Liverpool Town Hall, one of the oldest buildings in the city, will be open to the public for two weeks at the end of August in 2017.
The first Liverpool Town hall was presented to the town in 1515, being little more than an elaborate barn, but it served its purpose for more than 150 years. By the end of the 17th century Liverpool was a much more important place, gaining much of its wealth from the slave trade, and a more substantial building was constructed. However, this had faulty foundations and in 1748 John Woods, an architect from Bath, was commissioned to build Town Hall III and it opened in 1754.
But this was to have the shortest lifespan of them all, as in 1795 a fire broke out and as it was at the time of a severe winter sufficient water couldn’t be brought to the building and it was almost totally destroyed. However, the town now saw itself as of such importance that money was found to commission another architect, this time James Wyatt from London. The work was completed by 1810, to a design which is basically the Town Hall of today (it underwent an expansion in 1820) when the dome, the large ballroom and the Council Chamber were added.
Starting at the main entrance. The tiles on the floor of the entrance lobby are the same as those in St George’s Hall, that is encaustic (the inlaying of coloured clay before baking) Minton tiles. Some of the tiles are starting to show signs of wear (and the reason why the tiled floor in St George’s Hall spends most of its time hidden under a protective wooden floor). The Coat of Arms is still in good condition as very often a table sits on top of it to prevent people walking across the design. Here you’ll also find an image of the famous Liver Bird.
The fireplace is Flemish and was a gift to the city in 1893. On either side of the fireplace are Bardic chairs from the Eisteddford which used to be held in David Lewis Hotel and Theatre (located close to the Anglican Cathedral before being demolished in 1980) before the WWI. Also in the lobby is the doorman’s chair. There used to be two of them but one was stolen. Underneath the seat the chair is lead lined and hot coals could be placed there to keep the doorman warm. The present seat was refurbished in 1990.
The brass panels around the entrance hall list the names of the people who have been granted the Freedom of the City. The Beatles are listed to the right of the doorway to the stairs.
The lunettes (semi-circular panels) were painted by a local artist, JH Amschewitz and were completed in 1909, as part of the celebrations of the granting of Liverpool’s Charter by King John in 1207 – the event being depicted in the panel on the left. The other panels use the allegory of a woman as representing Liverpool and those aspects which made Liverpool the rich city it was through trade and commerce (but no reference to slavery) such as the ships, a spinning wheel, a cog (a symbol of industry) and exotic fruits. People from different ethnic backgrounds are in the panel over the fireplace.
Through the doors and in a cabinet to the left is one of the finest collections of silverware in the country, including the Civic Regalia. (There’s should be more in the vaults but that’s not certain in times of austerity as selling off of the family silver is a well-known tactic in straitened times.) Much of this silverware is decorated with the Liverpool Coat of Arms and/or The Liver Bird. The large pieces of wood are staves that were used to get carriages out of ruts in the roads and also used as emergency brakes – by pushing them between the spokes of the carriage wheels.
In the display case on the other side there are further articles, the oldest from the late 17th century. These include ‘Nelson’s Sword’. This was due to be presented to him on his next visit to Liverpool but he died at Trafalgar (1805) before that visit could take place. Nelson was a supporter of slavery and that was why there was such a close bond between him and the city.
The cast iron stoves were part of the original heating system. The lamps were made specifically for the Town Hall and are made out of mahogany and cast iron. Originally they would have been powered by gas until the Hall was electrified in 1895.
The statue at the top of the first flight of stairs is of George Canning, an MP for the town and Prime Minister for 4 months in 1827, was completed in 1832 by Francis Chantry. He’s dressed in a Roman toga. This is slightly ridiculous but was a common affectation at the time (Liverpool trying to vie with Rome’s ‘greatness’) as can be seen with the statues of William Huskisson (in Dukes Terrace) and George III (in London Road).
The picture of Elizabeth II is by a local (Garston) artist, Edward Halliday and was painted in 1955. On either side of the stairs are portraits of Queen Mary (William Llewllyn, in 1913) and King George V (Luke Fildes, 1910).
The standard holders are for those of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
The impressive dome is 32.3 metres (106 feet) above street level. The wording around the base of the dome is the motto of the City of Liverpool – ‘Deus nobis haec otis fecit’ which is Latin for ‘God has bestowed these blessings upon us’.
The four spandrels (the triangular corner paintings) are by Charles Furse and show scenes from the docks in the 19th century. (There’s more information on these paintings on the brass on the balustrade at the top of the stairs.)
A. Central Reception Room B. West Reception Room C. Dining Room
D. Large Ballroom E. Small Ballroom F. East Reception Room
The entrance to the central reception room is at the top of the stairs. Inside the room the portraits are of George III (‘Mad George’) and his three sons. The stoves were originally from Carlton House in London, the palace used by Victoria before Buckingham Palace was built. What she didn’t want was sent around the country and Liverpool got the stoves. The mirrors on either side of the balcony doors came from Lathom House in Lancashire.
It was from the balcony that the rebel Labour Councillors addressed the thousands of people in the street below who were demonstrating against Tory cuts way back in 1984 – Tory cuts seem to get away with no (or very little) opposition nowadays
There are two reception rooms off the main one. In the west room (on the right) there is a portrait of James Lord the first American consul to Liverpool. In the 19th century Liverpool had a close relationship with America – especially the Southern Rebel Confederate States during the American Civil War. This was due to Liverpool’s support of slavery (even though it had been abolished in 1807) and the crops that were produced as a result of that economy – sugar, tobacco and cotton – upon which Liverpool made its wealth well into the 20th century.
