St George's Hall

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BY ROBERT BOULT ESQ ARCHITECT LIVERPOOL

BY ROBERT BOULT ESQ ARCHITECT LIVERPOOL

Liverpool Mercury Sept 19th 1854

Considerable inconvenience having been experienced from the want in Liverpool of any suitable building in which the music festivals in aid of the charities might be held, steps were made to remedy the deficiency, and in the autumn of 1836 a requisition was presented to the Mayor [W. W. CURRIE Esq] for a public meeting to consider, "the propriety of erecting a building adapted to the accommodation of future festivals and other public purposes." In compliance with the requisition the Mayor convened such a meeting in the Sessions House on the 2nd of October that year. At that meeting the following propositions were unanimously adopted :-

1, The great public inconvenience having been experienced from the want of a hall for the performance of the Liverpool music festival and other public purposes. It is the opinion of this meeting that measures should be immediately adopted to remedy the defect.

2, That the money required for the foregoing shall be raised in shares of 25 pounds each, by instalments, during the progress of the work.

3, That a subscription is now opened and a committee formed for carrying this purpose into effect.

In the following month of November, at the meeting of the committee it was resolved-

That the number of subscriptions already received is highly satisfactory, and a list of subscribers be published in the Liverpool newspapers. That a miss-apprehension has arisen to the purposes to which the net profits to arise from the proposed building will be applied, the committee feel it incumbent on them to declare that such profits must necessarily be divided rateably among the shareholders.

These resolutions were advertised, together with the names of the subscribers, 315 in number, giving an aggregate amount of 16,600 pounds.

In December the following resolution appeared :-

That as soon as a sum of money is subscribed which that in the opinion of this committee will justify the work being proceeded in, they will call a meeting of the subscribers to appoint a committee and make the necessary arrangements.

In this advertisement the subscriptions amounted to 22, 675 pounds, which shows the spirited manner in which the project was supported by the public.

About this time the Town Council gave notice of an Improvement Bill, in which they sought for powers to apply the site of the "Old Infirmary" in Lime St, for the purpose of erecting public buildings, of which it was understood the new public hall would be one.

The progress made in the collection of subscriptions being so satisfactory, the promoters appeared determined not to allow the public interest to be diverted until active measures had been adopted for supplying an important deficiency and therefore on the 17th January 1837, a meeting of the subscribers was held in the Cotton Salesroom, at which the Rev Rector BROOKS [now the Archdeacon of Liverpool]

presided and the following report was read :-

Your committee immediately after their appointment proceeded to take the most effectual means of procuring subscriptions, by personal application to the inhabitants of the town and by public advertisement. Your committee have to report to you that up to this day the amount of money subscribed to the undertaking is 25,350 pounds, a very considerable sum, and which they think reflects great credit on the public spirit of the town, more especially when it is considered that the period over which their labours have extended has been marked by an unusual depression of trade and scarcity of money. They would however impress upon the subscribers, and the public of this great town, that, large as the subscription is, a still greater amount will be required to erect a hall adequate to the various purposes contemplated, and to fit it up and furnish it with accommodations on a scale which will make it both useful and ornamental to the town, of a character as the increasing importance this great community demands. Whilst, therefore, your committee trust that the committee of management, this day to be elected will devote their early and best endeavours to the collection of further subscriptions, they at the same time hope that the present meeting will feel itself justified in authorising the immediate adoption of measures for securing an eligible plot of ground for the erection of the hall, and for obtaining plans and estimates of the work.

Then follows a reference to the deed of engagement and the details of the management and the report concludes that the committee, " are of the opinion, and beg to suggest that an appropriate name for the hall would be, St George's Hall."

Resolutions were adopted in conformity with the recommendations of the report and in the course of the proceedings the chairman stated, that additional subscriptions to the amount of 10,000 pounds, were required.

