Town HallText: Chester City Council
In 1834 an architectural competition was held to design a new Town Hall, with prizes of £100 and £50 for the two best entries.The cost was not to exceed £16,000 and architects were asked to avoid styles which were "incompatible with the general features of this Ancient City".
Thirty designs were submitted anonymously and eventually the Belfast architect W H Lynn (1829 - 1915) was selected. Initially there was a public outcry because Lynn's design was to cost more than £16,000, but a tender to erect the building at a cost of £21,610 was accepted in September 1865.
Building the Town Hall was beset with problems. The architect fell out with the Council and the stonemasons went on strike for nine months. The project took four years rather than the planned two. The grey and red sandstone, Gothic style building, with its tower rising to 160 feet (49m), was finally completed in 1869.
The opening ceremony took place on 15 October 1869. This was a very grand affair. Town Hall Square was decorated and galleries of seats installed for more that 2,300 spectators. Amidst great rejoining the cermony was performed by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), accompanied by the Prime Minister W E Gladstone.
On 27 March 1897, the Council Chamber on the second floor was almost completely destroyed by fire. It was restored in the folowing year by the Chester architect T M Lockwood (1830 - 1900, although most of the furniture is the original from 1869.
The principal rooms of the Town Hall are the Assembly Room, used for balls, concerts and other entertainments, the Council Chamber and the Lord Mayor's Parlour. The Court Room, originally built for the city's quarter sessions and more recently used as a magistrates' court, closed in 1995. The ground floor housed the Chester Police Station until 1967, when part became the City Record Office, with some of the prisoners' cells used for storing documents! Today, it is once again a police station and also houses the Tourist Information Centre.
The external appearance of the Town Hall has changed very little. Original aspirations to install a clock on the tower, came to nothing when it was discovered that the clock "more powerful than Big Ben" would require an hour's winding each day. It was not until 1979, as part of Chester's 1900th anniversary celebrations that clocks were put on three faces of the tower - local legend ascerting that the western elevation was overlooked because faced Wales!
Since 1869, the Town Hall has been the centre for Chester's civic life. Apart from council meetings, the Council Chamber is also used for civic receptions and special events such as the annual Mayor Making ceremony and the Pentice Court, at which the Lord Mayor admits new freemen to the city. It has been the scene for many royal visits and ceremonial occasions and visitors from all over the world have been welcomed to the city in the Town Hall.
As a landmark building, the Town Hall has been widely recorded in art and through photographs.
Until 1967, it stood next to the public market, built in 1864. The contrast between the ornate Baroque market frontage and the imposing Gothic form of the Town Hall made this the most impressive grouping of high Victorian public architecture in the city. Amidst strong local opposition, the market was demolished in 1976 and replaced by the Forum, which currently houses most of the City Council offices, shops and the replacement market hall.