Glossop Heritage Trust

A Town Hall Like No Other.

This article was written by Roger Hargreaves in June 2018 to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the town hall. It is based on information currently available from the Heritage Trust archives, the High Peak Borough Council website and research by Paul Bush in the Howard estate archives at Sheffield. There will be a good deal more about the history of the building since the 1860s in Council minutes and newspaper articles, and, as and when major restoration work is carried out to the building, it is likely that archaeological investigations will fill some of the gaps in our knowledge of its earlier history.

The Town Hall today
The Town Hall today

The foundation stone of Glossop Town Hall was laid on the day of Queen Victoria’s Coronation, June 28th 1838, accompanied, according to Robert Hamnett, by “much ceremony, processions and rejoicings.” It was one of many built at that period in new industrial towns, but in both form and function was quite different to any other, reflecting the unique way in which Glossop was governed until much later in Victoria’s reign.

It was not the first building in Glossop to be described as a “town hall”. Its predecessor, dating from the early 1800s and subsequently a bakery and now tearoom, still stands in what is now Old Glossop facing the Queens Arms, and provided a room for meetings of the parish and manor and cells for offenders detained by the parish constables. However, by the 1830s the centre of population had moved downstream from the ancient village. From the 1780s four separate mill communities had been established in the fields along the Glossop Brook, and in 1804 they were linked by the Marple Bridge-Glossop turnpike, now the A57, which crossed the Chapel-Enterclough turnpike at a farm which we now know as the Howard Arms.

Further development came with the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815, when Matthew Ellison, the Duke of Norfolk’s agent, built a mill at Green Vale on the land of Wren Nest Farm. Four years later John Wood, the most successful of the millowners in the old village, bought Bridge End Mill, where the Chapel turnpike crossed the brook, and began to expand rapidly in the angle between the two roads. Then in 1821 the Snake Road opened, bringing inter-city traffic through the valley, and the following year a large coaching inn, the Norfolk Arms, was opened to service it. By the early 1830s rows of cottages, many of which survive, had been built along the road, and the separate communities around each mill had begun to coalesce into a thin urban ribbon, over a mile long from Rose Green and Mill Town in the east to Green Vale and the Junction Inn in the west.

This was undoubtedly a town, much bigger than the old village over half a mile away across the fields, and by 1827 the largest community, Bridge End, around the junction of the two turnpikes, was becoming known as Howard’s or Howard Town. However, it consisted of little more than mills, cottages and small shops. There were no large shops or covered market, no covered venue for large meetings or social events or even a large public open space, and above all no suitable accommodation for regular courts, which was much more necessary given that the population had more than doubled in 20 years.

Matthew Ellison’s son Michael, the Duke’s senior agent in Sheffield, therefore persuaded him to create a proper centre for Howard’s Town, based at the natural focal point which was the intersection of the two turnpike roads, and the up-and-coming Glossop-born architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield, Michael’s nephew, was commissioned to design it. As a first step, the turnpike from Chapel was diverted onto a straighter and more level course, taking it past the Norfolk Arms up what is now Norfolk Street, and in 1837 Hadfield produced, as the centrepiece of the new development around what became Norfolk Square, a design for a Town Hall flanked on either side by a row of shops.

Original Town Hall visualisation

Architects’ visualisations are often considerably more impressive than what is eventually constructed, but perspective apart, Hadfield’s 1837 engraving largely reflects what was eventually built and what is, for the most part, still in place. The Town Hall, complete with clock and bell by Lomas of Sheffield, was finished by the end of 1842, and the eastern range of shops, with dome, by 1844; the dome survived until 1937. However, the end block of the western range, latterly the Newmarket Hotel and now Boots’ Opticians (and the Heritage Trust office), was still to be built in December 1848, and when it finally was, was to a different, much larger 3-storey design without the dome. Perhaps, in the meantime, Hadfield had realised that, despite the loss of symmetry, circular buildings are not very practical, but it is more likely that it reflected a change of priorities, as it was to become the town- centre office of his uncle Thomas, the Duke’s Glossop agent.

