THE first recorded town hall in Liverpool was in 1515 and it was probably a thatched building, it was replaced in 1673 by a building slightly to the south of the present town hall.
This town hall stood on “pillars and arches of hewen stone” and under it was the exchange for merchants and traders to carry out their business. Building of the present town hall began in 1749 on a site slightly to the north of its predecessor; its foundation stone was laid on 14 September. The architect was John Wood the Elder, who has been described as “one of the outstanding architects of the day”. It was completed and opened in 1754. The ground floor acted as the exchange, and a council room and other offices were on the upper floor.
The ground floor had a central courtyard surrounded by Doric colonnades but it was “dark and confined, and the merchants preferred to transact business in the street outside”.
Improvements began in 1785 with an extension to the north designed by James Wyatt. Buildings close to the west and north sides were demolished and John Foster prepared plans for the west façade.
In 1786 Wood’s square dome was demolished and plans were made by Wyatt for a new dome over the central courtyard. In 1795, before the new dome was built, the hall was seriously damaged by a fire. Wyatt’s north extension was not significantly damaged, but Wood’s original building was gutted. The building was reconstructed and Wyatt’s new dome was added. The work was supervised by Foster and completed in 1802. Under the dome the central courtyard was replaced with a hall containing a staircase. In 1811 a portico was added to the south side. The construction and decoration of the interior was completed by about 1820.
In 1881 an attempt to blow up the town hall by the Fenians was aborted. In 1899–1900 the portico on the south face was rebuilt and extended, and the northern extension was enlarged to form a recess in the Council Chamber for the Lord Mayor’s chair. In 1921 a room on the ground floor was made into the Hall of Remembrance to commemorate the military men from Liverpool who died in the First World War.
Part of the building was damaged in the Liverpool Blitz of 1941; this restored after the end of the Second World War. Further restoration was carried out between 1993 and 1995.
The building has two storeys and a basement; the stonework of the basement and lower storey is rusticated. The south face, overlooking Castle Street, has nine bays. Its central three bays are occupied by a portico. This has three rounded arches on the ground floor, and four pairs of Corinthian columns in the upper storey surrounding a balcony. The east and west faces also have nine bays and the roof of the north face is higher than that of the main building. This face has five bays, with a central portico of three bays. On its first floor are four pairs of Corinthian columns and standing on the roof above these are four statues dating from 1792 by Richard Westmacott.
The dome stands on a high drum supported on Corinthian columns. Around the base of the dome are four clock faces, each of which is supported by a lion and unicorn. On the summit of the dome is a statue, representing Minerva or Britannia (nobody is quite sure) and was designed by John Charles Felix Rossi.
The main door in the south face leads to the Vestibule or Entrance Hall. It has a floor of encaustic tiles which depict the arms of Liverpool. The room is panelled and on the east side is a large wooden fireplace containing 17th-century Flemish carvings. It has murals painted in 1909 depicting events in Liverpool’s history.
Below these are brass tablets containing the names of the freemen of Liverpool. Also in the entrance hall are bardic chairs from the two Eisteddfods held in the city. At the rear of the ground floor in Wyatt’s extension is the Council Chamber. This has mahogany-panelled walls and can seat 160 people. Adjacent to the Council Chamber is the Hall of Remembrance. On its wall are panels bearing the names of the military men who lost their lives in the First World War, and eight murals painted by Frank O. Salisbury in 1923.
In the centre of the ground floor is the Staircase Hall described in the Buildings of England series as “one of the great architectural spaces of Liverpool”. A broad staircase rises between two pairs of Corinthian columns to a half-landing and narrower flights climb from that on each side to the upper floor.
On the ground floor on each side of the staircase are display cabinets holding the city’s silver. On the half-landing is a statue of George Canning dated 1832 by Francis Chantrey, and hanging on the wall above this is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Sir Edward Halliday.
The Town Hall has played host to many of the city’s prestigious events including visits by Royalty from home and abroad as well as hosting a homecoming by the Beatles on the front balcony.
The Town Hall now hosts weddings and other functions and is a popular location for filming. Home to the Lord Mayor it is a flagship building in Liverpool.