When the Town Hall was built in 1858, part of its function was to house the offices of the officials of the Leeds Corporation, so the Mayor's rooms, the offices of the Town Clerk and the Borough Surveyor, along with meeting rooms were situated in the new Town Hall. As the town grew, so did the responsibilities of the corporation, and the number of administrative staff requiring office space increased. There wasn't enough room for them in the Town Hall, so different departments occupied other offices in various buildings in the town. It became apparent that more space was needed, and that it would be an advantage to have all the different council departments under one roof.
In 1876 the Council announced an architectural competition for new public offices, to be built on a site on Calverley Street. The competition, and the £300 prize, was won by George Corson. Corson was born at Dumfries in 1829, descended it is thought, from the Italian architect Corsini, who in the thirteenth century came to oversee the building of Sweetheart Abbey at Dumfries. George Corson was apprenticed to the Dumfries architect Walter Newall, and in 1849 he joined his elder brother William Corson who was working as an architect in Leeds in the firm of Corson and Bateman at 3, Albion Place, and later at 5, South Parade. William Corson moved to Manchester in 1861, but George Corson stayed in Leeds. He designed many buildings including shops, churches, houses, and Tetley's brewery. He died in 1910, and was buried at Lawnswood Cemetery.
The original design for the new municipal buildings was for a single block of offices fronting onto Calverley Street. The building was to house all the corporation departments including the offices of the School Board. However, the design was amended so that there would be two separate blocks, the Municipal Buildings and the School Board Offices, separated by Alexander Street. In 1877 it was decided to allocate some of the space in the new buildings to the Central Library which was located in the old Infirmary on Infirmary Street.
Corson said that he wanted the new building to be 'similar in style to the Town Hall, but not identical', and his building was designed to complement rather than imitate the design of the Town Hall. The building is in the Italianate style, with three stories, a basement and an attic. The front of the building, which faces Calverley Street is particularly ornate.
The north and south sides are plainer in design, as is the entrance to the Library on the south side. It must be remembered that when the building was erected the south side fronted onto Centenary Street; the view of the south side of the building from what is now the Headrow was obscured by the buildings on Centenary Street until these were demolished in 1928 as part of a scheme to widen the Headrow.
Inside, as a report in the British Architect said at the time 'the eye roamed over a profusion of graceful arcades and stately pillars, whose effect is very striking, reminding one more of a Venetian palace than a Leeds corporate building'. Most of the interior decoration has survived, and the ornate staircase, carved animals, intricate carvings, and coloured tiles can still be seen.
The Municipal Buildings were opened with great ceremony on 17th April 1884 by the Mayor of Leeds Alderman Edwin Woodhouse. The Mayor and various civic dignitaries walked in procession from the Council Chamber in the Town Hall to the main entrance of the Municipal Buildings in Calverley Street. The inaugural ceremony took place in the newsroom of the Free Library, where the Mayor was presented with a gold key, the gift of Mr. Wood the contractor, as a memento of the occasion. In the evening the Mayor gave a banquet in the Victoria Hall attended by the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt. The following evening, as a conclusion to the festivities, the Mayor entertained over 1000 poor people over the age of 60 in the Victoria Hall.
The Art Gallery
In 1858, when Queen Victoria opened the Town Hall, it was suggested that an art collection should be built up for the City. The idea was taken up by Colonel T Walter Harding, a partner in the family engineering firm, which owned Tower Works in Holbeck. Colonel Harding was a member of the Council, and persuaded his colleagues to allocate money for the building of a new City Art Gallery. The money was to come from the Public Subscription fund set up to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. Enough money was raised to build the gallery, and a competition was announced for a design. The architect W H Thorp won it. The building cost £10,000, and there was enough money left over to put on a grand inaugural exhibition, opened jointly by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Scarr and the painter Professor Sir Hubert Von Herkomer RA in October 1888.
When the money from the Jubilee fund was spent the gallery relied on donations from wealthy Leeds citizens to acquire new pictures. For example, Sam Wilson, a woollen manufacturer, bequeathed his entire art collection to the City.
In 1937-38 there were plans to build a new art galley as part of a cultural centre which would also include the central library, the museum, the education offices and the police headquarters. J C Proctor, who had designed the new Garden of Rest was asked to draw up plans for the new building, which would fill the space on the Headrow between Calverley Street and Cookridge Street. The Garden of Rest was to remain in front of the building.
The estimated cost was £750,000, and the council decided not to go ahead with the project because of other expensive commitments. The scheme was shelved for future consideration, but the outbreak of war in 1939 meant that it was finally abandoned, and the Art Gallery had to wait until the 1970s for improvements to take place.
|Click images to enlarge|
First Floor Plan
Procession at Opening Ceremony
Plan of Art Gallery
Plan of Art Gallery
Interior of Art Gallery
Art Gallery Interior, 1911
Municipal Buildings and Art Gallery