Bradford Citty Hall's central entrance gateway

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Bradford City Hall
By David Jennings*

10 March 2010: Bradford’s City Hall (known as the Town Hall until 1965) is an impressive example of Victorian neo-gothic architecture, but also has a fascinating history. Bradford was one of northern England’s newer towns: the Borough was incorporated in 1847 by permission of Queen Victoria, uniting the townships of Bradford, Manningham, Bowling and Horton, to elect a Mayor, 14 aldermen and 42 councillors. The new council held its meetings for the first sixteen years in the Fire Station House, until a competition was held in 1869 to design a purpose-built Town Hall.

The competition was won by the Bradford firm of Lockwood and Mawson, and the new building was completed in 1873. This scale and design were suitably fitting for the booming woollen manufacturing centre: the style chosen was Victorian Neo-gothic, then the height of fashion (London’s St Pancras station had been completed only a few years before). The building was further extended in 1902 by the City architect F E P Edwards, advised by the eminent late Victorian architect Norman Shaw. A new main entrance hall and staircase in Baroque marble were added by William Williamson in 1913-14.

The main (and original) exterior façade is a symmetrical composition of four floors, with a central entrance gateway; all executed in sandstone, in a mid-13th century Gothic style. The third floor level has a continuous arcade of windows interspersed by statues of the kings and queens of England in canopied niches; interestingly, these include Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector during the Commonwealth), but exclude Mary (joint Monarch with William III) and Edward V, who was never crowned. Behind the gateway is a 217ft bell tower of Tuscan derivation, said to have been inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and a prominent city landmark. The tower’s bells chime every quarter hour, and can be programmed to play tunes, such as Christmas carols.

The extension is unusual in that it houses a second Council chamber and the main dining room, and its exterior, although sympathetic to the original building and materials, incorporates a wider range of styles. The description in the UK heritage listing cannot be bettered: “Shaw's elevations are a brilliant and witty amalgam of styles...Gothic, Romanesque Gothic and Queen Anne with rococo ironwork, rise one above the other, capped off by 2-storey gabled attics of French Gothic derivation”.

Inside, the dining hall has a high arched roof and sculpted chimney piece, both attributed to Norman Shaw. The Council Chamber has a Greek Cross plan, with a pair of facing galleries on marble columns, and is decorated with rich plasterwork and sumptuous William and Mary panelling.

The City Council organises tours of the City Hall for a wide range of groups and for individuals.

* David Jennings is an independent management consultant working on policy and strategy development and stakeholder engagement, including government and business relationship management. He is an Associate of Indepen and Achill Management

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