St George's Hall, Liverpool
|St George's Hall|
|Location||St George's Place, Liverpool, England|
|OS grid reference|
|Architects||Harvey Lonsdale Elmes|
St George's Hall is a building on St George's Place, opposite Lime Street railway station in the centre of Liverpool, England. Opened in 1854, it is a Neoclassical building which contains concert halls and law courts, and is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. On the east side of the hall, between it and the railway station, is St George's Plateau and on the west side are St John's Gardens. The hall is included in the William Brown Street conservation area.
In 1969 the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner expressed his opinion that it is one of the finest neo-Grecian buildings in the world, although the building is known for its use of Roman sources as well as Greek. In 2004, the hall and its surrounding area were recognised as part of Liverpool's World Heritage Site until its revocation of World Heritage status in 2021. The Liverpool Register Office and Coroner's Court have been based in the hall since 2012.
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 (equivalent to £2,257,290 in 2021) had been raised. In 1838 the foundation stone was laid to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria.
A competition was announced on 5 March 1839 via an advertisement in The Times to design the hall, first prize was 250 guineas, second prize 150 guineas. By July more than eighty entries had been received, and the competition was won by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, a London architect aged 25 years, the second prize went to George Alexander of London. The requirement was:
- "There is to be accommodation in the main hall for 3000 persons; and there is also to be a concert room, capable of accommodating 1000 persons, applicable to other purposes such as lectures and smaller meetings....the cost of the building will be £35,000"
There was a need for assize courts in the city and a competition to design these with first prize £300 and second prize £200 was announced. There were eighty-six entries and it 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 public buildings in the country at the time. Construction started in 1841 and the building opened in 1854 (with the small concert room opening two years later).
- "How frequently I observe the great & true end & aim of Art entirely lost sight of in the discussion of some insignificant detail or quaint Antiquarianism. Bold and original conceptions never can find favour while so much stress is laid upon precedent" Harvey Lonsdale Elmes in a letter to Robert Rawlinson
Elmes died in 1847 and the work was continued by John Weightman, Corporation Surveyor, and Robert Rawlinson, structural engineer, until in 1851 Charles Cockerell was appointed architect. Cockerell was largely responsible for the decoration of the interiors. The eventual cost of the building exceeded £300,000 (roughly equivalent to £33,000,000 in 2019). During the 2000s a major restoration of the hall took place costing £23m and it was officially reopened on 23 April 2007 by Prince Charles. The magnificent sculpture of the exterior was by William Grinsell Nicholl.
The Great Hall (also known as the Concert Hall) is the largest room, rectangular in shape, and occupies the centre of the building with an organ on its north wall. Two long corridors flank the east and west walls of the Great Hall. To the north of the Concert Hall is the Civil Court and beyond this is the North Entrance Hall; above this, reached by two staircases, is the elliptical Small Concert Room. To the south of the Great Hall is the Crown Court, beyond this is the South Entrance Hall above which reached by two staircases is the Grand Jury Room. In the middle of the west front is the Law Library, to the north of this is the Vice-Chancellor's Court, to the south of the Law Library is the Sheriff's Court. The floor below consists of a cavernous basement with cells for prisoners along the west wall.
The main entrance is in the centre of the east façade and is approached by a wide flight of steps. On the steps is a statue of Benjamin Disraeli by Charles Bell Birch, moved here to make way for Liverpool's cenotaph. At the south-east corner is a bronze statue of Major-General William Earle by the same sculptor. This front has a central portico of 16 Corinthian columns flanked on each side by series of square, unfluted columns, between which are reliefs that were added between 1882 and 1901 by Thomas Stirling Lee, C. J. Allen and Conrad Dressler. The west front has a projecting central part with square columns supporting a large entablature. The north front has a semicircular apse with columns and three doorways that are flanked by statues of nereids or tritons bearing a cornucopia with lamps attached, the central doors on the south and east fronts have similar statues, and were sculpted by William Nicholl.