But, although such satisfactory progress had been accomplished within four of five months from the origination of the project, little apparent progress was made during 1837. The Mercury chronicles no further incidents in its history till June, 1838.

LAYING OF THE FOUNDATION STONE

LAYING OF THE FOUNDATION STONE

The coronation of Queen Victoria, being appointed for 28th June, 1838, it was considered desirable that the laying of the foundation stone of the proposed St George's Hall should form part of the local celebrations for that auspicious event, consequently, although no design of the proposed building had been prepared, arrangement were made with the town council for having the ceremony performed in the Old Infirmary Yard, in Lime St, the site of the building which is now about to be opened, but the council reserved to themselves the right to place the hall on any part of the ground, that might thereafter be most suitable for it, in conjunction with the buildings, which they might erect thereon.

Thirty years since the Seaman's Hospital, the infirmary, and the Lunatic Asylum where here placed, the latter being in close proximity to St John's churchyard, and near the southern corner of the ground plot, the Infirmary and Seaman's hospital standing to the north and east of the Asylum.

I believe the Infirmary was taken down immediately after the completion of the new buildings in Brownlow St, and soon afterwards the inmates of the Asylum were removed to their new quarters in Ashton St. After the destruction of the Infirmary its site was used as standing grounds for travelling booths of various kinds, including menageries, a frequent source of interest to truant schoolboys and other loiterers by the way.

The old Lunatic Asylum was occupied by a Cholera hospital during the first visitation of that disease in 1832 and subsequently as barracks, during which time the injurious effects from its proximity to the churchyard were spoken of by an officer, who stated that at times the effluvia was exceedingly offensive, and that he and his men suffered from dysentery. A gentleman who resided near the churchyard said that he was convinced that his own health and the health of his children suffered from it and that he had removed to avoid further injury.

These remarks were made prior to 1843, since which time the evil must have been greatly aggravated, as there had been daily interments during the intervening years, and I would suggest to the northern bar whether their influence would not have been exerted more beneficially for themselves as well as for the general public, if they had endeavoured to have their interments prohibited, instead of raising a factious opposition to the temporary re-occupation of the old Sessions House.

A procession of trades formed part of the celebration of coronation day. It assembled in Dale St and after, perambulating several of the principal streets of the town terminating its walk at the site of the foundation stone and the north east corner of the ground. In the absence of the chairman and deputy-chairman of the St George's Hall committee, Mr Charles LAWRENCE, presented to the mayor, William RATHBONE Esq, a handsome silver trowel, which that gentleman handed to Mr John DRINKWATER, right worshipful grandmaster of the masons, and requested him to perform the ceremony, which took place with the customary observances. The following transcription, engraved upon the brass plate covering the coins usually deposited with the stone, was read by Samuel HOLME :-

ST GEORGE'S HALL

The first stone of this edifice was laid on, Thursday the 28th day of June 1838, being the coronation day of our Gracious Queen Victoria, under the direction of, William RATHBONE Esq, Mayor of Liverpool

COMMITTEE OF MANAGEMENT

Rev Jonathan BROOKS. M.A, rector of the parish, Chairman, Hardman EARLE Esq Deputy-chairman, James ASPINALL Esq, Treasurer.

Henry BOOTH Esq, W. Wallace CURRIE Esq, W. DIXON Esq, William EARLE Jnr Esq, Pattison ELLAMES Esq, Joseph C. EWART Esq, Samuel HOLME Esq, Joseph HORNBY Esq, Samuel KEARSLEY Esq, Ambrose LACE Esq, Joseph LANGTON Esq, Charles LAWRENCE Esq, John MOSS Esq, John STEWART Esq, Samuel TURNER Esq, Joseph N. WALKER Esq, Thomas WINSTANLEY Esq, John WRIGHT Esq. Secretaries to the committee, Edward G. DEANE Esq, Thomas HARVEY Esq.