The whole scheme cost £8500, about £1 million at today’s prices. The slow progress in building may have been due to cash-flow problems or cost overruns; in April 1841, nearly three years after the foundation stone had been laid, Michael Ellison instructed his nephew to finish the roof of the Town Hall and then suspend work. Slow progress on the shops may also have reflected a shortage of traders big enough to afford the leases, as very few people at that time could afford more than basic necessities, and these were not shops for small businesses. Although the frontages were relatively narrow, the plots behind them were very deep, in the manner of mediaeval “burgage plots” and allowed for the building of substantial additional storerooms, workshops and cart sheds, which could be accessed from the rear via service ways. By 1857 these plots had been almost entirely built up.

The Town Hall itself was T-shaped, the stem of the T having a lower roof, and as built the ground floor was, with the exception of the stairwells on either side, an arcaded space open both to front and rear. Upstairs there were two rooms, the larger, facing onto the High Street, measuring approximately 22 x 9 metres. In form this was similar to town halls found in many English country towns from the late Middle Ages up to the Georgian era, and designed to provide a meeting place above and a covered market area below. However, the Georgian era had just come to an end. Victoria was now on the throne, and this was a modern industrial town in the early stages of its development.

In architecture it also looked back to a previous era, being in the Italian Renaissance style which had been popular in the early 18th century but which by the 1830s had been supplanted for public buildings by the Classical, and which was in turn giving way to the Gothic Revival. Matthew Ellison Hadfield was one of the pioneers of the Gothic Revival, and it is not clear why he adopted the Italian style for this building. However, his previous commission for the Duke, All Saints’ Catholic Church, had been in the Classical style, which was by then out of fashion for churches, and it may be that he was simply bowing to the conservative tastes of his patron, “T’Owd Duke” being then aged 73. Had he indulged his own preferences, Glossop might have had a miniature version of Rochdale or Manchester Town Halls rather than a very good and well-proportioned example of “Georgian Italianate” which is undoubtedly the most distinguished building in the town, albeit one which is a little incongruous in an otherwise distinctly 19th-century setting.

Frontage, 1911
Frontage, 1911

What is most significant about the Town Hall, however, is not what it was, but what it was not. Howard Town was one of many new industrial settlements established in rural areas where there was plentiful water power, and most evolved in an unplanned and unregulated fashion, the existing organs of rural local government - the unpaid parish officials and county magistrates - being too weak to impose any kind of order, especially where there were multiple landowners and competing businesses. Stalybridge, for instance, the nearest of the early mill towns to Glossop, was notorious for its chaotic development and resulting squalor and disorder, being cited by Frederick Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England as an example of the evils of uncontrolled urbanisation.

This led to a drive in such towns to establish specific urban governance arrangements, first of all in the form of elected Police or Improvement Commissioners followed, later in the century, by Borough or Urban District status. Ashton got its commissioners in 1827 and borough status in 1847, Stalybridge in 1828 and 1857, and both sets of commissioners built town halls (in the Classical style) in part to accommodate the new paid administrators (including, in Stalybridge, one of the first urban police forces, of which it was no doubt in great need.)

However, until 1866, nearly 40 years after most mill towns of similar size had acquired some form of urban self-government, the urban area of Glossop continued to be run by the parish and manor, although effectively by the manor - the Howard estate, which owned virtually all the land and which through its agents dominated or controlled all the other local organs of government. In 1838, therefore, there was no need for a Town Hall with offices, as the paid administrators were the agent and his staff and the centre of administration was the Estate Office at Glossop Hall, later supplemented by the town centre office on the end of the new development. When a Borough Council was finally established, it held its meetings in the Town Hall, but its offices were scattered around the town.

We have no plans of the Town Hall as originally built, and cannot therefore be certain how the upstairs spaces were originally used or what changes have since been made to the interior. The two main rooms are now separated only by a folding partition, allowing them to be used as one for large events, but it is unlikely that this was the original arrangement, and as the heating of the main room was by coal fires on either end wall, notoriously smoky according to a later account by the Town Clerk Theo Walter Ellison (Thomas’s grandson), these must have been open to the room meaning that it was substantially longer than it now is.