The south front has an octastyle portico (eight columns wide), two columns deep, on steps above a rusticated podium. On the south portico entablature is a classical Latin inscription using V where U would now be used, that reads ‘ARTIBVS LEGIBVS CONSILIIS LOCVM MVNICIPES CONSTITVERVNT ANNO DOMINI MDCCCXLI’ (For Arts, Law and Counsel the townspeople built this place in 1841). The tympanum in the pediment above the south portico once contained sculptures of Britannia enthroned at the centre protecting agriculture and the arts and offering an olive branch to the four quarters of the globe, carved by William Nicholl; these were removed for safety's sake in 1950 (the sculptures having become unsafe due to erosion by atmospheric pollution), and subsequently lost, reputedly turned into hardcore.
Sculptures at southern end of the east front 1882-1894 (The Growth of Justice) by Thomas Stirling Lee
Mature Justice holds a globe with the numbers 1 to 10, representing the Ten Commandments. Knowledge, on the left, hands Justice the rod of knowledge and raises her veil to show things once hidden are now revealed. Right helps Justice to hold the globe and wears a breastplate signifying protection from evil.
Relief sculptures at northern end of the east front 1895-1901 (Theme is the growth of Liverpool) by Thomas Stirling Lee, C.J. Allen & Conrad Dressler
Lampholder, eastern elevation, in the form of a Nereid holding a Cornucopia, sculpted by W.G. Nicholl
The main entrance crosses a corridor and leads into the Great Hall. This measures 169 feet (52 m) by 77 feet (23 m) and is 82 feet (25 m) high. The inspiration for the Great Hall are the Baths of Caracalla. The roof is a tunnel vault, built of hollow brick was designed by Robert Rawlinson completed 1849, it is carried on eight columns, 18 feet in height, of polished red Cairngall granite, these reduce the span to 65 feet, the spandrels contain allegorical plaster work angels, twelve in total, designed by Cockerell, representing fortitude, prudence, science, art, justice and temperance etc. The vault also decorated with plaster work by Cockerell, contains coffering, the centres of the main coffers have coat of arms of Liverpool, or the coats of arms of Lancashire or St George and the dragon, in the centre of the vault are the Royal Arms used by Queen Victoria this is above a matching coat of arms in the Minton floor. The walls have niches for statues. The highly decorated floor consists of Minton encaustic tile and it is usually covered by a removable floor to protect it. It contains over 30,000 tiles. The doors are bronze and have openwork panels which incorporate the letters SPQL (the Senate and the People of Liverpool) making an association with the SPQR badge of ancient Rome. The ten brass and bronze chandeliers in the Great Hall, designed by Cockerell, originally powered by town gas weigh 15 cwt, are decorated with prows of ships, heads of Neptune and Liver Birds.
Interior view looking north of Great Hall, the floor, designed by Cockerell, executed by Mintons has about 30,000 tiles
Bronze doors, designed by Cockerell, 12 feet 8 inches high by 6 feet 4 inches wide and weighs 74 cwt, there are three on each side of the hall, also three similar doors at the south end lead to the Crown Court and a smaller one is beneath the organ.
Head of Mercury on door
Completed 1849, at 65 feet the Widest barrel-vaulted ceiling in the UK, it is 82 feet high (the room is 77 feet wide but the columns account for the difference) it is 169 feet in length, engineer Robert Rawlinson, plasterwork designed by Cockerell
South lunette stained-glass window of St. George slaying the dragon, (1883–84) by Forrest and Sons of Liverpool
Minton floor, coat of arms of Liverpool,'Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit' is from Virgil, translates as 'God has given to us this leisure'.
The organ is at the north end and at the south end is a round arch supporting an entablature between whose columns is a gate leading directly into the Crown Court. The niches contain the statues of William Roscoe by Chantrey, Sir William Brown by Patrick MacDowell, Robert Peel by Matthew Noble, George Stephenson by John Gibson, Hugh Boyd M‘Neile by George Gamon Adams, Edward Whitley by A. Bruce Joy, S. R. Graves by G. G. Fontana, Rev Jonathan Brookes by B. E. Spence, William Ewart Gladstone by John Adams-Acton, the 14th Earl of Derby by William Theed the Younger, the 16th Earl of Derby by F. W. Pomeroy, and Joseph Mayer by Fontana. In 2012 a statue of Kitty Wilkinson by Simon Smith was unveiled, the first in 101 years, and the first of a woman. The stained glass in the semicircular windows at each end of the hall was added in 1883–84 by Forrest and Son of Liverpool. Sharples and Pollard regard this as "one of the greatest Victorian interiors".
