LIVERPOOL TOWN HALL

Grid Ref: SJ 346 902
Date: 26 July 2011

These photographs were taken on visit made by an Adult Education group from an Alston Hall College course on 'Civic Pride' led by local historian David Brazendale. There is a Wikipedia article with a history of the town hall.

Liverpool Town Hall was not originally a town hall in the sense that we now understand. Many town halls date from after the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which set up local government in a manner recogisable today with councillors and a town mayor. Following the Reform Act of 1832, which increased the number of people (all men) allowed to vote, the government turned its attention to local government and set up a committee to enquire into Municipal Corporations "to report if any, and what abuses existed in them, and what measures, in their opinion, it would be most expedient to adopt, with a view to the correction of those abuses."

Among their recommendations were the following, which I show in the rather ponderous prose of the time:

The principle which prevails of a small portion of corporators choosing those who are to be associated with them in power, generally for life, is felt to be a great grievance. The tendency of this principle is to maintain an exclusive system, to uphold local, political and religious party feelings, and is destructive of that confidence which ought always to be reposed in those who are intrusted with control, judicial or otherwise, over their fellow citizens…

The committee are further led to infer that corporations, as now constituted, are not adapted to the present state of society… To make corporations instruments of useful and efficient local government, it seems to be essential that the corporate officers should be more popularly chosen…and that their proceedings should be open and subject to control of public opinion.

In brief, the existing system was not democratic and worked by existing members of the corporation selecting new ones. The Act of Parliament of 1835 required among other features that the town council be elected by ratepayers and that the town be divided into wards for the purpose of elections. The boroughs were obliged to publish their financial accounts and were liable to audit. Each borough was to appoint a salaried town clerk and treasurer who were not to be members of the council. The new corporations had annual elections, with a third of the councillors up for election each year. The council also elected aldermen to serve on the council, with a six-year term.

Liverpool Town Hall was founded in the middle of the 18th century, long before the reforms of 1835. It was built by merchants to conduct trade. The architect was John Wood the Elder. The ground floor acted as the exchange, and a council room and other offices were on the upper floor. The ground floor was dark and confined, and the merchants preferred to transact business in the street outside".

Behind the Town Hall, on Exchange Flags, is a memorial to the men of the Liverpool Exhange, who died in the Great War. Also on Exchange Flags is the memorial to Lord Nelson, crowned by Victory at the moment of his death, while below, under Napoleon, we see Europe lies in chains. This has been misinterpreted by many as showing slavery in the British Empire.

Inside the Town Hall, the Grand Staircase has a half-landing with a statue of George Canning (1770-1827) by Francis Chantry. Canning held several important positions in government including Foreign Secretary before becoming Prime Minister for the last 118 days of his life, from April to August 1827. He was an MP for Liverpool and Canning Dock was named after him in 1832. Above the bust of Canning is a portrait of the Queen by Sir Edward Halliday. Inside the Dome of the Town Hall is the date of foundation of 1749. However, after the fire of 1795 it was rebuilt and completed in 1802. The landing beneath the dome leads into the Small Ballroom.

Throughout there are sumptuous floors ceilings and wall decorations as testament to the wealth of the city but today we view that with a more rounded interpretation. Liverpool was one of the main ports of the Slave Trade, which was not abolished until 1807. Ownership of slaves continued in British Colonies in the West Indies until 1834. Slavery was not abolished in the USA until the 1860s and Liverpool was the main port of entry for raw cotton for the Lancashire textile industry. So, much of what we see in Liverpool Town Hall, after its rebuilding between 1795 and 1802, would have benefited from the profits of slavery. None of this is mentioned on the Wikipedia site for the Town Hall!

Exterior of Town Hall   War Memorial
Upper Part of Town Hall   War Memorial
Nelson memorial   Exterior of Town Hall
Nelson Memorial   Exterior of the Town Hall with its freize
Grand Staircase   Tiled Floor
The Grand Staircase   Encaustic tiles in the Entrance Hall
Landing   Inside the Dome
The landing under the dome   Inside the Dome where we see the date 1749
Lamp   Ceiling
Lamp with winged goddesses   Ceiling in the East Reception Room
Small Ballroom   Wall decoration
Small Ballroom   Detail of decoration in Small Ballroom
Large Ballroom   Balcony
Large Ballroom   Balcony in Large Ballroom
Ceiling in dining room   Council Chamber
Freize and ceiling in the dining room   Council Chamber
Dais in Chamber   Panelling
Dais in Council Chamber   Panelling with clock in Council Chamber

 

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