Main room, 2012
Main room, 2012

The primary function of these rooms was as home for the courts, estate documents even referring to them as “the New Court House”, and as a venue for meetings of “others having the conduct of the public business”, and these uses would have required a good deal of permanent furniture, so there can never have been a great deal of free space for balls or other social events of the kind associated with Georgian “assembly rooms” which the building so closely resembled. However, the middle classes - the traders, professionals and small millowners - who would be the main patrons of such events were still very few in number.

It is unlikely that there would have been any provision for catering, let alone a bar, and it is not immediately obvious that there were even any toilets at the outset. However, the Norfolk Arms across the road had all these things, and it is likely that there was a mutually beneficial relationship. The magistrates, and the visiting judge of the civil court, would need somewhere to park their carriages and to retire for lunch, and no doubt, after the close of formal business, meetings carried on informally in the bar. The two upstairs rooms were, therefore, sufficient at least for the needs of the time.

Not so, however, the market area below. In 1843 Michael Ellison wrote to the (new, 13th) Duke to the effect that, since the Town Hall was completed, the informal weekly market had grown steadily in size and was clearly meeting a local need, but required larger accommodation in the form of a market hall, and proper regulation by way of a Market Act. The Duke agreed, an Act was applied for, Matthew Ellison Hadfield was commissioned again, and the hall was opened in July 1845. The length of the “burgage plots”, however, and the need to maintain access to the rear of them, prevented Hadfield from attaching it directly to the back of the Town Hall, and it was necessary to construct a short covered passageway to link the two.

The 1844 Glossop Market Act was to have wider consequences. The area within which the Duke could exercise its powers was defined as being one mile radius from the Town Hall clock, a survey point being inserted into the floor of the arcade directly below it and marked on the later Ordnance Survey maps. This circle delineated the “Town of Glossop” and therefore transferred to Howard Town, which had until then lain partly in Glossop and partly in Whitfield township, the name of the old village. Although the 1857 Poor Law Map retained the older usage, in 1866 the Borough of Glossop was defined as being the Town of Glossop plus the adjacent urban areas to the west and north, i.e Brookfield, Hadfield and Padfield, and the transformation was complete, Howardtown eventually becoming just the Council ward around the town centre.

The opening of the Market Hall meant that, save for a passage from the High Street through to the market on the market day, Saturday, the arcade was now available for other uses, the first of which had already arrived in April 1843 in the form of the Glossop Dale Savings Bank; the 1880 Town Plan shows the counter as being at the back of the stairwell on the west side, accessed through the front door. Until 1860, when Saturday afternoon opening was introduced, it was open only on Mondays from 11am till 1 pm, and was therefore clearly aimed at local businesses rather than working people.

The second new function was one which had perhaps been overlooked at the outset, in that although the magistrates’ court, and most of the offenders, were now in Howard Town, the cells were still in the old village over half a mile away, and in 1841 Hadfield submitted plans for a cell block; but although work was started it does not seem to have been completed until 1847, perhaps because of the security problems inherent in holding prisoners within an area open to the public. If the parish constables did manage to detain the leaders of a riot before the militia arrived, they would need more than one line of defence ! However, by the late 1840s, the back of the arcade had been closed off by the Market Hall, and the front was secured by means of “a low wall and palisading” (presumably iron railings, very likely with sharp points!)

Parallel to this development, or perhaps as a necessity arising from it, the parish adopted, for Howard Town at least, new policing arrangements. Law and order had been entirely in the hands of volunteer constables, but in 1853, 20 years after Stalybridge, Glossop got its own paid force, albeit one still operating under common law rather than statutory powers. White’s Directory in 1857 recorded a superintendent and four assistant constables, based in the Town Hall. The police office was on the east side, the entrance being still apparent on early 20th century photos although it had long since ceased to fulfil that function. The cells were underground on the west side, at the rear adjacent to the Market Hall, the 1880 Plan showing the rectangular roof light, and they appear to have been accessed via a tunnel from back of the police office, with steps leading up to the Court House.

