One of the North West’s finest historic buildings, Rochdale Town Hall, has undergone four years of restoration work and it is set to reopen to the public in a matter of weeks. The project, which was supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund with an £8.9m grant, has transformed the iconic Grade I Listed building, which has stood proud in Rochdale town centre since 1871.
The scheme, which has restored many of the building’s historic features and created brand new community spaces in rooms which were previously out of bounds to the public, began in 2020 when the town hall closed its doors to allow experts to get to work. Now, with just weeks to go until the building will reopen to the public on Sunday 3 March, images of the spectacular spaces have been revealed for the first time.
Some of the most dramatic changes have taken place in the Great Hall, where specialists used a variety of equipment, including cotton wool buds, to painstakingly restore the 350 panels which cover the room’s ceiling. Years of grime made the tiles appear dark brown, and the intricate images on each panel, including the English lions and Scottish thistle, were impossible to see. Now, hundreds of beautiful designs in red and gold can be viewed for the first time in decades as well as being able to see all the Kings & Queens of England and the Magna Carta in the Great Hall.
In the Exchange, at the main entrance to the building, Minton floor tiles, which depict a hanging fleece and other insignia of Rochdale, have been repaired. The elaborate vaulted ceiling and sweeping staircase in granite and marble, have been cleaned and restored. Stained glass windows, painted surfaces and wood panelling and furniture throughout the building have also been brought back to their former glory.
One of the standout features of the restored town hall is the creation of brand-new community spaces in areas of the building which were previously completely closed from public view. On the first floor, a room which was previously used as office space has had years of unsympathetic additions, including partition walls and a mezzanine floor, removed to reveal a double height ceiling, angels along the walls and a previously hidden window with views directly down into the Great Hall. This room, named the ‘Bright Hall’ after the late Rochdale born MP and social reformer, John Bright, will be used by community groups and for events.
On the ground floor, a room which was previously used for council meetings has been transformed into a permanent exhibition space, known as the Welcome Gallery, which tells the story of Rochdale, its people and its past, through objects, interactives and imagery.
Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, Councillor Neil Emmott, said: “Rochdale Town Hall is probably one of the finest examples of neo gothic architecture in the country, but like many buildings this old, it was showing its age. Now, after four years of painstaking work, it looks incredible, just as it would have done when it first opened its doors well over a century ago.”
In addition to experts, over 500 volunteers got on board with the project, with Rochdale residents from the ages of 15 to 82, supporting with everything from historical research to cleaning and conservation.
Councillor Janet Emsley, cabinet member for Equity, Safety and Reform at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Rochdale Town Hall’s transformation is about so much more than how it looks, as impressive as that is. It’s about opening it up and making it more relevant to the public than ever before, with guided tours, increased opening hours and new exhibition and community spaces, so everybody knows this place is for them. It’s so much than a piece of our history, thanks to the support of National Lottery players, it’s now an important part of our future as well.”
In addition to the aesthetic changes, crucial additions, including more lifts and entrances, will make the building fully accessible for the first time, so everyone can enjoy the space. Other major changes, such as the repair of the roof and the installation of new, more efficient heating systems, will also help future proof the building, so it can continue to be enjoyed for decades to come.
A brand new restaurant, the Martlet, is also expected to open in the town hall in the spring, in the space which was formerly occupied by the Clock Tower dining room. Outside, a multi-million pound revamp of Rochdale Town Hall Square has accompanied the work inside, with new seating, decorative paving and landscaped areas framing the building and creating a new events space in the town centre.
The building opened on the 27th September 1871 and once housed the police station, the magistrates court, the fire station and library.
Restoration work will continue in 2024 with work to restore the west wing of the building, which includes the council chamber and public gallery. The town hall will open to the public on Sunday 3 March 2024. For more information on the town hall, head to the Town Hall website here.