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Stockport Town Hall celebrates centenary

PUBLISHED: 12:03 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 12:11 12 April 2016

Stockport Town Hall

Stockport Town Hall

Stockport Town Hall, known locally as 'The Wedding Cake' celebrates its 100th birthday on July 7. Ray King looks back at the history of this grand building, officially opened in 1908 by the Prince of Wales

MUCH of the Stockport that greeted the visit of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales on July 7 1908 has vanished without trace. Their point of arrival and departure, the Midland Railway's Tiviot Dale station, has long been submerged beneath the hardcore and tarmac of the M60 motorway that now follows the line of the track beneath the town's iconic viaduct. Much of the old town centre through which the royal couple passed in the Duke of Westminster's travelling landau, drawn by four horses, lies buried underneath the Merseyway shopping centre. But their destination, the borough's newly constructed town hall, has remained for exactly a century, one of Stockport's most familiar landmarks.

And for two weeks the modern day townsfolk are celebrating the 100th birthday of the 'wedding cake', fashioned in glistening white Portland stone by Alfred Brumwell Thomas who, within months of Stockport's civic leaders moving in, received a knighthood for 'excellence in architecture.' When the future King George V and Queen Mary performed the opening ceremony, the town laid on a lavish welcome, though the royal visit lasted barely 90 minutes before the couple left by special train for a house party that evening at the Duke of Westminster's Eaton Hall, near Tarporley.

The 6th Cheshire Battalion formed guards of honour at the station and the entrance to the town hall, soldiers from the Stalybridge, Hyde and Glossop detachments lined the streets.

Bands played at three strategic locations. More than 1,300 people packed into the new town hall's magnificent (Poet Laureate John Betjeman's description) ballroom with its richly decorated barrel-vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows which, to this day, occupies a third of the building's ground floor, for the official opening.

Two stands in Tiviot Dale Square and two more in Mersey Square accommodated 6,500 flag-waving children from private, elementary and industrial schools, while the Crimean War veterans had their own enclosure at Tiviot Dale. But then Stopfordians had waited a long time for this moment. The borough council, constituted in 1835, ruminated for the best part of 50 years before they agreed to spend the money on replacing little municipal offices scattered across the town and it wasn't until 1904 that the foundation stone was laid. By then the Victorian era had been replaced by Edwardian and the fashion for neo-gothic architecture, best illustrated by Alfred Waterhouse's Manchester town hall, built between 1868-77, had given way to retrobaroque, or 'the Renaissance style' as Brumwell Thomas described it.

Hence, instead of aping a mediaeval cathedral, as in Manchester, Stockport's town hall favoured a 17th Century Roman palazzo, all colonnaded tiers on the outside and opulent Italian marble within. The town hall was the focus for Armistice celebrations at the end of both world wars; the start of the short-lived reign of King Edward VIII, who abdicated to become Duke of Windsor) was proclaimed from the steps in 1936; and in 1960 played host to a visit by the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Did you know?

Prince's Street takes its name from the route taken bythe Prince and Princess of Wales to open the town hall in1908.

The clock tower never had a bell so as to avoiddisturbing patients in the infirmary, then directly across theroad.

The splendid ballroom occupies a third of the town hall's total area.

The clock was wound by hand twice weekly until electric power was installed in 2002.

Superstitious visitors claim to see the outline of a devil's head in the veins of the marble at the base of the staircase.

The ballroom was used as a hospital in World War I and to accommodate refugees from the German-occupied Channel Islands in World War II.

The Wurlitzer Organ, installed in the ballroom in 1999, came from Manchester's Free Trade Hall. It was originally in the city's Paramount Theatre, later the Odeon cinema complex.

The nickname 'Wedding Cake' derived from the tiered tower in white Portland stone.

The gents' loo on the Regalia Corridor is listed in its own right because of the Edwardian fittings.

The town hall cost £56,880 to build.

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