The Crown Court has a tunnel vault on red granite columns and the Civil Court a coved ceiling on grey granite columns. The South Entrance Hall is approached through the portico, is low and has Ionic columns. Below this is a larger vaulted space which was adapted to form a new entrance in 2003–05. The North Entrance Hall has Doric columns on its landing and a Doric ambulatory around the apse with two bronze Torchères by Messengers of Birmingham decorated with allegorical scenes, the apse contains stairs, unlike the other main entrances where the stairs are external. A copy in plaster of part of the Parthenon frieze runs round its walls. In the centre of the south wall is a marble statue of Henry Booth shown standing up, carved 1874 by William Theed the Younger, placed here in 1877, flanking the statue are sculptures of caryatids.
Samuel Robert Graves, sculpted 1875 by Giovanni Fontana
Joseph Mayer, sculpted 1869 by Giovanni Fontana
Kitty Wilkinson, sculpted 2012 by Simon Smith
The Small Concert Room designed by Charles Robert Cockerell and completed in 1856, is elliptical measuring 72 by 77 feet, when built it had a capacity for 1,100 people, the stage is 30 by 12 feet, and is lavishly decorated. In the past it was known as the Golden Concert Room. A balcony supported by caryatids runs round the room. At the back of the platform are attached columns, decorated with arabesques, supporting a frieze with griffins and between the columns are mirrors. The concert room was refurbished between 2000 and 2007. This included making alterations to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, restoring the historical painting scheme and restoring the chandelier, which consists of 2,824 crystal pieces. It has seating for an audience of 480.
Ventilation and heating of the building
In the basement is part of a unique heating and ventilation system devised by Dr Boswell Reid. This was the first attempt at providing air conditioning in a public building in the United Kingdom, its aim being to warm and ventilate the building without draughts. Air drawn in via two shafts at either end of the eastern portico was warmed by five hot water pipes, that were heated by two coke-fired boilers and two steam boilers, these latter two were only used in extremely cold weather. The air was circulated by four fans 10 feet (3 m) wide driven by a 10 horsepower steam engine. In hot weather the air was cooled using cold mains water, small fountains in the air shafts cooling the incoming air. The air from the system entered the Great Hall via grilles at the back of the sculpture niches and in the risers of the seating tiers in the Small Concert Hall, stale air was drawn out through grilles in the ceilings. The air flow was controlled by a large number of workers opening and closing a series of canvas flaps via ropes and pulleys, though the court rooms had valves beneath the benches that could be controlled by the occupants. The system treated different parts of the building as zones allowing separate heating. In 2005 the Heritage Group of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers awarded its first Blue Plaque to St George's Hall recognising it as the World's First Air Conditioned Building.
Until 1984 the Liverpool Assizes (later the Crown Court) were held in the courtroom at the southern end of St George's Hall. Notable cases heard include those of Florence Maybrick in 1889 and William Herbert Wallace in 1931. The court now often doubles for the Old Bailey in film and TV dramas.
Events held at the building
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited St George's hall on 9 October 1851, although complete externally work was still underway internally. The inaugural event opened by the mayor and borough council and was started on 18 September 1854, and was a three-day festival of music, followed on 22 September, with the British Association for the Advancement of Science holding the first of many meetings at the Hall. On 15 April 1857 a banquet for 800 people was held in honour of William Brown benefactor of Liverpool's museum and library. On 23 April 1864 a Fancy Dress ball was held in aid of St Ann 's Dispensary. The Small Concert Room it was regularly host to Charles Dickens, who held many of his readings there. Prior to Dickens sailing to America a banquet was hosted in the Great Hall for him on 10 April 1869. A cross section of activities in the 1880s include 24 March 1886, evening concert in a aid of District Cotton Porters and Dock Labourers; 1 November 1886 Large Hall, benevolent fund Liverpool Operative Platerworkers' Association; 5 April 1887 'Special' Grand Jury Room. To exhibit the new and improved method of applying gas to high class cookery; 22 December 1888, Large Hall, People's concert, Messiah.