Ground floor on the 1880 Town Plan
Ground floor on the 1880 Town Plan

In 1860 a County force was established and a police station was built on Ellison Street. The County police, however, proved too few in number to maintain order, and in 1867 the new Borough Council decided to police the town with its own statutory force and to appoint Borough Magistrates. The Chief Constable was also the Sanitary Inspector, and one of his first acts in the latter role was to condemn the cells, which despite being “heated by water” were held to be insanitary, probably due to lack of light and ventilation. Arrangements were then made with the County force to use the cells at Ellison Street, the cell block being converted to other uses, including a vault for the Savings Bank and storage of ammunition for the new Volunteer Corps, established in 1875 with a drill hall along one side of the Market Hall.

In 1876 the Borough bought the Ellison Street building, and the Town Hall police office was presumably closed. There would until 1867 have been at least one live-in officer to supervise the cells, and in 1871 the census returns show that the Chief Constable was resident there; and after 1876 the three rooms of the former office were occupied by a succession of constables and their families, the last of these, Thomas Hall, having retired by 1911 and taken on the role of Town Hall caretaker. This cannot have been ideal family accommodation, the only natural light coming from the yard at the back.

The railings across the front of the arcade were still present in 1857, indicating that at that time it was, save for the police office, still open to the front. However, by 1880 the frontage had, apart from the gated passage through to the Market Hall, been completely built up, with shops either side of the passageway, and some time before 1897, the former cell block no longer needing the light, the open yard on the west side was roofed over and later became a cafe. The shopkeepers were allowed to fix elaborate hoardings on the capitals of Hadfield’s Italianate pillars, and that plus a proliferation of Council notices completely ruined the symmetry of his design. That was, however, an era before planning controls; when, in 2015 the Heritage Trust applied to put a Blue Plaque on the frontage in Hadfield’s memory, the Conservation Officer insisted on precise details of its size and intended position, and an unsightly rubbish bin was removed!

By the 1880s, the Town Hall had been the centre of the town’s social, cultural and political life for over 40 years. In Hamnett’s words “within its walls many musical and other celebrities have been heard by Glossopians. Many exciting public meetings have been held in it, and it has been the object of attack by election rioters. ” It also had an important educational function; on January 15th 1856 Edmund Potter, owner of the largest calico printworks in the world and grandfather of Beatrix, gave a lecture there, to the Littlemoor & Howard Town Mechanics' Institution, on his researches into the town, entitled “A Picture of a Manufacturing District”. Although there were now far more places - church halls, pubs and clubs, schools and institutions, and offices with board rooms - which could accommodate meetings or social events, it was still the only politically and religiously neutral public venue of any size, “practically the only place where balls, bazaars, sales of work, concerts, and meetings of a public character could be held. ”

However, the town was beginning to outgrow the building, the potential frequency of and size of attendance at such events being far higher than in 1842, due not just to the increase in population but also to the increase in disposable income and leisure time. It was also compromised as an all-purpose venue by the priority given to the courts and, after 1866, to the meetings of the Council. There were now three courts - Borough and County Magistrates and the County Court - between them sitting nearly two days per week, plus full Council and committee meetings and other civic events, all requiring different configurations, and the caretaker must have spent much of his time rearranging heavy Victorian furniture.

If the Town Hall was not big enough, the Market Hall, which had fixed stalls only around the sides, was on occasion pressed into service; in 1865, during the Cotton Famine, two music festivals were held there, with over 400 performers from the musical societies of the district. The permanent answer was the Victoria Hall, opened in December 1888, the main hall of which measured 30 x 11 metres, providing a largely uncluttered area over half as big again as the main room at the Town Hall, and which - in theory at least - could hold 1,000 people.

