The Windsor Guildhall is the town hall of the town of Windsor, in the English county of Berkshire. It is situated in the High Street, about 100 metres from Castle Hill, which leads to the main public entrance to Windsor Castle. It is a Grade I listed building.
History of guildhalls in Windsor
The Borough of Windsor possessed a guildhall from early times. A deed of 1369, now in the possession of Eton College, refers to the "gildaule", and a charter of 1439 states that "pleas happening in the said borough...shall be pleaded and holden in the guildhall there, before the mayor and bailiffs for the time being". Norden's map of 1607 shows a market house in the location of the present guildhall: the main part of it is raised on wooden pillars to allow the space beneath to be used as a covered corn market.
The erection of the present guildhall was begun in 1687, under the direction of Sir Thomas Fitz (or Fiddes) but, on his death in 1689, the task was taken over by Sir Christopher Wren, whose childhood home had been Windsor, and was completed at a cost of £2687 - 1s - 6d. The new building was designed by Wren to be supported around its perimeter by stone columns, so that, like its predecessor, it would provide a covered area beneath it for the holding of corn markets.
The myth of the columns
- This subsection is currently being rewritten. The previous wording can still be seen as suppressed underlying text.
There is a myth that the Borough Council required Wren to place additional columns in the centre of the covered area, but that, because he regarded them as unnecessary, Wren deliberately left a gap at the top of each column. In fact, no drawing made before the building of the rear extension in 1829–30 shows any trace of these columns. They were removed from the rear of the building during the construction of the extension and placed inside the covered area. They were not quite tall enough to reach the ceiling and careful examination shows that the gaps are filled with tiles smaller than the capitals.
Restoration and extension
In 1829, the building was extended, with the addition of a two-storey building at the back of the existing hall. Major restorations of the building were undertaken in 1851, due to some years of neglect, and again in 1950–51, following its use as a food office during World War II. The restored building was reopened during the Festival of Britain by the (then) Princess Elizabeth.
Usage of the guildhall
The historic purpose of the building combined both the commercial (through the system of guilds) and administrative (through the offices of the mayor and town councillors). There has also been a judicial aspect to its role as, historically, the mayor automatically held the post of chief magistrate of the borough. Windsor had the right to hold Quarter Sessions until 1971 and so the guildhall was also used as a courtroom.
Windsor Guildhall since 1974
In 1974, with the formation of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, the two towns' councils were merged and, since then, the guildhall has been used more for ceremonial events, although committee meetings are still held there.
On 9 April 2005, Windsor Guildhall was thrust into the view of the world's media as it was the location of the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, being the nearest place to the castle that is licensed to hold weddings. On 21 December 2005, it also hosted one of the first same sex civil partnership ceremonies to be held in England, that of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.
On 12 March 2011 the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum opened in new premises at the Guildhall.
- Raymond South: The Book of Windsor, 1977, Barracuda Books Ltd, ISBN 0-86023-038-4
- Pamela Marson & Brigitte Mitchell: Windsor Guildhall: History and Tour, 2011, Friends of the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum, ISBN 978-0-9526678-3-4
References and Notes
- See Marson & Mitchell p.7ff.
- The story is suspiciously similar to one told about Brunel and Maidenhead Railway Bridge. Brunel was confident that his elegant arches were technically sound, but, according to the story, others were less sure and the wooden centring was left in place for some time. An additional detail, that the centring was eased away from the brickwork to make it ineffective, is probably a myth.
- See local authority website. rbwm.gov.uk
- See local authority website. Retrieved 18 May 2011.