THE PLANS

THE PLANS

Matters having advanced thus far, the committee of the hall in July following made their first call of 5 pounds per share, to be paid into the Bank of Liverpool on the 1st day of August, but it was not until the following March that any steps were taken to obtain designs for the proposed building. In that month the committee issued their advertisement to Architects inviting the profession to send in designs, "in the erection and completion of which it is proposed to expend a sum not exceeding 30,000 pounds. Premiums of 250 and 150 guineas were offered for the two designs which should be most approved of and two to three months allowed for preparation. On the 11th and 12th of July the designs were exhibited in the rooms, Postoffice Place, to their subscribers and friends, the successful competitors being Mr Harvey Lonsdale ELMES and Mr George ALEXANDER both young men and both of London.

Further delays intervened before the execution of Mr ELMES design was to be commenced. At the meeting of the town council on 1st May 1839 the finance committee reported the negotiations which had passed between them and the committee of the St George's Hall, " with a view to secure the appropriation of the building to the purposes intended and the rights of the public to the occupation of the same." For this purpose it was recommended that the committee of management should contain 21 members, 6 of whom should be appointed by the council, and 15 by the subscribers of the building fund, one third of each moiety to go out annually, the first year by ballot, subsequently by seniority, but to be eligible for re-election. The proposition proceeded on the basis that 30,000 pounds would be subscribed by the promoters of the undertaking, and that the value of the land given by the council was 12,000 pounds, making a total of 42,000 pounds, in the event of the subscriptions falling short of 30,000 pounds, that arrangements to be opened for further consideration. These terms were adopted unanimously by the committee of the hall and by the majority of the town council.

At the council meeting in June the 6 members of the committee of management of the hall where appointed in conformity with the foregoing arrangement. The commencement of the erection was, however, to be still more delayed, and no further active steps appear to have been taken until, the 25th August 1840, on which day a meeting of the proprietors of St George's Hall Company was held in the Cotton Salesroom, the Rev Jonathan BROOKS in the chair, when the following report from the committee was read :-

It will be in the recollection of the meeting that this company was formed at a public meeting of the subscribers held after 1013 shares had been taken, amounting at 25 pounds per share, to 25,325 pounds. The company elected in the manner prescribed at that meeting in February 1837, an application to the council of the borough for a grant of part of the site of the Old Infirmary, on which to erect St George's Hall, an in June 1838, the council having first obtained an Act of Parliament for the purpose, made an appropriation of that site, on proper trusts being declared, defining the purpose to which the building should be applied. The mercantile embarrassment of 1837 unfortunately put a stop to all further progress in the undertaking, but after the improvement which took place in the summer of 1838, the committee made a fresh appeal to the public, which was attended with success and the number of shares subscribed for reached 1043.

On the 28th June 1838 on the occasion of Her Majesties coronation the first stone of the hall was laid, and immediately afterwards the committee made a call on the subscribers for 5 pounds a share, payable in August 1838. The call on the 1043 shares subscribed for would, if fully paid, have produced 5715 pounds, but on 280 shares, amounting to 1445 pounds, the call was not paid. The members of the committee, however, undertook to wait personally on the subscribers, and the result was that shares were collected on the whole, up to January 1839, the 5 pounds call upon 80 shares amounted to 430 pounds, being equivalent to a subscribed capital of 21,500 pounds, if the remaining 20 pounds per share was held up on those shares.

The committee then advertised for plans for the hall, and in the meantime entered into a treaty with the finance committee for arranging the terms and conditions for which the council should make the grant for the site and these were at length arranged, The principal of them was that power was given to the council to appoint out of its own body, 6 members of the committee, the subscribers appointing 15, making a committee of 21, the number originally fixed on.

On the 5th June 1839, six committeemen were named on the part of the council, of these, four had been previously members of the committee, two being new members.

Much pains were bestowed by the committee on the inspection of the numerous designs sent in by the competitor architects and one was fixed in June 1839 which proved to be that of Mr Harvey Lonsdale ELMES. Fortunately your committees choice met with the general, indeed the universal, approbation of the public.