During the 1911 Liverpool general transport strike, many meetings were held there, including the rally which sparked the 'Bloody Sunday' attacks, when police baton charged thousands of people who had gathered to hear the syndicalist Tom Mann speak. On 15 March 1915 Lord Kitchener inspect 12,000 soldiers of the Liverpool Pals on St George's Plateau, by September 1914, more than 30,000 men had enlisted at St George's Hall. The Plateau has been associated with public rallies and gatherings, including events following the deaths of the Beatles members John Lennon and George Harrison, and the homecomings of Liverpool and Everton football teams after Cup Final victories.
The opening of the European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008 saw Ringo Starr play on the roof of the building to over 50,000 people. The Weeping Window sculpture was displayed at St George's Hall from 7 November 2015 to 17 January 2016, it was made from ceramic poppies from Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. The commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster saw from 13 April 2019 nine banners hung from the front of St George's Hall, featuring the images of the 96 who lost their lives, along with the powerful words ‘Never Forgotten’ on the Monday morning 15 April 96 lanterns were lit on the steps of the Hall, and members of the public paid their respects and left tributes.
Organ and organists
The organ was built by Henry Willis and completed in 1855 with 100 speaking stops across four manual divisions (of non-standard compass, 63 notes GG to a) and pedals (30 notes). It comprised a total of 119 ranks of pipes, plus 10 couplers, 10 composition pedals, and 36 pistons to set combinations of stops. It was initially tuned to meantone temperament to the specification of S. S. Wesley but in 1867 W. T. Best, city organist, had it retuned to equal temperament. The organ was rebuilt in 1896 when the key action was changed from the Willis-Barker lever assisted tracker (i.e. pneumatic assisted mechanical) action to pneumatic action. Also the manual compass was changed to the now standard CC to c, 61 notes, making the bottom 5 pipes on every manual stop redundant.
In 1931 the organ 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.
In 1979 it was given a general clean and overhaul by Henry Willis IV. The total number of registers, including 24 couplers, is 144. With 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. Repairs were made to the organ as part of the restoration of the hall in 2000–2007, including replacement of the bellows leather. The organ is maintained by David Wells, Organ Builders.
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 (1903–1980) was its consultant. Dr Jarvis was appointed organist in 1957 and on his death in 1980 he was succeeded by Noel Rawsthorne (1929–2019), 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.
St George's Plateau
This is the flat space between the hall and the railway station and contains statues of four lions by Nicholl and cast iron lamp standards with dolphin bases. Also on the plateau are monuments, including equestrian bronzes of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Thomas Thornycroft, and a monument to Major-General William Earle by Birch. Between the equestrian statues is the Grade I Liverpool Cenotaph which was unveiled in 1930, designed by L. B. Budden and sculpted by H. Tyson Smith. It consists of a simple horizontal block with a bronze relief measuring over 31 feet (9 m) on each side. Sharples and Pollard regard it as one of the most remarkable war memorials in the country.
In 2017 Liverpool City Council announced a £45m programme to re-design several major streets in the city centre, including Lime Street which would involve expanding the plateau. The work is timetabled to be completed by winter 2021.
Following the restoration leading to the reopening of the hall in April 2007 it was granted a Civic Trust Award. It included the creation of a Heritage Centre which gives an introduction to the hall and its history. Guided tours, a programme of exhibitions and talks are arranged. Over the Christmas periods of 2007 and 2008 an artificial skating rink was installed in the Concert Hall. In January 2008 Liverpool started its tenure as European Capital of Culture with the People's Opening at St George's Hall with a performance which included the Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr playing on its roof. The building has since been regularly used as a stage and backdrop for major civic and cultural events, from the city's Christmas Markets to the World War 1 tribute Weeping Window in 2015 and the Liverpool Giants in 2014 and 2018.
As a filming location
The exterior of St George's Hall has been used a filming location for several films and television series, including the BBC series Peaky Blinders and The War of the Worlds, the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, and the 2022 film The Batman. A 1987 advertisement for Coca-Cola was filmed inside the building.
