Glossop Heritage Trust
Story of Victoria Hall a “White Elephant”.
An article which appeared in The Co-operative Home Magazine, October 1954 issue, written by Joseph Dempsey Doyle. The article was also reported in the Glossop Chronicle, 29th October 1954.
Glossop Heritage Trust does not have the previous issue of the magazine (assumed to be September 1954) referred to at the beginning of the article, and nothing was reported in previous Chronicles.
|In the previous article we saw how the anxious desire of Councillors Rhodes and Partington to erect and present to Glossop, a public hall and library was hindered by the apathy and unspoken antagonism of the council. It is an extraordinary chapter of local municipal history; a story of ineptitude, niggardly cheeseparing, suspicious antagonism. If ever there was a case of a ship spoilt for a ha’porth of tar it is the Victoria Hall.
Let us look at the question of the siting of the building. Nowadays when a person or an authority is contemplating building, they first settle on the site, secure planning consent and then engage an architect to design a building to fit the site. At the time the Victoria Hall was in contemplation, planning consent had not been invented. Hence, the donors, Councillors Rhodes and Partington, engaged a firm of Manchester architects, had plans drawn and estimates made before the site had been settled and agreed.
They were in enthusiastic earnest and appear to have assumed that no obstacle would be placed in their way by the Lord of the Manor (Lord Howard). They appear also in calculating the cost of the building to have assumed that the Lord of the Manor would present free, the site they chose for the hall and library. They were badly mistaken in the former matter, and when they realised the implications, sadly crestfallen, too, as we shall see.
The plans, specifications, and estimates presented to the donors showed that a building such as they contemplated could not be put up for less than £5,000. Which was more by a £1,000 than the amount they had jointly agreed to subscribe to the project. Full of enthusiasm they thereupon offered to increase their subscriptions to £2,500 each, making a total of £5,000.
This much must be said for the donors, they were determined to erect for the borough, a public hall and library of which both they and the townspeople could be proud. They wanted to make a good job of it. They set about looking for a suitable site for this handsome building, and the first place they considered was land adjoining the market ground, colloquially spoken of then, as the “Shivering Row” site.
Before going further, it is desirable that we should reconstruct the market ground site as it was at that time. We, in 1954, know it as the widest open space in the borough and certainly the most valuable central site. Victoria bridge, then, was a narrow passage with two parapet walls, one as at present on the east side of the bridge, the other on the market ground side. The footpaths on the bridge were so narrow that two people could not pass without stepping into the road, and the same disadvantage applied on the roadway; two vehicles passed with great difficulty.
Today the Glossop brook passes through a culvert from the bridge to the Bridge Inn, underground, and the ground surface is levelled. When Councillors Rhodes and Partington inspected this site for their public hall and library, the bridge was very narrow and the culvert had not been built. The brook, open to the sky, ran in front of what was then the fish market and is now the Municipal building. Wayfarers were safeguarded against the dangers of the open stream by what are described as “the market ground bank walls.”
On a part of the ground was Russell’s theatre with “seating” accommodation for 2,000. Even today, the site can be pinpointed, for the mayor of the day described it as “the site across the river.”
On inspection of the site, the donors quickly realised its disadvantages; Victoria Bridge would have to be widened, and because of the open stream, it was estimated that the foundations alone would cost at least £1,000. Moreover, it was agreed that readers in the free library, young people at evening classes, and others at public functions in the new hall, would be disturbed by the babble of the market and the noisy blare of wakes and fairs.
It is fair to say that the Lord of the Manor would have given this site, and have paid part of the cost of the extensive foundations that would have been necessary; both donors were agreed that the site was unsuitable. Singularly, it was not then suggested that in order to receive the building, the bridge should be widened, but when the building had been commenced on its present site and, simultaneously, the Lord of the Manor laid plans for the culvert. We know, now, what an acquisition to the town the hall and library would have been if built on this site.
It is singular too, that they never thought of recommending the removal of wakes and fair amusements to another place, but the council did not own the market ground; it belonged to Lord Howard and wakes, fair, and travelling theatres produced rentals.
However, now that their pet site was out of the question, they had to look elsewhere, and they decided that the next best place for the public hall and library was at the top of Ellison Street, on part of the old cricket ground. It would face a wide thoroughfare, was close to the station and town centre, and would not be dwarfed by other buildings. When this proposal was put to the Lord of the Manor by his agent, Mr Francis Hawke, Lord Howard refused his consent. He had decided that there should be no building of any sort on the east side of Norfolk Street; he would neither give, sell nor lease land for building on that site.
The next suggestion came from the agent: That the hall and library should be built next to the saw mills in Howard Street. This was dismissed on the score of smoke and noise from the railway. Mr Hawke then directed the attention of the donors to a triangular plot of ground opposite the residence of Mr John Ollerenshaw – the ground on which the hall now rests. The donors unhesitatingly rejected this site with emphatic determination and decided to report the situation and impasse to the town council. After hearing the statement, the council no longer showed “extraordinary apathy,” they showed extraordinary concern.
Councillor H Rhodes declared that what His Lordship’s agent wished them to do was to “Erect the library and public hall in a back street, if any odium should attach to anybody at any future time as to the unsuitability of the site, it should rest upon the proper shoulders. They would not consent to erect a good building in a back street, and on a site that was neither a credit to themselves nor suitable in the interests of the borough.”
