Leeds Town Hall

In 1852 Cuthbert Brodrick was awarded first prize in a competition to design Leeds Town Hall; he was also awarded £200 in prize money. At the time Brodrick was an unknown architect, but his monumental classical design caught the attention of Sir Charles Barry, the competition's judge. Brodrick's intention was to rival the architecture of southern English municipal buildings.

The building is in the classical/baroque style, rectangular in shape, with two storeys over a basement. Above the south entrance is the clock tower, and at each corner of the roof are four smaller towers, which are ventilation shafts. There are three entrances to the ground floor; the main entrance is approached by a wide flight of stone steps, with two plinths with stone lions on either side. There are two other entrances to the ground floor, one on the north side opening onto Great George Street, and one on the east onto Calverley Street. Other entrances lead into the basement.  There are various carvings: mythical heads on the keystones at the rear of the hall, and heads carved on the keystones on the west side of the building. Above the main door is a sculpture by John Thomas. This 'represents Leeds in its commercial and industrial character, fostering and encouraging the Arts and Sciences.'

The entrance opened into a vestibule, with a domed ceiling, and separated from the hall by a glass screen. The floor is inlaid with tiles made by Minton, Hollins & Co. of Stoke-on-Trent. According to the Leeds Intelligencer, these are similar to the tiles used in the Senate House in Washington which were made by the same firm.  In the centre of the vestibule was a statue of Queen Victoria by Matthew Noble. This was presented to the town by the Mayor, (Peter Fairbairn), and cost 1000 guineas.

At the centre of the ground floor is the Victoria Hall, 92 feet high, 161 feet long, and 72 feet wide and capable of seating 8000 people. The Intelligencer of 11th September 1858 tells us that the hall 'was enriched with colour in almost lavish manner, every portion being more or less decorated.'  The decorations in the Victoria Hall, and the vestibule were carried out by John Crace of London. The sides of the Victoria hall are divided into five bays by Corinthian columns which were decorated in imitation of Rosso-Antico marble with capitals gilded in bronze and gold. The bases of the columns were painted in imitation of Verde antiqua and other rare marbles. The circular roof is divided into five sections supported by the columns. Behind the plasterwork the roof is supported by laminated wood beams arranged in pairs; the only other buildings in this country to have this design were the Crystal Palace and King's Cross Station.  Both the walls and ceiling are decorated with elaborate plasterwork. Originally the walls were a 'quiet' green, with borders of darker green outlined with maroon. The ceiling was a neutral vellum colour, with a border of citron and grey, and ornamentation in maroon red or blue. Mouldings on the ribs of the roof were in bronze and gold.

Above the bays at the sides of the hall were semi-circular windows, originally with stained glass by Messrs. Edmundson & Son of Manchester. Above the windows are figures by John Thomas, the central sculpture being a ram's head, from which hung cut glass chandeliers made by Messrs. Osler of Birmingham. The original gas lighting system was replaced by electricity in 1883.

At each end of the hall and around the walls are various inscriptions, picked out in gold. The organ is housed at the north end of the hall in an alcove painted blue, and powdered with stars. 
On the west side of the Victoria hall were two refreshment rooms, and on the east side, cloakrooms, which faced the side entrance in Calverley Street.

To the right of the main entrance at the south east corner of the building was the council chamber, furnished with polished wood, the seats cushioned with red leather. Next to this was the Town Clerk's office, and the committee rooms. 
Along the east side were the office of the Borough Surveyor and other council officials, and in the north east corner was the Civil Court, and rooms for witnesses and court officials. At the opposite, north west corner was the Crown Court, connected by a stone staircase in the dock to the prison in the basement. Along the west corridor were more rooms for court officials, and in the south west corner, the Borough Court, the dock again connected to the basement by an iron staircase. The chief of Police had his office beside this court. 

Where the corridors meet at each corner is a staircase leading to the first floor, with an identical layout to the first floor except for the council chamber and courts, which extended over two floors.  The first floor rooms were council offices, and rooms for the use of court personnel, except on the east side where the mayor had a suite of reception rooms. The rooms were connected by folding doors, so that up to a hundred people could be accommodated at one time. The lavish furniture and fittings were supplied by Messrs. Kendell & Co., and included magnificent cut glass chandeliers.

On the east side of the basement was a kitchen, with stairs to the mayor's rooms on the first floor. There were also living rooms for the caretaker of the building. On the West side of the building was the police headquarters, with the gaol and the gaolers residence. In the south west corner, under the borough court was the police muster room, and the large space under the Victoria Hall was used as a drill room by the police. The Bridewell, or the 'Central Charge Office' as it was officially known was in the north west corner, with access from the street provided by a door on the west side of the building.

Brodrick deliberately planned that the Town Hall should be built towards the back of the site, to leave as much room as possible at the front of the building. When the Town Hall was opened it was surrounded by a large space, and in front of the building was 'a good sized square', (Victoria Square) in the centre of which was a statue of the Duke of Wellington by Baron Marochetti, with a lamp on either side. 


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