On 17th August 1853, the foundation stone was laid by John Hope Shaw, the mayor of Leeds, in the presence of a vast crowd, and amid great ceremony and celebration. The members of the Town Council, Magistrates, the Vicar of Leeds, the architect, the town clerk and other officials and dignitaries walked in 'a procession of enormous length' from the Coloured Cloth Hall Yard to the site of the new Town Hall.
Alderman Hepper, the chairman of the Town Hall Committee began by asking the Mayor to lay the foundation stone. He presented him with a silver trowel with an ivory handle, and with a mallett made of polished oak with inscribed silver mountings. The mayor assisted by the architect and contractor then laid the first stone at the south west corner of the building. Into a cavity in the foundation stone was placed a sealed bottle containing gold and silver coins, copies of the Leeds Mercury, the Leeds Intelligencer, and the Leeds Times, a list of council members and officials, and a copy on vellum of the inscription on the brass plate which covered the cavity in the stone.
The contractor then laid mortar on the stone, the mayor spread the mortar with the silver trowel, and the upper stone was laid upon the foundation stone. The mayor squared and levelled the stone, struck it three times with the mallett, and said:
'Thus and thus and thus, I lay the foundation stone of the new Town Hall of Leeds; and may God prosper the undertaking.'
There was applause and cheering from the crowd, and a choir of members of the Motet and Madrigal Society sang a chorus which began:
'A blessing we ask on the work now begun,
May it prosper in doing – be useful when done:
May the Hall whose foundations thus broadly are laid,
Stand a trophy to Freedom – to Peace and to Trade.'
There were speeches by the Mayor, Alderman Hepper, Dr. Hook (the vicar of Leeds), Edward Baines, and many others. The Mayor and his guests went on to a banquet at the Albion Street Music Hall. The bands and a crowd of more than 60,000 people joined in festivities on Woodhouse Moor, and the day ended with a display of fireworks.
The inscription on the brass plate covering the cavity in the foundation stone read as follows:
'The Corner Stone of this Town Hall, erected by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the Borough of Leeds, was laid on the 17th August 1853, in the 16th year of the reign of Queen Victoria , by John Hope Shaw, Esq., Mayor. Building Committee:-Chairman, Alderman william Edward Hepper; Aldermen John Wilson, John Darnton Luccock, William Kelsall, Charles Gascoigne Maclea, Francis Carbutt; Councillors Richard Bissington, John Marshall, George Brook, John Ardill, David Newton, Joshua Garsed Heaps, Joseph Broadhead, John Croysdale, William Kettlewell, James Smith, Robert Wood, Robert Meek Carter, William Illingworth, John Lister, George Skirrow Beecroft, Robert White. Town Clerk:-John Arthur Ikin. Architect:- Cuthbert Brodrick.'
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John Hope Shaw, Mayor of Leeds
Official Order of Procession, page 1
Official Order of Procession, page 2
Official Order of Procession, page 3