Jan 13, 2021

Burton Upon Trent Town Hall

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There is something special about this Art Deco style, history packing building. Burton’s Town Hall is definitely an architectural highlight of the town which compels its visitors to stop to gaze and appreciate the picturesque beauty that it beholds. Just like any other town hall in Europe, this place is also a base for council meetings and town events. In hindsight, the building has now become the headquarters of the East Staffordshire Borough Council. 

The first Town Hall of Burton, as it came to know in the sixteenth century, was built inside the market place by Abbot Thomas Feld (1473-93) to facilitate the gatherings of the manor court. It ran its course till 1772, after which it was brought down together with the original market hall, and in its place, a more functional and substantial town hall got constructed. Lord Paget took care of all its expenses, and the project was conferred to a local architect, James Wyatt, and his brother. 

Burton Upon Trent Town Hall
Burton Upon Trent Town Hall

The pediment on the west side of the town hall bore an engraved coat of arms of the Paget family – carved out of Coade stone. At present, the said stone occupies a small space on the apparent library side of the Andresey Bridge, disintegrating beneath the growing weeds. On the whole, the town hall had a very classical touch to it, complete with an east end traditional fire-place and a fitted chimney, above which hung the portrait of the first Marquess of Anglesey – Lord Henry Paget.

The place, however, was soon ditched for the same reason it first saw the light of the day. By 1831, the council members were meeting in the backroom of Angel Inn, which remained their meet up place till 1853. Later in the same year, the newly appointed members met at a country courthouse at the junction of Station Street and Guild Street. In 1858, they shifted to a building adjacent to the clerk’s house on High Street. An idea to build a new, multifunctional town hall on the corner of Station Street and Union Street was turned down, mainly because of troubled finances. The members finally found a temporary stay in 1866 at the bend of Horninglow Street joining the Guild Street. 

When the municipal borough took the custody of the hall after its formation in 1878, they found the place beyond repair. Subsequently, the Town Hall got demolished in 1883, around the time when the new Market Hall had erected nearby. Today, the four brass plates set into the ground, close to the current Market Hall, marks the boundaries of the old Town Hall. 

Across town from the market place, Michael Thomas Bass II, a local brewing magnate, gifted the townsfolk with Saint Paul’s church in 1874. Four years into its existence inside the Burton Moors area and Bass felt the need to have a Saint Paul’s Institute at the corner of two new streets, Rangemore Street and St Paul’s Street East, paved during the construction of the church. When asked about the motive behind this, Bass replied that it is better to provide for the scholastic, recreative, and intellectual requirements of the town.

With the flourishing brand name on one-hand and the status of representing Derby as a Liberal MP on the other, he decided best to purchase the neighboring piece of land and extend the premises to include a much-sought-after Liberal Club. He hired Reginald Churchill of Burton to work out all the architectural details, and after a whole lot of considerations and alterations, the total cost summed up to £40,000 – just over £4.8 million in value today. Suffice it to say that Mr. Bass shouldered all the payments, and the Institute officially opened for public in January 1882.

By 1891, the council was absolutely frustrated with the lack of a proper meeting place, upon which Michael Arthur Bass, son of the benefactor, generously passed down the legal rights of the Institute and Liberal Club to the Borough Council, to use as a Town Hall. Sadly, they had to tear down the institute part of the building in 1892, and in its place, a replacement building erected in 1894, diagonally opposite the church, close to where the St Paul’s Court nursing homes currently stands. 

In step with the previous building, the new one too had a great concert hall, recreational rooms open for men from all backgrounds, a council chamber, and Sunday classrooms, all contained in the classical red brick building like its predecessor. Once again, the place gave way under the pressure of mismanagement, especially during the second world war, and sold off in 1970. Ultimately, it was razed to the ground in 1979.

As for the Liberal club, it followed the same trajectory, but, fortunately, the replacement building still stands today on the corner of George Street and Guild Street, dishing out the best hot cups of tea. The same symbolic coat of arms decorates the doorway, like in all the other significant buildings in the town. Few years into its construction and the southeast area of the building added four-story municipal offices, built almost in a parallel fashion to each other. There was also an addition of a vast King Edward’s Square, centering the front of Saint Paul’s Church and the Town Hall. Nowadays, the Square is home to Lord Burton’s impressive statue, although majorly obscured by the trees. 

In this day and age, stepping into the Burton’s Town Hall gives an otherworldly feeling, almost as if taking us back to the Victorian era. The wall up the stairs is adorned with pictures of most recent mayors with the current one at the end of the ascending line. The landing takes you in the direction of the Mayor’s private parlor with the imposing doors of the council chambers at the end of the corridor. Back in the entrance lobby, there are big memorial timber plaques, listing the names of brave men of Burton who laid their lives in each war. 

Aside from all its rich history and captivating architecture, the Town Hall features a Wurlitzer Organ performance that could easily trump all your other evening activities in the town. The mighty organ was transferred from the Forum Cinema in Northenden, Manchester, in July 1972, only to be unveiled by the iconic late John Bee. Since then, it has been loyal to the Burtonian and their guests, providing them with continuous entertainment for over forty years now. 

The voguish characteristics of the Town Hall have rendered it one of the ideal locations for weddings. That said, you will be delighted to spend your afternoon in this Gothic part of the town, whether in a wedding celebration or just waltzing in some good-old-fashion tea dances.

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Burton Upon Trent History

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