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How St George’s Hall Took Its Place As One Of Britain’s Finest Buildings

Bob Edwards was born in Liverpool in the 1950s. He has beena policeman, a publican and a teacher in Further Education. He is a keen local historian and the author of the book, Liverpool in the  1950s. Since 2010 Bob has maintained which has attracted more than 1.9 million visitors from around the world
Bob Edwards was born in Liverpool in the 1950s. He has beena policeman, a publican and a teacher in Further Education. He is a keen local historian and the author of the book, Liverpool in the 1950s. Since 2010 Bob has maintained which has attracted more than 1.9 million visitors from around the world

THIS month we take a look at one of Liverpool’s most famous buildings – St George’s Hall.

The site of the hall was formerly occupied by the first Liverpool Infirmary from 1749 to 1824.

Triennial music festivals were held in the city but there was no suitable hall to accommodate them. Following a public meeting in 1836, a company was formed, to raise subscriptions for a hall in Liverpool to be used for the festivals, and for meetings, dinners and concerts. Shares were made available at £25 each and by January 1837 £23,350 (£1,760,060 as of 2012)] had been raised.

In 1838 the foundation stone was laid to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria. A competition in 1839 to design the hall was won by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, a London architect aged 25 years. There was a need for assize courts in the city and a competition to design these was also won by Elmes. The original plan was to have separate buildings but in 1840 Elmes suggested that both functions could be combined in one building on a scale which would surpass most of the other public buildings in the country at the time. Construction started in 1841, the building opened in 1854 (with the small concert room opening two years later). Elmes died in 1847 and the work was continued by John Weightman, Corporation Surveyor, and Robert Rawlinson, structural engineer, until in 1851 Sir Charles Cockerel was appointed architect. Cockerell was largely responsible for the decoration of the interiors During the 2000s a major restoration of the hall took place costing £23m and it was officially reopened on 23 April 2007 by HRH Prince of Wales.

Bird's eye view - A rare pre-war photograph of St George's Hall
Bird’s eye view – A rare pre-war photograph of St George’s Hall

Organ And Organists

THE organ was built by Henry Willis and completed in 1855 with 100 speaking stops across four manual divisions. In 1931 it was reconstructed by Henry Willis III when the number of stops was increased to 120 and electro-pneumatic action introduced for the combination systems and some of the key action. Its power source was still the Rockingham electric blowing plant which had replaced the two steam engines (one of 1855 and a second which had been added in about 1877 to run the increased pressure required since 1867 for some reed stops. In the interim this higher pressure had been hand blown!) The 1924 electric blowers remained in use until 2000 when the present new low and high pressure blowers were fitted by David Wells.

The Organ in St George's HallWith 7,737 pipes, it was the largest organ in the country until a larger one was built at the Royal Albert Hall in 1871, after which an organ even larger than the one at the Royal Albert Hall was constructed at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, using over 10,000 pipes.

As part of the 2000–2007 restoration of the hall repairs were made to the organ, including replacement of the bellows leather.

The first organist was W. T. Best (1826–97) who was appointed in 1855 and served until 1894. He was succeeded in 1896 by Dr Albert Lister Peace (1844–1912) who continued in the post until the year of his death. In 1913 Herbert Frederick Ellingford (1876–1966) was appointed organist. On 21 December 1940 the hall and its organ were damaged in an air-raid. It was not possible to obtain sufficient money to rebuild the organ until the 1950s. In 1954 Henry Willis & Sons were asked to undertake this project and Dr Caleb E. Jarvis (1903–80) was its consultant. Dr Jarvis was appointed organist in 1957 and on his death in 1980 he was succeeded by Noel Rawsthorne (born 1929), who had just retired as organist to the Anglican Cathedral. Noel Rawsthorne served as organist to the hall for four years. Following his retirement in 1984, Professor Ian Tracey, who is also Organist Titulaire of the Anglican Cathedral, was appointed to the post.

The Magnificent Minton Floor In St George’s Hall Liverpool.

SGH floor 2THE interior is dominated by the main hall 169 feet long with a floor of Minton tiles which is normally protected from the feet of the day to day users, but opened to viewing usually once a year.

The St George’s Hall Courts

THE Crown Court is situated at the south end of the building and was Liverpool’s only criminal court until 1984 when criminal proceedings moved to Queen Elizabeth II law courts.

Small Concert Room

THE room has a capacity of 1,200 and the stage was designed to accommodate an orchestra of 60 performers and a semi-chorus of 70.3B6O_H

The room’s fabric is deceptive and much of the decoration is not wood, marble or stone but made from plaster.

The entrance hall has a frieze based on the Parthenon, but does include one slight aberration – a man in what appears to be a bowler hat on a horse!

Did Florence Poison Her Cheating Husband?
The Courtroom

OF all the famous trials that were heard in St George’s Hall in Liverpool, the case that lingers in the mind of people to this very day was the story of Florence Maybrick in 1889.

She stood trial for the murder of her husband, James Maybrick. Florence was a southern belle from Alabama, and James Maybrick was a Liverpool cotton-broker, 20 years older than Florence. Maybrick was obsessed about his health, he was a hypochondriac and he purchased arsenic on a regular basis.

Florence purchased 12 dozen fly-papers, soaked them to obtain from them arsenic, claiming later it was for her complexion. Maybrick’s health deteriorated rapidly and he finally died. They discovered at the autopsy a presence of arsenic in his system. James Maybrick also had a mistress in London. The relationship between Florence and James deteriorated and was accelerated by Florence meeting another man in her life.

Florence stood trial at St George’s Hall on July 1899 and was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. She was reprieved at the last moment and served 15 years’ imprisonment. Mr Justice Steven, who presided at the trial, seemed to be trying her along with the jury for adultery rather than murder because the evidence against her was wafer thin because of course Maybrick had taken arsenic himself.

This is regarded as one of the most famous cases of a miscarriage of justice and remains a concern to crime historians to this very day.

Florence Maybrick was extremely fortunate and her life was saved by having as Counsel Sir Charles Russell, who believed in her innocence and during the long years of 15 year’s imprisonment he visited her on a regular basis, pleading constantly for her to be released.

Liverpool’s St George’s Hall has seen the presence of some of the greatest counsel this country has ever produced. Marshall Hall, Sir Patrick Hastings, F.E. Smith, the local man, who rose to be Lord Chancellor.

Charles Russell certainly compared favourably with any of them.

On her release, after 15 long years, she returned to her native America, wrote her life story and died in 1941. She returned to this country once and that was to see the Grand National.

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