went on to build Bradford City Hall from 1869.
Brodrick's design was in the Roman Corinthian style of architecture, quite different from any of the others sent in. The Town Hall Committee initially had reservations after selecting Brodrick, asking Charles Barry for an affirmation in Brodrick's abilities in the construction of such a large building, mostly relating to him being so young; Barry responded with highest praise: that he was "fully satisfied that the Council might trust [Brodrick] with the most perfect safety", and that "a building constructed according to these plans would be the most perfect gem out of London." Next, the Committee took the unusual step of insisting in a clause in Brodrick's contract stating that he would receive no payment beyond that of the accepted estimate of £39,000 if the work costs exceeded it. Brodrick agreed to this clause, and a sub-committee was formed to "superintend the progress of the works".
The main roof uses an innovative system of laminated wooden beams, held by wrought-iron bolts, with a 22 m (72 ft) span. This is thought to be the first example in wood, taken from the roof designs of Paxton's Crystal Palace and Cubitt's King's Cross train shed, both also constructed in the 1850s.
On 25 July 1853, the building contract was awarded to Samuel Atack, a Leeds builder and bricklayer. Work began in July, using millstone grit from 17 different quarries. Rawdon Hill stone was favoured for those parts of the building on which there would be carving; Derbyshire gritstone formed many of the columns. The foundation stone was laid on 17 August 1853, by the Mayor of Leeds, John Hope Shaw. Sizeable crowds were present at the ceremony, in which the Mayor placed into the stone's cavity some items of the era to form a time capsule, including coins and newspapers, and laid mortar on the stone with a silver trowel (on public display at Leeds City Museum). Subsequent speeches were followed by a long procession consisting of brass bands, Brodrick, magistrates, members of the Council, and others. Celebrations continued with a civic banquet, festivities on Woodhouse Moor, and fireworks.
Over the next couple of years, the design was revised many times during the construction of the building; such as the extension of the vestibule and the inclusion of an organ, which came to be regarded as the 'crowning glory'; town halls elsewhere followed suit. The most controversial modification was the inclusion of a tower. A design of a tower by Brodrick, which would cost £6,000, was rejected in February 1853, but it was debated at great length and the proposal resurfaced in September 1854 with a limitation of cost to £7,000, but this was again defeated by the Council. Opponents of the tower used the argument that "a tower would cost money and would only be good to look at, not to use". Proponents were thinking of the Continental associations of a grand and impressive town hall. There were hopes that visitors would come to Leeds to see the Town Hall, and that a tower, at a few additional thousand pounds, would provide the building with beauty beyond mere utilitarianism.
The following February, a compromise was reached when the Council voted to allow "a form of roof construction which might eventually permit the erection of a tower 'if at any time it should be thought desirable to do so.'" It was not until March 1856 that the tower was formally approved by a majority of nineteen. It would take the form of a cupola supported on columns akin to the Corinthian columns of the south facade. A firm named Addy and Nicholls was appointed contractors for the tower and interior work, but the tower was not completed until after the Town Hall's official opening, with a bell cast by John Warner & Sons hung in 1860, closely followed by the clock mechanism, installed by Dent of London (the dials by Potts) one storey above the bell.
The Council had originally granted £39,000 for construction (increased from the 1851 grant of £22,000), but Atak's contract was for a sum of £41,835 - a cost increase caused by Leeds choosing to build its town hall during a period of rising prices of labour and building materials. Brodrick is reported as being "determined to see the scheme through 'whatever the cost'". Various other problems beset the project: Atack's main problems as the builder were changes in design and difficulties with the architect; the Crimean War, because army recruitment caused a shortage of workmen and a rise in wages; and deadline pressures arising from Queen Victoria's agreement to open the building. These ultimately led to his bankruptcy in March 1857; various other local contractors were appointed to complete the Town Hall. Leeds Town Hall was subject to much criticism during its construction. The original estimated costs were vastly exceeded and the corporation had to find extra funding at a time when there was great poverty among Leeds's working classes.