Mr ELMES after carefully revising his estimate at the request of the committee, stated, that 30,000 pounds would be the maximum of the cost of erecting a hall according to his plans.

The council having determined on the erection of law courts on another portion of the Old Infirmary ground, and not having fixed the exact site for them, your committee asked the determination of the council on that point and having at length ascertained that the site originally appropriated to St George's Hall would not be interfered with, your committee have within a few days past, had an interview with Mr ELMES, and have fully arranged the general plan of the hall. There is to be accommodation in the main hall for 3,000 persons, and there is also to be a concert room capable of accommodating 1,000 persons, applicable to other purposes such as lectures and meetings.

As the cost of the building will be 35,000 pounds, including 5,000 pounds for an organ and furniture, the number of shares required to make up that sum will be 1400, of these the call was paid upon 800 only, and from the latter number 130 shares must be deducted, owing to death, removal from Liverpool and misfortune in business of the subscribers, and it is gratifying to find this class is so small. Your committee therefore think they can only rely on 740 shares as the number on which the calls will be paid, and consequently it will be proper to procure subscriptions for 640 additional shares.

After hearing the preceding report the meeting was resolved -

That the council having definitely fixed upon the site of the intended law courts, it is desirable that the committee of the St George's Hall should make early arrangements for erecting the hall according to the design fixed upon which is calculated in its extent and arrangements to afford the desired accommodation to the inhabitants, and its architectural beauty to be an ornament to the town. That the mode adopted in an early stage of undertaking of personally soliciting the inhabitants to subscribe for shares, be now renewed, and a public appeal be also made to them on the subject. That with this view these resolutions and the report read to this meeting be advertised in the newspapers.

Notwithstanding the exertions of the committee there still continued to be a considerable difficulty in obtaining subscribers for the number of shares requisite to produce the required capital. Consequently it was suggested, making the amount already subscribed sufficient, that the St George's Hall should be incorporated in one edifice with the Law Courts. It was originally intended that the two buildings should form two sides of a square, the hall at the north the courts at the west. After some negotiation it was decided that the council should build a hall for the subscribers, who should pay a part of the cost proportionate to the accommodation provided for them. As from the time the history of the hall becomes intimately connected to the assize courts, I will bring that portion of the inquiry to this period, but before leaving this branch of the subject reference may be made to the fact that as early as 1814 the want of accommodation as that sought for in St George's Hall was the subject of complaint, similar efforts were inaugurated to supply the deficiency. In the Mercury of July 8th 1814, appeared an advertisement from "A meeting of gentlemen desirous to promote the building of a suite or rooms in Liverpool, where festivals, assemblies, balls, concerts, public dinners, etc, may be held or given on all occasions." John Ashton CASE, Esq presided at this meeting and John DRINKWATER Esq, secretary. Thirty five gentlemen subscribed 100 guineas each, with the exception of John GLADSTONE Esq. [afterwards a baronet of Fasque.N.B], who signed for two shares. The following is one of the resolutions adopted at this meeting :-

That whilst every town in the kingdom is in possession of buildings for these desired purposes, Liverpool appears to be a singular exception. That it appears only necessary to point out this object to public attention and give it a form and system, to ensure adoption and support.

Forty years have elapsed since the adoption of this resolution and it is only now fulfilled, and by no joint stock association, nor by the efforts of private munificence, but out of the surplus revenue of the corporate estate, the property of the burgesses. Still let us give honour to those who in 1814 and 1836, and in other years, continued their efforts in getting this great want supplied, for though the mode of execution is different from those they proposed, we have at length entered into the fruits of their labour. Some of those who gave their services, and probably anticipated sharing in the advantages resulting in their successful conclusion, have passed away before that fulfilment was attained, but the public that never dies succeeds to the fruits of other men's labours, the universal residuary legatee of all expiring generations.

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