Both the donors announced that if they could not erect their gift building at the top of Ellison Street, their offers reverted to £2,000 each; they left the decision as to the site in the hands of the town council. They, in turn, alarmed, appointed a deputation to wait on His Lordship and beg him to change his mind. They were unsuccessful. “No other site but that in Talbot Street would be permitted by His Lordship,” replied the mayor. And the council accepted the site. Councillor Rhodes declared that His Lordship’s opposition arose from the fact that the public hall would have been visible from Glossop Hall. This decision meant that the council had lost £1,000 from the donors; rather that lose the Talbot Street site.
So this was the situation: The council were offered a public hall and library, to build which they had not enough money, and it was to be built on a site that suited nobody but Lord Howard. And the council rather than have nothing agreed.
Time was passing and the immediate concern, now that the site was settled, was to lay the foundations and the building of the fabric to such a depth that the commemorative stones (seen at the doorway to the hall), could be put in position on the same day as that set apart for the laying of the stones of the hospital and baths by the Wood family. Glossop was a fortunate town for in one day it was presented with a hospital, park, baths, public hall, and free library.
Before the building could be prepared for the ceremonies of that memorable day another difficulty had to be overcome. The council had to decide on the site, but that was the extent of their commitments so far as the public hall and library were concerned. Neither the council corporate, nor any individual member would sign the building contract because they had not in hand money to fulfil it. Councillor Partington himself had, therefore, to sign it before building could commence.
Notwithstanding all the anxiety and disappointment of the donors of the hall and library, they valiantly took part in the ceremony of laying the corner stones, but it was a very different ceremony from that of laying the stones of the hospital and baths.
The ceremony at the proposed public hall and library was performed with elaborate masonic ritual, the first of its kind in the borough, many high officers of the craft being present and taking part. Stands had been created and the whole area was densely packed with spectators. As the originator of the scheme, Councillor Rhodes laid the first stone, in the cavity beneath which were placed copies of the Chronicle and Advertiser, current silver coins, one £2 gold piece, a penny dated 1797, the masonic calendar for 1887, and a copy of the day’s programme.
The serious business of the construction and completion of the hall and library now had to be tackled. With the money in hand reduced by £1,000 they had to cut their coat according to their cloth, as well as face the restrictions of the site. The original plans provided for four entrances; these were cut to two, by careful study of the plans the estimated cost was reduced to £4,363, and Councillor Rhodes said that if the council would borrow the balance required he would pay the loan charges for five years. There is no record that the council adopted his offer.
There were, however, some costs that had not been included in the revised estimate of £4,363. There was the extra cost of the deep foundations, and the architect’s fees raised the total to £4,740. Councillor Partington had cut out decorative masonry, reduced the height of the tower, substituted cheaper slates, and decided to board the floor of the large hall with deal.
As the building progressed, however, these cuts were found impracticable. He agreed, therefore, to an extra of £240 for “external enrichment.” It was then agreed that if the tower was reduced it would not be in keeping with the whole design, this meant another £110. The substitute slates would have “looked cheap,” so back he went to the original proposal at a further cost of £65, and as the deal floor in the hall would have “looked common,” he reverted to the use of pitch-pine at an extra cost of £40.
No one but himself would sign the building contract and Councillor Partington found himself faced with a total cost - excluding furniture- of £5,200; he had offered £2,000, and Councillor Rhodes a similar amount. He was liable for the balance.
He disclosed to the council the plight in which he was placed and invited them to summon a town’s meeting to see if the ratepayers would agree to the adoption of the Public Libraries Act 1855. Which, if adopted, would authorise the payment of the product of a penny rate towards the cost of running the building. If they refused, Edward Partington told the council frankly they would “have to find some means of making the building useful.”
The proposal was not adopted by the council with expressions of joy. When it was stated that a penny rate would produce £210, the retort was immediately made that the sum would not cover working expenses, and the furnishing of the building would cost at least £700. The town clerk reminded the council that they had power to borrow, whereupon, one councillor retorted “Are we to run into debt the, then?”
However, the town’s meeting was held. The town hall was packed to suffocation, and there was great argument. The mayor and the donors spoke for a time with great restraint in favour of the motion until finally Councillor Rhodes dropped a bombshell. With brutal candour he stated that if they refused to adopt the Public Libraries Act, “an awkward situation would arise, since he and Councillor Partington had no wish to have “a white elephant” on their hands. They would be practically rejecting his offer of £2,000, and since the building contract had been signed by Councillor Partington, the hall and library would belong to him and Councillor Partington, not to the public.”
The Public Libraries Act was adopted, but serious criticism of the site continued, and even erupted into the correspondence columns of the Manchester Guardian. As a final shaft at Lord Howard, Councillor Rhodes moved that when the lease of the town hall expired, the public business of the borough should be moved to the new public hall.”
COMPLETION AT LAST
||And so proceeded the completion of this public building that had such an unhappy, unwanted birth, and which has been criticized for its shortcomings with such frequency. The hall is on an island site and is not capable of horizontal extension. The grammar school had not been built but the site of the school was obviously reserved by the Lord of the Manor. The school is understood to stand on “made ground,” the old “Ten hours ground” and may at that time have been in the process of being made.
It will be clear from the foregoing that the present weakness of the Victoria Hall are not due to the parsimonious behaviour of the donors. During the whole period of construction they were confronted with frustrating circumstances. The remedy? The only solution that would give Glossop an assembly hall and ancillary accommodation suitable to need, appears to be the reconstruction and re-designing of the town hall and market, and with the present rating and prospective rating such a proposal is out of the question. We must manage with the “Vic,” as it is; a building like the “Vic,” today would probably cost something like £30,000.
The donors meant well; did as good a job as circumstances permitted, and they deserve to be remembered and honoured.
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Page last updated: 2 November 2015.