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Setting the Scene

A site was chosen in Park Lane, between Calverley Street and Oxford Place. The land belonged to John Blayds, and Park House, occupied by Dr. Richard Hobson, stood on the site. The committee recommended that a sum of 45,000 be granted for purchase of the site and building of the hall. This was accepted in September 1851, and the site was purchased for 9,500. In fact, the cost of the new hall far exceeded this original estimate.

There was disagreement among council members as to whether the Town Hall should be a purely utilitarian structure, or whether it should be a grand and elegant building, reflecting the civic pride and aspirations of the people of Leeds. There were still some people who disagreed with the building of the Town Hall, like Councillor Titley, who in February 1852, proposed to the council that it was 'unwise and inexpedient to proceed with the hall.'  Others felt that the proposed hall would not be big enough; Alderman Hepper, wanted to increase the amount of judicial accommodation provided in the hall, at an added cost of 15,000. At first he was refused, but eventually the council voted in his favour.

Outside the council there were influential figures in Leeds society who were in favour of building a municipal palace, rather than a purely functional town hall. One such was Dr. John Deakin Heaton, Secretary of the Leeds Improvement Society, which was founded in 1851 'to suggest and promote architectural and other public improvements in the town.' Dr. Heaton thought that 'if a noble municipal palace that might fairly vie with some of the best Town Halls of the continent were to be erected in the middle of their hitherto squalid and unbeautiful town, it would become a practical admonition to the populace of the value of beauty and art, and in due course of time men would learn to live up to it'.

In the end those in favour of a municipal palace won the argument.

In June 1852 the council advertised a competition for plans for the new town hall, which was to have a public hall, a council room, and corporate offices, and courts of justice. The first prize was to be 200, the second prize 100,and the third prize 50, quite large sums of money at that time. Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the House of Commons, was engaged as advisor.

The first prize was awarded to Cuthbert Brodrick, a young architect from Hull. He had previously worked with Messrs. Lockwood and Mawson who were awarded second prize, and who had designed St. George's Hall in Bradford. The third prize went to Young and Lovatt of Wolverhampton.
Brodrick was only 29, and the council were worried about entrusting such an important building to a young and inexperienced architect, but Barry persuaded them that he was competent to undertake the work. Barry suggested some alterations to Brodrick's original plan, and several changes were made. One of Barry's suggestions was the addition of a tower over the main entrance. Also, extra rooms were added on each side of the central hall. The main entrance was to have led into a hall from which a double staircase led to the upper storey. However, the addition of the tower meant that this staircase was never built.

The Town Council granted a sum of 39,000 for the building work. Prices had risen considerably, so this was much higher than the original estimate. Brodrick was told that if he exceeded this estimate he would receive no payment. Brodrick agreed, provided that building costs did not increase because of factors beyond his control.
A sub-committee was appointed to oversee the building work, and to recommend extra work up to a sum of 500. As it turned out, the extra work involved cost far more than this, and over the next six years the council had to find large sums of money for additional building work.

The Contractor and the Clerk of Works
In 1853 out of 50 estimates for the erection of the town hall, the council accepted that of Samuel Atack builder and bricklayer of 35, Trafalgar Street. He agreed to construct the hall for 41,825, and to complete it by 1856. The cost had risen again, due to a rise in the cost of labour and building materials. James Donaldson was the Clerk of Works, and his notebooks give us a detailed account of the building work. The notebooks are now in the care of West Yorkshire Archives.

Illustrations show Brodrick's original plan, along with the plans after modification, which show the Town Hall as it was built.




Click images to enlarge
Map, 1847
Map, 1847
Plan of Park House and garden, 1852
Plan of Park House and garden, 1852
John Deakin Heaton
John Deakin Heaton
Brodrick's original drawing, south elevation
Brodrick's original drawing, south elevation
Brodrick's original plan
Brodrick's original plan
Ground plan
Ground plan
Upper floor plan
Upper floor plan
Basement plan
Basement plan




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003