Quotes about St George's Hall
"This magnificent edifice will be a perennial monument of the energy and public spirit, in the nineteenth century, of the people of Liverpool; a place which of all the cities and towns in the British Empire is surpassed only by the metropolis in magnitude, wealth and importance; and which in the quick yet solid growth of its commercial greatness surpasses even the metropolis itself". The Illustrated London News 23 September 1854
"The combination of a magnificent interior with an even grander exterior, is an achievement of which ancient Rome itself could offer no parallel, for however splendid and well organised were the interiors of the great thermae, basilicas and other structures, we have nothing to show that the exteriors of their buildings ever reached the same level of coherence and dignity. Indeed, all the remains point in the other direction. Hence the real greatness of Elmes' achievement". Charles Herbert Reilly
"The south end of St. George's Hall is quite conventional and rather resembles Donaldson's project for the Royal Exchange. Except for the superior proportions and the splendid pile of steps at the base (by Cockerell) - which rise however, much too abruptly from an exiguous terrace along St. John's Lane- this porticoed and pedimented facade is, in fact not very different from Tite's at the Exchange. The north end is not identical but has a semicircular projection housing the Concert Room in the first storey. The different treatment of the two ends hardly ever seen at once either from the east or west. The extreme severity of the rounded north end is quite out of accord with the new visual tastes of the Victorian Age for sharpened accents and complex rhythms. The podium below is barely broken by the simple frames of the two entrance doors (this is an error there are three doors at the north end); the parapet above is absolutely continuous and unornamented. Thus there is no central focus of interest and nothing to distract attention from the even half-circle of giant Corinthian columns.
The unbroken length of the east portico is surmounted by an equally unbroken attic masking the vault of the main hall. Thus the effect is even more severe. Ranges of square pilasters, for two-thirds of their height, are used here along the side wings. Such pilasters also rise like an open screen in the projecting middle section of the west front. These novel members provide a very interesting kind of structural articulation recalling the more original aspects of Schinkel's Classicism as much as the long east portico does that of his more conventional Altes Museum. Though the tremendous scale of the composition is new to Britain, the spirit is still that of the classical rationalism which dominated the end of the 18th century. The great scale and general severity reflect the dreams of French architects like Ledoux and Boulée in the Revolutionary epoch, dreams that were codified by Durand in his Précis des leçons d'architecture données à l'École royale polytechnique (1802–05) and thus transmitted to a later generation. Behind and between the columnar and pseudo-columnar elements which dominate the facades the wall surfaces are rather flat. The relief of the various panels articulating these surfaces and that of the rare window frames is very low. Windows are completely suppressed on the south and the east fronts; the mouldings throughout, though large in size because of the tremendous scale, are extremely refined, cold and quite unornamented." Henry-Russell Hitchcock
The following is about the Small Concert Hall: "Exquisite in color and covered with most elegant decoration in low relief, this room is above all a masterly exercise in the use of those 'shams' Camdenians most abominated. The balconies are of cast iron designed to look like some sort of woven wickerwork; of iron also are the pierced ventilating grilles along the front of the stage and in the ceiling panels around the central skylight. The delicate arabesques of the pilasters and friezes are papier-mâché. The graceful caryatids, seemingly sustaining the balcony on their fingertips, must be of iron or some synthetic composition; they were certainly never carved in stone. Whether these are themselves supports or whether the balcony is cantilevered on iron beams, the real construction is concealed. The wall panels not of wood but of plaster, supebly [sic] grained and varnished. Only the mirrors between the columns on the stage are what they seem; yet by a final paradox they create a faery unreality by their repeated reflection." Henry-Russell Hitchcock
"Judging from his numerous perspective sketches, Elmes had the ability to rapidly design a building in perspective; not only did he prepare numerous sketches of the exterior, but also perspective views of the interior of the great loggia, and various other features. His full-size details, although Classic in spirit, are essentially modern in character; every suite of mouldings received due consideration as to its placing, and its ultimate relation to the scheme as a whole. Nothing could surpass the beauty of the Neo-Grec ornament selected for terminating the dominating attic. The whole building fulfils the highest canons of the academic style, and is unsurpassed by any other modern building in Europe. Albert Richardson
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