Further modifications to the Town Hall continued to be made after its opening, including the placing of Keyworth's lions by the main entrance in 1867 (each one made from two pieces of Portland stone with zig-zag joints), redecoration of the Victoria Hall by John Dibblee Crace in a buff and white colour scheme, replacing his father J G Crace's 1857 green colours, and in 1907 a new grand stair down to the crypt. In 1905, a memorial to Queen Victoria by George Frampton was unveiled in Victoria Square to the south, replacing a fountain, front while windows on the Calverley Street and Victoria Square corner were altered from three to five. During the 1930s, original fittings, including a gallery designed by Brodrick, were lost in an enlargement of the council chamber. Victoria Square was altered again in 1937 with the removal of three now-listed statues, of Victoria, Robert Peel, and the Duke of Wellington, to Woodhouse Moor one mile from the city centre. At the same time the curved entrance steps were changed back to a straight set.
|"||To see the thousands of spectators,
Round about the New Town Hall,
Butchers, bakers, hotel-waiters,
Tinkers, tailors, snobs and all,
Children pouting, women shouting,
To see the sight they all do run,
Some are busy picking pockets,
Some do take them as they come.
|-- Popular song of the time which encapsulated the scene|
Arrangements for the Town Hall's opening were made well in advance. On 6 September 1858, the Queen arrived at Leeds Central railway station, met by crowds estimated to number 400,000 to 600,000. The Corporation had even established a sub-committee for street decorations - flags, banners and streamers lined the streets of the city. She stayed the night at the home of the Mayor, Peter Fairbairn, Woodsley House on Clarendon Road, with tight military security. The day was combined with an exhibition of local manufactures, held in the Cloth Hall, and a music festival, which opened with Mendelson's Elijah and closed with Handel's Messiah. Police were reinforced from the West Riding, Bradford, London and Birmingham.
On 7 September, the building was completed, save for the tower bell, and was officially opened by Queen Victoria and Albert. Vast crowds turned out to watch the royal procession, including 32,000 schoolchildren assembled on Woodhouse Moor. She proceeded from the Mayor's home down Woodhouse Lane to the city centre and back up to the top of East Parade where a temporary triumphal arch had been constructed to frame the building. The route had been carefully planned so Victoria and Albert could see much of the town without glimpsing the new town hall. With a red carpet and military band on the steps, they entered the building, she knighted the Mayor, and then the hall was declared open on her behalf by the Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby. Later, the Queen was escorted to Wellington station to travel north to Balmoral.
On 22 September 1858, only a fortnight after the opening of the Town Hall, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Leeds. For many years Leeds had wanted to host a meeting of the British Association, and the building of a large hall made this possible. Since then many meetings, conferences and exhibitions have been held in the Town Hall. In the 19th century, some major trials were held here, including those of Charles Peace in 1879, and Kate Dover in 1882.
Leeds Civic Hall, on a nearby site further up Calverley Street, was commissioned in 1929 by Leeds Corporation in a Keynesian project intended to provide work for the local unemployed. The Civic Hall opened in 1933 as the seat of Leeds City Council; the Council Chamber of the Town Hall was converted to a courtroom.
On 14 and 15 March 1941, Leeds was bombed by the Luftwaffe. Houses were destroyed in inner-city districts and bombs dropped on the city centre, hitting the east side of the Town Hall, causing significant damage to its roof and walls on Calverley Street. The damage was repaired shortly after, but evidence still remains in Victoria Gardens. For the duration of World War II, the Town Hall crypt housed an ARP post and from 1942 a British Restaurant, where people could enjoy cheap, hot food, which proved popular after the war, being refurbished in 1960 before closing in 1966.
In 1993, Leeds Crown Court opened on Westgate, ending the Town Hall's role as a courthouse. The Town Hall's police station and cells (Bridewell) also closed, ending an arrangement where a public concert may happen simultaneously while prisoners are being held. During its time as Leeds Assizes and later Leeds Crown Court it held various notable cases including the conviction and life-sentencing of Stefan Kiszko for the murder of Leslie Molseed in 1976 (later quashed) and the conviction of Zsiga Pankotia for the murder of Jack Eli Myers in 1961 who became the last man to be hanged at Armley Gaol.
For much of the 20th century, the Town Hall was left blackened by soot and smoke from the industrial city surrounding it. In spring 1972 the building was given its first official clean up - on previous occasions it had been hosed down by the fire brigade - which revealed much of the detailed stonework. This was not before a heated debate, as Leeds Civic Trust strongly opposed it preferring that its blackness "should stand as a symbol of the city's industrial past and as a reminder to future generations of the air pollution which the city is so successfully combatting."
The four lions on plinths across the Town Hall entrance have entered local folklore as a tale to scare or entertain children. A common version is that when the clock chimes midnight, the lions come to life, roar and prowl around the building, unseen, then freeze again in their places.
A major refurbishment project of the whole building commenced in 2019, funded by Leeds City Council's capital fund, with a public campaign funding some interior renovation costs. The three-year works encompass new seating and soundproofing, new bars and public event spaces in previously blocked-off rooms, comprehensive interior redecoration, updating two chandeliers to use dimmable LEDS, relocation of the box office to the ground level, and work to the clock tower and roof, including replacement of all tiles with Welsh slate. The Scottish firm Page\Park Architects is responsible for all scheme designs. As part of the roof works, contractors discovered on the 225 ft (69 m) dome a plaque dated 1861 placed by the last men to work on it. The plaque reads: "This dome was stripped and old lead put on after by Herbert Westcombe and Joseph Nett." The building is scheduled to reopen in 2022 in time for the Leeds 2023 city-wide cultural festival.
