Photographs by the author except for the last image, an illustration of Victoria Hall, which was very kindly provided by Leeds Library and Information Service. [You may use the other photographs without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.]
Leeds Town Hall. Cuthbert Brodrick (1821-1905). 1852-58. Darley Dale stone and others (see "Town Hall, Leeds"). The Headrow, Leeds. Listed Building. This is the most important and commanding building in Leeds, taking up a whole block at each side, built to accommodate a public and concert hall for as many as 8,000 people, a mayoral suite, Council Chamber, courtrooms, and the police department, along with all the various offices each facility required. As Derek Linstrum points out, Brodrick had an even taller order here than the one given to Harvey Lonsdale Elmes for St George's Hall, Liverpool: there was to be a much larger concert hall, and double the number of courtrooms. In short, Leeds wanted and would get a "municipal palace" (411). Notice the grand row of ten Corinthian columns at the main entrance; the pavilions at either side with pilasters and more columns; the ornamented balustrade; and the tall, almost overbearing tower, a city landmark.
Exterior of the Town Hall
Left to right: (a) Looking towards the corner of Calverley Street, which bounds the Town Hall on the east, and Great George Street, which bounds it on the north. Even the four highly functional ventilation shafts became ornamental features. (b) Closer view of the tower, which is also colonnaded, with six detached columns on each side of the square. One of the ventilation shafts is seen here too, as well as part of the roof of the central "Victoria Hall." (c) Looking across the grand sweep of steps up to the colonnade at the front of the Town Hall, towards the gabled red-brick and sandstone-dressed Oxford Place Methodist Chapel, which faces it on the west. Also seen here are two of the four Portland stone lions by William Day Keyworth flanking the steps, now rather spectacularly parti-coloured.]
The building is often compared to the neo-classical St George's Hall, but it is more eclectic. This comes out well in James Steven Curl's description of it. Here, he says,
the dominant architectural theme moves away from Neoclassicism to a mixture of the Italianate manner of Barry, the civic and commercial Classicism of Brongniart (at the Paris Bourse of 1808-26) and of Tite (at London's Royal Exchange of 1838-44), and a variation of Baroque flourish in the gigantic clock-tower. (288)
Inside, however, the Italianate influence predominates.
Left to right: (a) Ironwork on the three paired (main) south entrance doors. To left and right of the highly ornamental grilles are relief panels. Like the tympanum above, these were by John Thomas. The same leafy scrolls were used in the grilles and the relief panels, suggesting that either Brodrick or Thomas had ideas for both. Each relief shows a child with a ram draped across his shoulders, relating to Leeds's wool industry. Note also the rosettes, which often feature on Brodrick's work (see Linstrum 412; for a closer view, and fuller discussion, see Allegorical Reliefs at the South Entrance). (b) Looking at the doors from inside the domed foyer. At eye-level, the foyer is rather sombre, with its two busts of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alice of Wales, by Matthew Noble. In the small apses at each corner of the other end there are full statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on polished marble pedestals, by the same sculptor. The geometrically-patterned Minton tiles were re-laid in this century. (c) Above is the wonderful dome. The statue of Queen Victoria was originally placed in the centre of the vestibule, and in the angles of the canopy can be seen the names Europe, Asia, America and Africa, so that the whole represented (according to Linstrum) "tribute from the four corners of the world" (412).
A closer view of the panels above the door, shows, in the centre, two gilded owls (emblems of Leeds's origins) beside a fleece (relating to its importance in the wool trade). Both motifs are drawn from Leeds's coat of arms, and can be found also in the elaborate decor of the Victoria Hall. In fact both vestibule and public hall were decorated by the firm of Crace, the famous interior decorating firm used also by Sir Charles Barry, along with Pugin, in the Houses of Parliament; and by William Burges in the spectacular rooms of Cardiff Castle. The former Council Chamber was splendid enough, but the hall was the real showpiece. It was the last word in opulence, brilliantly painted and gilded, and with more carving by John Thomas. Thanks to meticulous restoration we can still see it much as Brodrick had intended: it was redecorated by the Crace firm in 1894, and the most recent conservation project reinstated this scheme "based on original drawings and research" (Brock Carmichael). A typically earnest High Victorian touch is the frieze bearing Latin and English texts, including HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY, LABOR VINCIT OMNIA, and GOD IN THE HIGHEST.
At the end of the hall stands its focal point, the great organ, still one of the largest and surely most spectacular in the whole of Europe, by Henry Smart & William Spark. Its case was designed by Brodrick himself, and it was decorated by Crace and Matthews. It has the city arms above it. Also shown off against the blue apse are the gilded angels on top of the pipes. Lower down, not visible from this distance, are four trumpeters. They have every right to celebrate. Leeds Town Hall is, in every respect, one of the great town halls of England, and was influential in the planning of others (see Briggs 182).
- Allegorical sculpture at the south entrance
- Matthew Noble's bust of the Prince of Wales
- Matthew Noble's bust of the Princess of Wales
- Matthew Noble's statue of Queen Victoria
- Matthew Noble's statue of Prince Albert
- Painting ot the Town Hall by R. P. Leitch (1858)
Briggs, Asa. Victorian Cities. Berkely: University of California Press, 1993.
Brock Carmichael Architects. Navigate to Selected Portfolio. Web. 5 July 2011.
"Leeds Town Hall." Visit Leeds (Leeds City Council site). Web (updated link). 22 February 2022.
Linstrum, Derek. "Town Hall." Yorkshire West Riding: Leeds, Bradford and the North. By Peter Leach, Nikolaus Pevsner and others. The Buildings of England series. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009. 425-26.
"Town Hall, Leeds." British Listed Buildings. Web. 5 July 2011.
Created 6 July 2011
Last modified 22 February 2022 (link updated)