The east room (on the left) is often referred to as the music room. The paintings are of George Clayton, William Brown, William Gladstone, wealthy 19th century Liverpudlians.
The Small Ballroom
From the east room you enter the Small Ballroom. The portraits on either side of the door you have just come in are of John Bent and his wife, a brewer who became mayor. (Although they are slowly disappearing Bent’s pubs were very often faced with tiling, making them quite distinctive. Bent’s was taken over by Whitbread’s way back in the 1970s.
The wooden flooring is as it would have been originally. After the war, and up until 1990, these rooms were carpeted but during a major renovation in that year it was decided to return the building back to as close to the original as possible. This also meant recreating the colours of the walls of the 18th century. There are also two minstrel galleries – where musicians would entertain the guests.
The chandeliers are all of English crystal and were made in Staffordshire in 1820 and are unique to the Town Hall and they are of different design in each room. The mirrors give an impression of space and also improve the natural lighting. As the function of the room becomes more important so does the decoration and plaster work on the ceilings and friezes.
The Large Ballroom
The next room is the Large Ballroom. It is 27 metres (89 feet) long and 12.8 metres (42 feet) wide with a 12 metre (40 feet) high ceiling. The three chandeliers are each 8.5 metres (28 foot) long, contain 20,000 pieces of cut glass crystal and weigh over one ton.
The room has a sprung maple dance floor specially made for dancing and at each end of the room are two massive mirrors, the largest in any public building in the UK. Over the window facing the entrance door is the coat of arms of the UK and over the door you have just entered the coat of arms of the city of Liverpool.
Off the ballroom the balcony (now at the back of the building) looks out over Exchange Flags – so called as this was where stock trading used to take place up to the middle of the 19th century. Also in the square is the Nelson Monument, designed by Matthew Cotes Wyatt and sculpted by Richard Westmacott, was unveiled in 1813. It also serves as a ventilation shaft for the car park below.
The Dining Room
The next room is the Dining Room. Of particular interest here is the ornate moulded plaster ceiling. The putti (the naked cherubs in the cornices) were covered up for much of the past and were rediscovered and restored during the 1990’s renovation. The cupboards underneath the big alabaster urns on the side of the doors used to be plate warmers. Beneath the window are lead lined cupboards which were used as wine coolers. The table is in sections and each sits on a large piece of mahogany, in the design of an animal’s foot.
The Council Chamber
Going back downstairs you arrive at the Council Chamber. This was constructed as part of the 1820 extension and sits below the Large Ballroom. All the oak and mahogany woodwork is original. There’s seating for up to 160 people. At the front is a raised dais for the Lord Mayor, with the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Chief Executive on either side. There’s space for the press in front of them and public seating under the windows at the sides.
In the corridor immediately outside the Chamber is a portrait of John Archer who was the first black mayor of London (or anywhere else in the country), becoming such in Battersea in 1913. He was born in Liverpool, the reason for his picture in the Town Hall. In the background is the Goree Piazza, a group of warehouses that used to sit in what is now The Strand, the road that runs parallel to the Mersey at the Pierhead. The Goree is an island off Senegal where slaves were taken before boarding ships to America.
Hall of Remembrance
The Hall of Remembrance only lists the names of those who were killed in the First World War – there’s no similar memorial for those who died in WWII. The 13,245 names are listed alphabetically on the finest parchment in the glass fronted cases around the room. The number of the dead is inscribed over one of the doors. Frank Salisbury (‘one of the greatest society artists of his generation’) created the frescoes in the panels and they tell the story of one of the fallen, from birth to death. The room was opened in 1921. The cap badges of the different regiments they belonged to, with the battles in which they fought, decorate the walls.
To be added
Open Days 2017
Monday 14th August to Thursday 24th August and Saturday 26th & Sunday 27th August
From 10.00 – 16.00 (except Saturday 19th August when it will close at 15.00)
Free, no need to book, just turn up.
There are two types of guided tours – just to make things easy!
One with a local guide who has been doing such tours for years.
Monday 14th August – 11.00, 14.00
Tuesday 15th August – 11.00
Wednesday 16th August – 11.00, 14.00
Thursday 17th August – 11.00, 14.00
Friday 18th August – 14.00
Saturday 19th August – 11.00, 14.00
Sunday 20th August – 11.00, 14.00
Monday 21st August – 11.00, 14.00
Tuesday 22nd August – 14.00
Wednesday 23rd August – 11.00, 14.00
Thursday 24th August – 11.00, 14.00
The tours are scheduled to be an hour and half long – but could go on longer.
£5.00 per person (under 16’s go free). Pay on the day.
Call 0151 233 3020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other guided tours will take place throughout the period the building is open at 10.00 and 13,00 each day. Tours last an hour. These have to be booked in advance via the TicketQuarter website.
£5.50 – there doesn’t seem to be any concessions due to age.
Also, from Thursday 17th to Sunday 20th August, at 12.00 and 15.00, there’s an opportunity to take afternoon tea in the building, served on vintage china in the Reception Rooms. These MUST be booked in advance.
£17.00 per person (£22.00 per person with a glass of Prosecco)
Go to TicketQuarter website.
Liverpool Town Hall
Liverpool L2 4FW
(That’s the official address. High Street is the tiny street to the right of the Hall itself. The more recognised address would be at the junction of Castle Street/Water Street/Dale Street.)