In 1896, having rejected as “too expensive” Lord Howard’s offer to sell the Town Hall and Market Hall outright for £10,000 (about £1.25 million at present prices) the Borough Council acquired the leases, and the next year, as part of what was presumably a package of improvements, replaced Hadfield’s Italianate clock tower with a much larger structure complete with Baroque cupola and weather vane. His “blind gutters”, though, were retained. These gave a much neater appearance to the eaves than external stone or cast-iron gutters, but at the expense that if they leaked, it was into the building rather than out, and this was eventually to have dire consequences.

In 1919, local industrialists Isaac and Harriet Jackson, in memory of local men killed during the Great War, bought the buildings and the market rights and presented them to the Council. This triggered a phase of major improvements, giving the Council the opportunity to bring under one roof its dispersed offices and meeting rooms, and the south end of the Market Hall, including the open fish market, was converted into the Municipal Buildings, opened in 1923. This included a new purpose-built council chamber, finally giving Glossop the kind of public building which every other town in the region would recognise as a town hall, and formally marking the end of aristocratic dominance of the town and its affairs. Two years later, the Howards sold up and left.

The Town Hall was not, however, neglected. The Municipal Buildings had no facilities for the kind of grand civic events popular in that era, other than the council chamber which was a claustrophobic functional space with high, tiny windows, low ceiling with roof lights, and minimal decoration in Art Deco style, in no way comparable to the main room in the Town Hall, with its tall Italianate windows looking out onto the High Street, lofty Georgian plaster ceiling and chandeliers. The Council therefore upgraded the Town Hall’s facilities to make it a worthy venue for civic hospitality, adding flat-roofed, rendered extensions to either side of the smaller room at the rear, containing toilets, a kitchen and a sumptuously-furnished Mayor’s Parlour where the first citizen could entertain the Council’s guests. In 1927 the jewellers and clock-makers Henry Fielding and Son paid for the clock tower, originally plain sandstone, to be “gilded and redecorated”, although the white paint on the dome is much more recent.

First floor plan, 2008
First floor plan, 2008

The presence of the shops on the frontage, however, continued to compromise Hadfield’s architectural vision, until in 1966, as part of the Borough’s Centenary Celebrations, they were finally removed and the Italianate arches restored to full view. And not before time - it had been a Listed building since 1958, along with the shops and the Market Hall. Finally, the remaining older structures were cleared and the arcade was converted to its present form as a small shopping mall, restoring the open space in Hadfield’s original design. The Howards then made a brief reappearance, it being formally opened on 10 July 1976 by the 17th Duke of Norfolk (and 4th Lord Howard of Glossop), although the plaque he unveiled has since disappeared.

The ground floor therefore had a new lease of life, but not so the upstairs rooms. In 1974 the town’s independent civic life ended and it became part of High Peak Borough, bringing to an end also most of the grand civic functions - if they were held at all in less formal times, it was more likely to be in Buxton’s Pavilion Gardens. Social uses of the rooms continued, but there were now many other alternative venues with more modern facilities. Control of the magistrates’ court also passed out of the hands of the local authority, and the rooms were unable to meet the increasingly exacting requirements of the government Courts Service, there being poor access, no custody facilities, and no provision for interview rooms or for separate waiting areas for parties in conflict.

The age of the fabric combined with lack of maintenance also began to take a toll which was very visible to users of the building, with water from the leaking gutters pouring down the walls of the stairwells and mouldy plaster falling away. Finally, in 2008, the court moved out after 165 years, and the building was closed. Subsequently it was discovered that, as a result of earlier efforts to seal the leaking roof slates by spraying them with an asbestos-based compound, the roof space was full of loose asbestos fibres, and although the blind gutters were eventually repaired, it was impossible for health-and-safety reasons to gain access to the clock when it developed a fault, leaving the hands permanently at noon (or midnight, as you prefer).

Glossop’s first and most important (and unique) public building is therefore, 180 years after construction started, very much at risk of becoming derelict.

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Page last updated: 6 July 2018.
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