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Bradford City Hall gives up its secrets on Heritage Open Day
Unless you’ve had an interest in a planning matter or a licensing application, the chances are that you’ve probably not been inside Bradford City Hall. Yet this magnificent edifice – and it is magnificent, if you take the trouble to pause for a moment and look up at it – is at the centre of Bradford, both in terms of situation and as a power base for the Council.
This Saturday, though, the great doors of City Hall will be thrown open as part of the national Heritage Open Day, and between 10am and 4pm the chance to fully explore the corridors of power will be granted to the citizens of the district.
Visitors will be able to explore the magnificent Grade I-listed building, view the Civic silver collection, and enjoy a tour of its many rooms. These include the Lord Mayor’s Rooms, Council Chamber, former Law Courts and Banqueting Hall.
A number of special events will be laid on for visitors to enjoy, including fascinating Court re-enactments from 1952 by local magistrates. These highly-popular sessions will be held in the former Law Courts at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 2.30pm. The Lord Mayor, Coun Dale Smith, will take part in the 11.30am session. All the cases are real and the re-enactments are based on original records.
There will also be a number of fascinating exhibitions including Little Diamonds of Bradford – a selection of work created by local schoolchildren to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and a collection of royal memorabilia that has been loaned by local resident Judith Watkinson.
Visitors will also be able to watch footage of the Queen’s Coronation and wedding, and view The Lord Mayor’s Scrapbook from 1952 to find out what Alderman John Shee did during his year in office.
Former Bradford archivist Tish Lawson will give a talk entitled From Town Hall To Royal Residence: The Visit Of The Shah Of Persia To Bradford In 1889 at noon and 2pm. Loraine Radcliffe, civic affairs manager, will also give a talk called Royal Reminiscences, during which she will relive royal visits and explain what goes into planning a visit for the Queen, at 11am and 1pm.
The Banqueting Hall will be transformed into a Jubilee Street Party Style Cafe for refreshments, and a children’s picture trail, quiz and create-a-crown competition will be held throughout the day. People can also buy tickets for the Diamond Jubilee Raffle, with all proceeds going to the Lord Mayor’s Appeal.
The Lord Mayor said: “This is a great chance for visitors to see inside this wonderful building, to find out more about our history, and to relive a part of Bradford’s history in the Victorian Law Courts.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of this opportunity tocelebrate our wonderful heritage.”
The heritage of City Hall dates back to 1847, when Queen Victoria signed a Charter of Incorporation which brought together the then-separate towns of Bradford, Manningham , Horton and Bowling as a single borough.
This expanded authority needed a council, though, and with the charter came the permission to elect a body of 42 councillors, 14 aldermen and a mayor. Their original home wasn’t at the City Hall we know now, though, it was on Swain Street, in Fire Station House, and this was Bradford’s first Town Hall, which remained in operation for more than a quarter of a century.
As the new borough grew, it quickly became apparent that a bigger, more “fit for purpose” (as they began saying 165 years later) building was required. Rather than simply plough ahead and commission a new home, the Council in 1869 took the rather forward-thinking decision to organise a competition for prospective designers and architects to submit their plans.
There were 32 entries received, and the winning design was judged to be that submitted by Lockwood and Mawson, a Bradford architect firm which was given the commission and contracted John Ives and Son of Shipley to build it on the present site.
It took three years to build, and the final bill was £100,000. The building was 70ft high and 275ft long, with a 217ft clock tower. It was officially opened by the Mayor, Alderman Matthew Thompson, in 1873.
But the borough and the Council continued to grow, and before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Town Hall had been extended several times – notably in 1909 when a new Council chamber, committee rooms and Banqueting Hall were built, and in 1914 when the entrance was redesigned and a staircase incorporated.
The next major development took place in 1965 when a £12,000 refurbishment and facelift took place.
Although Bradford became a city in 1897, the Town Hall remained the Town Hall, but this was rectified at this time and Bradford finally had the City Hall that will this weekend give up its secrets.