Heritage Town

Halifax Town Hall

By Geoffrey Washington

In the days of the old Town Trustees there was talk of the need for a Town Hall in Halifax where civic business could be conducted. This matter became more urgent following the incorporation of Halifax as a Borough in 1848. Although the newly formed town council initially met in the Old Assembly Rooms near the Old Talbot Inn in Woolshops, this was soon found to be unsuitable and Kershaws Warehouse at the junction of Union Street and Westgate was acquired and converted for the purpose. However, this soon became incapable of holding all the civic departments (including the police) and the decision was made in 1853 to build a Town Hall.

Several proposals were considered on different sites and by various architects, from such eminent citizens as Edward Ackroyd and John Crossley. Much controversy ensued, including public concern over the cost of the enterprise to the ratepayers of the town. Finally, Sir Charles Barry was commissioned to design a new Town Hall on the Crossley Street site for an estimated cost of £17,000. When Sir Charles died, his son E. M. Barry continued the work and the building was finally completed at a cost of £50,000 in 1863. The building was opened on 4 August 1863 by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII and an estimated 100,000 people were in Halifax for the event. A triumphal arch was erected in Princess Street and large decorated platforms and galleries for public viewing lined the streets.

Exterior Features

The exterior is in the North Italian Cinquecento style and is entirely made of stone from the Ringby quarries on Swalesmoor. There is a profusion of stone carving throughout the building, most of which was done by John Thomas, who had also worked on sculptures for the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The gigantic stone tower and spire, rising to a height of 180ft, are decorated almost from top to bottom. Four 7ft high angels guard the base of the spire and four figures, representing four continents, look down on the streets of Halifax (Europe - Princess Street, North America - Waterhouse Street, Africa - Broad Street, Asia - Crossley Street). The portico outside the main entrance contains on three sides the old 1848 Halifax Coat of Arms, never officially recognised but much used. These are surmounted by heads representing Wisdom, Justice and Mercy, together with appropriate profound exhortations to the citizens of Halifax.

Interior Features

The entrance from the portico leads to the main staircase which is illuminated by light from a large coloured glass dome. An abundance of ornate plasterwork meets the eye here, with the 'H' motif appearing frequently. At the head of the staircase are three large paintings, presented to the town by Sir Savile Crossley in 1911. The Victoria Hall is a large central space, with a roof consisting of panels of stained glass. The walls contain many examples of the old Halifax Coat of Arms and the floor has a large centrally placed mosaic version, approved by the College of Heralds and placed there to mark the centenary in 1963. The Arms of Calderdale appear above the various doorways. An upper gallery with an ornamental ironwork balustrade and portraits of previous Mayors leads to the Council Chamber and Mayor's Parlour.

Originally the Council met in one of the smaller rooms, and it was only in 1901 that the present Council Chamber was created by adding an extra floor partway up the high courtroom. It has a fine stained glass ceiling , which was originally meant to be seen from much lower down and is panelled in beautiful dark mahogany. The Mayor's Parlour is used as a reception room for visitors and as an office for the Mayor. It contains various items of Calderdale's silverware, civic equipment and other memorabilia. The cellars were originally used to accommodate the police, including short stay cells, until the new Police Headquarters were opened in Harrison Road in 1900.

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