The first recorded town hall in Liverpool was in 1515 and it was probably a thatched building. It was replaced in 1673 by a building slightly to the south of the present town hall. This town hall stood on "pillars and arches of hewen stone" and under it was the exchange for merchants and traders to carry out their business. Building of the present town hall began in 1749 on a site slightly to the north of its predecessor; its foundation stone was laid on 14 September. The architect was John Wood the Elder, who has been described as "one of the outstanding architects of the day". It was completed and opened in 1754. The ground floor acted as the exchange, and a council room and other offices were on the upper floor. The ground floor had a central courtyard surrounded by Doric colonnades but it was "dark and confined, and the merchants preferred to transact business in the street outside". Above the building was a large square dome with a cupola.
Liverpool Town Hall in the 1820s
Improvements began in 1785 with an extension to the north designed by James Wyatt. Buildings close to the west and north sides were demolished, and John Foster prepared plans for the west façade. In 1786 Wood's square dome was demolished and plans were made by Wyatt for a new dome over the central courtyard. In 1795, before the new dome was built, the hall was seriously damaged by a fire.
|The Burning Of Liverpool Town Hall by William Gavin Herdman 1805 -1882|
Wyatt's north extension was not significantly damaged, but Wood's original building was gutted. The building was reconstructed and Wyatt's new dome was added. The work was supervised by Foster and completed in 1802. Under the dome the central courtyard was replaced with a hall containing a staircase. In 1811 a portico was added to the south side. The construction and decoration of the interior was completed by about 1820.
In 1881 an attempt to blow up the town hall by the Fenians was aborted. In 1899–1900 the portico on the south face was rebuilt and extended, and the northern extension was enlarged to form a recess in the Council Chamber for the Lord Mayor's chair. In 1921 a room on the ground floor was made into the Hall of Remembrance to commemorate the military men from Liverpool who died in the First World War. Part of the building was damaged in the Liverpool Blitz of 1941; this restored after the end of the Second World War. Further restoration was carried out between 1993 and 1995.
The Slave Trade
A little known fact is that the building of the Town Hall was funded by Liverpool businesses and entrepreneurs many of whom had benefited from the slave trade. In fact sixteen of Liverpool's Mayors are said to have been slave merchants. Three centuries of slave and other overseas trading bequeathed the City with a rich diversity of peoples, cultures, financial wealth and architecture much of which survives to the present day. However, the abolition of the slave trade was one of the critical steps leading to reform and reconstruction in 19th Century Liverpool, when the City became more conscious of the need to improve the living conditions of its citizens.
Monument dedicated to Justice and Truth.
Liverpool's wealth in the 17th and 18th centuries
was built on the slave trade.
The City has acknowledged its involvement in the Slave Trade and a formal apology was made to the black community in the year 2000. Liverpool champions equal opportunities and diversity issues and both recognises and values the contributions made by the black community to the prosperity of the City.
The town hall is built of stone with a slate roof and a lead dome. Its plan consists of a rectangle with a portico extending to the south and Wyatt's rectangular extension to the north. The extension is slightly narrower than the rest of the building, and also has a projecting portico.
The building has two storeys and a basement; the stonework of the basement and lower storey is rusticated. The south face, overlooking Castle Street, has nine bays. Its central three bays are occupied by the portico. This has three rounded arches on the ground floor, and four pairs of Corinthian columns in the upper storey surrounding a balcony. The east and west faces also have nine bays in the original part of the building, plus an additional three bays to the north on Wyatt's extension. The middle three bays of the nine original bays project slightly forward and are surmounted by a pediment. The roof of the north face is higher than that of the main building. This face has five bays, with a central portico of three bays. On its first floor are four pairs of Corinthian columns and standing on the roof above these are four statues dating from 1792 by Richard Westmacott; these statues have been moved from the Irish Houses of Parliament.
Above the upper storey windows on all faces are panels containing carvings, some of which relate to Liverpool's foreign trade.
The dome stands on a high drum supported on Corinthian columns. Around the base of the dome are four clock faces, each of which is supported by a lion and unicorn. On the summit of the dome is a statue, representing Minerva or Britannia(nobody is quite sure, it is 10 feet (3 m) high and was designed by John Charles Felix Rossi.
"Interior of the Ball-room, Town Hall" (Liverpool) engraved by B.Winkles after a picture by Harwood, published in Lancashire Illustrated, 1831.
The main door in the south face leads to the Vestibule or Entrance Hall. It has a floor of encaustic tiles which depict the arms of Liverpool. The room is panelled and on the east side is a large wooden fireplace containing 17th-century Flemish carvings. It has a groin-vaulted ceiling, and in the lunettes are murals painted in 1909 depicting events in Liverpool's history. Below these are brass tablets containing the names of the freemen of Liverpool. Also in the entrance hall are bardic chairs from the two Eisteddfods held in the city. At the rear of the ground floor in Wyatt's extension is the Council Chamber. This has mahogany-panelled walls and can seat 160 people. Adjacent to the Council Chamber is the Hall of Remembrance. On its wall are panels bearing the names of the military men who lost their lives in the First World War, and eight murals painted by Frank O. Salisbury in 1923.
In the centre of the ground floor is the Staircase Hall described in the Buildings of England series as "one of the great architectural spaces of Liverpool". A broad staircase rises between two pairs of Corinthian columns to a half-landing, and narrower flights climb from that on each side to the upper floor. On the ground floor on each side of the staircase are display cabinets holding the city's silver. On the half-landing is a statue of George Canning dated 1832 by Francis Chantrey, and hanging on the wall above this is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Sir Edward Halliday.
Above the staircase the dome is carried by four pendentives; it rises to a height of 106 feet (32 m) and its interior is coffered. Around the base of the dome is inscribed Liverpool's motto, "Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit", ("God has given us this tranquility.")and in the pendentives are paintings dated 1902 by Charles Wellington Furse depicting scenes of dock labour
Upper floor plan
A Central Reception Room B West Reception Room
C Dining Room D Large Ballroom
E Small Ballroom F East Reception Room
All the rooms on this floor are designed for entertainment and they have connecting doors that allow for a complete circuit of the floor. The middle room on the south side of the building is the Central Reception Room. It has a circular ceiling with pendentives, and plasterwork in neoclassical style designed by Francesco Bernasconi.
Immediately to the north of the Town Hall is a paved square known as Exchange Flags; this is surrounded on all sides by modern office buildings. In the square is the Nelson Monument, celebrating the achievements of Horatio Nelson. It is a Grade II* listed building and is the earliest surviving public monument in the city.
|Town Hall from Exchange Flags|
|Photograph © Dave Wood|
Links and further information
Robert F Edwards