There were four principal uses envisaged for the Town Hall.
To house the council chamber the Mayor's parlour and the offices of the town clerk and various other council officials.
To take over the judicial functions of the old courthouse, with three new courtrooms, and accommodation for court personnel.
To serve as a police station, and Bridewell or 'Central charge Office'.
To provide a hall for musical concerts and civic functions.
Looking at the plans now it seems as though there was surprisingly little accommodation for council officials. Apart from the Council chamber, offices for the Town Clerk, the Treasurer and the Borough Surveyor, and the Mayor's reception rooms, there were few offices for use by the council. It soon became apparent that there was not enough room in the Town Hall for the increasing numbers of council employees, and as early as the 1860s there were proposals to build separate council offices: the Municipal Buildings, across the road in Calverley Street, were opened in 1884.
There were originally three courts, the Civil court, the Criminal court and the Borough court.In 1864 Leeds became an assize town, which meant an expansion of the judicial function of the Town Hall. In 1933, when the council offices moved to the new Civic Hall, the Council Chamber became a Crown Court. In 1907 there was a proposal to build an additional court room onto the west side of the Town Hall. Plans were drawn up, but the extension was never built. The Town Hall continued to house the city's courts until their removal to the Combined Court House. The magistrates court was transferred to a building on Westgate in 1993.
Police Station and Bridewell.
The old Court House, built 1811-1803, as well as having the principal law courts on its upper storey, also housed the police station, a prison with prisoners cells and a prison courtyard, and a house for the gaoler. When the new Town Hall was built, the basement was designed to accommodate the police station, including a police muster room, prison cells, (the Bridewell), and rooms for the gaoler and his wife.
The first triennial musical festival was held in the Town Hall after the opening in 1858. The conductor was William Sterndale Bennett. Since then the Town Hall has been the venue for musical concerts of all kinds, including the International concert Season. Many leading conductors and musicians have performed at Leeds, for example Sir Charles Hallé's orchestra and Sir Arthur Sullivan who was conductor for several of the musical festivals. Benjamin Britten conducted a performance of his Spring Symphony there in 1950. The Town Hall is the venue for the finals of the Leeds triennial International Piano competition.
Banquets, Balls and Bazaars
The first banquet to be held in the Town Hall was given by the Mayor, Sir Peter Fairbairn, on the afternoon of the opening of the Town Hall. In 1859 there was a banquet in in honour of G S Beecroft M P, and in 1884, after the opening of the Municipal Buildings a banquet for 400 people was put on.
Before the building of the Civic Hall in 1933, the Town Hall was the focus of activity for the celebrations which always accompanied a visit by a member of the Royal family. In 1868 the Prince of Wales visited Leeds to open the new Infirmary, and in the evening a ball was held in the Victoria Hall. Again in 1872, when Prince Arthur visited Leeds to open Roundhay Park the day ended with a ball which according to Mayhall 'exceeded anything ever witnessed of its kind in the North of England.'
On 26th May 1868 a bazaar was held in the Victoria Hall to raise money to pay off the debt, about £6000, which resulted from the building of the new Mechanics Institute. It had the Queen, the French Empress, the Princess of Wales, and the Crown Princess of Prussia, as well as the prominent ladies of the West Riding amongst its patronesses.
Meetings and exhibitions
On September 22nd 1858, only a fortnight after the opening of the Town Hall, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Leeds. For many years Leeds had wanted to host a meeting of the British Association, and the building of a large hall made this possible. Since then many meetings, conferences and exhibitions have been held in the Town Hall.
Political meetings and elections
The Town Hall was often a centre of political activity. It had after all been built as the centre of local government in Leeds. In 1880 large crowds gathered to hear the result of the general election, and in 1881 Mr. Gladstone visited Leeds. The Victoria Hall was (and still is) used for counting the votes in both local and general elections.
The Central Library
In 1999-2000 the Central Library in the Municipal Buildings underwent extensive renovation. During this time the library was housed in the Town Hall. The crypt was home to the lending library, and other departments were housed in rooms on the ground floor. Books were stored in the basement, some in the old cells of the Bridewell.
|Click images to enlarge|
Mayor's Rooms ready for the visit of the Shah of Persia, 1888
West Riding Court, 1906
Musical Festival Programme, 1901
Sir Arthur Sullivan
Banquet for Councillor Beecroft, 1859
Declaration of Election Results, 1880
Mr. Gladstone at Leeds, 1881
Arrangements for counting votes in the Victoria Hall, early 1900's