The fight to save Birkenhead Town Hall (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 11:18 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:46 20 February 2013
One of the Wirral's most impressive landmark buildings faces an uncertain future, as Paul Mackenzie reports
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Few buildings can match the splendour of Birkenheads town hall. With its imposing stone faade, classical columns and green-domed clock tower, it is an impressive statement of Victorian intent.
The building went up in Hamilton Square at a time of great innovation and change. Scores of grand buildings had been built around Birkenhead and the town was the site of three world firsts - the first under-water rail tunnel had just opened, linking Birkenhead with Liverpool; Birkenhead Park, the first public park, was still relatively new and the first electrified railway was just a few years away.
The town hall, which replaced an earlier town hall in Market Street, was designed by local architect Christopher Ellison and was built of Scottish granite and sandstone from the now defunct quarry at Storeton. Its lavish interior contains many fine examples of stained glass and a grand staircase and has sweeping views of the Mersey and the Liverpool skyline.
It was officially opened in 1887 and completed Hamilton Square more than 60 years after the first building went up. Only Londons Trafalgar Square has more Grade I listed buildings but the town hall - itself Grade II listed - now faces an uncertain future.
Most of its rooms have stood empty for about 18 months since council services moved out and the bill for essential repairs now stands at 1million.
The council are now looking to sell the building and Matthew Crook, Wirral Councils conservation officer, believes that redeveloping the town hall could be key to revitalising Birkenhead.
This building could be a catalyst, he said. This is a magnificent building, one which was built to be seen and to have an impact. To get this building occupied and in use will underpin the regeneration of the square.
The council would only sell the building if the project was right, it would need to be something sensitive to the buildings historic importance and I think it would have to be for a mixed use development.
As Cheshire Life went to print, just one serious offer had been made for the town hall and discussions were being held between the council and the Hamilton Partnership who have proposed a multi-use facility with commercial offices alongside space for voluntary community groups and arts facilities. It could also be home to the John Peel archive, the musical legacy of the Heswall-born DJ.
The building consisted of a council chamber, with a stunning stained glass ceiling, offices as well as a concert hall and functions rooms. Council offices started to leave Birkenhead town hall for Wallasey in the 1990s and the Wirral Museum has now closed too. Although the town hall is still used as the centre for the registration of births, marriages and deaths, its many grand rooms now stand empty.
The town hall features on the 2010-11 list of buildings at risk which has been compiled by the group Save Britains Heritage. This years report - titled Live or Let Die - highlights the town halls position as one of the countrys most beautiful civic buildings.