As of 2019, a time capsule has been installed inside the clock tower, curated with a group of young people working with Leeds Museums and Galleries. The capsule contains items such as a Nando's menu, nine Lego minifigures, a mobile phone, Leeds Owl artwork and a Refugee Education Training Advice Service cookery book donated by a woman who moved from Syria to Leeds in 2018.
Despite its original purpose as the seat of local government in Leeds being taken over by subsequent council buildings, the Town Hall retains an active role in the civic and cultural life of the city of Leeds. The opulent Victoria Hall is a venue for many performances - its 6600-pipe organ is still the largest three-manual example in Europe - regular lunchtime organ recitals are given by City Organist Simon Lindley and others, while a full programme of music, comedy and exhibitions uses this main space year-round.
Several recurring cultural events use the Town Hall such as Leeds International Concert Season, the triennial Leeds International Piano Competition, and the Leeds International Film Festival. Other events include Leeds International Beer Festival, a four-day annual festival celebrating and promoting craft beer.
Another use of the Town Hall is as a landmark and heritage asset; guided tours of the building, visiting areas not usually open to the public, are occasionally given. Remaining historic features include the old borough courtroom, which has wooden benches and stairs leading down from the dock into the basement - now a storage area but was originally the bridewell (prison cells), located under the front steps. Also accessible only on the tours is the clock tower, entered via 203 spiral steps and which houses the original Potts & Sons quarter-chiming, four faced clock.
Leeds Town Hall has been used for filming several films and television programmes, supported by Screen Yorkshire. It was used in the opening scenes of the 2016 film Dad's Army while The New Statesman, Peaky Blinders, Residue, National Treasure and The ABC Murders TV series are among productions which have used interior and exterior shots.
Much has been written about how important the building is as a heritage asset for the City of Leeds and the nation. Representing an evolution in the civic growth of Leeds from a town to a major city, the Town Hall is the legacy of the citizens and leaders of its time who successfully managed to express Leeds's increasing wealth and importance, and still a major influence on the civic pride of the city today. Its tower, often a symbol of Leeds, is the subject of a protected view in local planning policy which ensures no new tall buildings will block the long-range views of it across the western side of the city centre.
Leeds Town Hall has been used as a model for civic buildings across Britain and the British Empire, being one of the earliest and largest of its time. In particular, Bolton Town Hall in Greater Manchester and Portsmouth Guildhall in Hampshire, both works by the Leeds architect and Brodrick student William Hill (1827-1829), take many of their design cues from Leeds Town Hall. Another significant appropriation of its form - the square plan with a neoclassical design and tower - is Parliament House, Melbourne.
In 1857, prior to opening, the following remarks on Leeds Town Hall were made by two Liverpool architects at a meeting of the Liverpool Architectural and Archaeological Society:
Mr J. A. Picton stated that he had an opportunity of inspecting the new Town Hall. Externally it was not so imposing as St George's Hall, Liverpool, but internally it was a work of equally great merit. The laying of it out was equal to anything he had ever seen, and superior to their own hall in that respect. The two defects of St George's Hall were the meanness of the entrances and the darkness of the corridors, both of which were obviated in the building at Leeds. The building was in every respect highly creditable to the builder.
Mr H. P. Horner confirmed its fitness for the purpose was externally was superior to St George's Hall, and overcame the objections made to buildings of a classical character as to the necessity for the introduction of windows. The interior would be in many respects superior, more particularly in reference to the lighting. In every respect the Leeds Town Hall was the most successful building that had been raised during the present century.
About a century after its opening, the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner wrote: "Leeds can be proud of its town hall, one of the most convinving buildings of its date in the country and of the classical buildings of its date no doubt the most successful."
In a never-broadcast 1960s BBC film about the changing architecture of Leeds, poet John Betjeman, known for his love of Victorian architecture, praised the town hall. In November 2008, Leeds Town Hall and the town halls of Halifax, Paisley, Burslem, Hornsey, Manchester, Lynton, Dunfermline, Fordwich and Much Wenlock were selected as the "ten town halls to visit" by Architecture Today. It commented: "The epitome of northern civic bombast, Leeds' municipal palace has a grandeur that helps sustain the city's sense of its own importance. Its architect, Cuthbert Brodrick, also contributed the Corn Exchange and City Museum before disappearing into obscurity."