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Liverpool Town Hall and its history
Liverpool Town Hall has grown in size and splendour over the centuries as the city's prosperity has increased.
The Town Hall's origins
In 1207 a charter from King John first created the free borough of Liverpool. Still only a village, Liverpool had a population of less than 2000, a small fishing fleet and livestock and produce markets serving the immediate area. As yet there were no real port facilities and very little industry.
In 1515 the Reverend John Crosse, a member of a wealthy and influential Liverpool family, presented the first recorded Town Hall to the City.
The Town Hall was in fact little more than a thatched barn and would eventually prove inadequate as a suitable civic venue, but for over 150 years the Mayor held court there, wedding ceremonies were performed and plays were produced.
By 1673 Mayor James Jerome felt that Liverpool's increasing importance made a modern building essential and orders were issued for a second Town Hall be constructed.
The new building was known as the Exchange because the ground floor had an open colonnade for merchants and market traders to carry out their business, but inadequate foundations meant that the building was not destined to stand for long.
In 1748 the authorities called on John Wood, a famous architect from Bath, to design a new Town Hall. The foundation stone was laid the same year and great celebrations marked the opening of the new, supremely elegant Town Hall and exchange in 1754.
The Slave Trade
A little known fact is that the building of the Town Hall was funded by Liverpool businesses and entrepreneurs many of whom had benefited from the slave trade. In fact sixteen of Liverpool's Mayors are said to have been slave merchants.
Three centuries of slave and other overseas trading bequeathed the City with a rich diversity of peoples, cultures, financial wealth and architecture much of which survives to the present day.
However, the abolition of the slave trade was one of the critical steps leading to reform and reconstruction in 19th Century Liverpool, when the City became more conscious of the need to improve the living conditions of its citizens.
The City has acknowledged its involvement in the Slave Trade and a formal apology was made to the black community in the year 2000. Liverpool champions equal opportunities and diversity issues and both recognises and values the contributions made by the black community to the prosperity of the City.
Liverpool is also a leading light in the development of a variety of successful cultural diversity projects i.e. Chinese New Year Celebrations and the International Street Carnival which have contributed to it being named European Capital Of Culture for 2008.
Attacks on the Town Hall
In 1775 the approach of the American War of Independence had brought a depression in trade with the New World and when sailors' wages were cut a bitter strike ensued.
At the height of the riots 50 ships were anchored in the Mersey and a ship's cannon was used, albeit unsuccessfully, to attack the Town Hall.
Having survived the riot almost unscathed, 20 years later, in 1795 fire broke out and destroyed much of the building.
By that time the Town Hall had become such a vital part of city life that the civic authorities ordered restoration to begin immediately, under the supervision of London architect, James Wyatt. Wyatt completed the work over 15 years, rebuilding and expanding on Wood's design. The result of his work is basically the Town Hall as it is today.
The Town Hall had another lucky escape in 1881 when the Fenians attempted to blow up the building. Fortunately a police constable managed to drag the device away from the building before it exploded but the two conspirators were soon caught and each received a long prison sentence.
At the outbreak of the Second World War the Council had the collection of treasures removed to safety. Although the Blitz of 1941 brought devastation to large areas of Liverpool, the Town Hall survived but with extensive damage to the Council Chamber and Ballroom.
The weakened structure underwent immediate restoration work and today remains one of the oldest and finest buildings in the City.
The First World War
See our Hall of Remembrance page for the Roll of Honour which carries the names of over 13,000 military men from Liverpool who died during the First World War.
For further historical information on Liverpool Town Hall you may wish to join one of our popular tours conducted by Steve Binns MBE. View our current tour details.
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