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Guildhall Including Great Hall, Assize Courts and Former City Treasury

A Grade II Listed Building in Plymouth, City of Plymouth

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Latitude: 50.3697 / 50°22'11"N

Longitude: -4.1411 / 4°8'27"W

OS Eastings: 247832

OS Northings: 54396

OS Grid: SX478543

Mapcode National: GBR RBJ.L8

Mapcode Global: FRA 2862.4J8

Plus Code: 9C2Q9V95+VH

Entry Name: Guildhall Including Great Hall, Assize Courts and Former City Treasury

Listing Date: 1 May 1975

Last Amended: 5 February 2010

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1113280

English Heritage Legacy ID: 473496

ID on this website: 101113280

Location: Plymouth, Devon, PL1

County: City of Plymouth

Electoral Ward/Division: St Peter and the Waterfront

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Plymouth

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Tagged with: City hall Seat of local government

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740-1?57?372 (South side)
01-MAY-1975 Guildhall including Great Hall,
Assize Courts and former City


Guildhall, including Great Hall, Assize Courts and former City Treasury. 1870-74. By Norman and Hine of Plymouth, the winners of a competition judged by Alfred Waterhouse. Artistic direction by EW Godwin. The north front has freestanding statuary and carving by H Hems, and relief allegorical panels by Boulton of Cheltenham, with carving also by Trevenan of Plymouth. The building was reduced to a shell during the Blitz, the part containing the Municipal Offices subsequently demolished, the rest re-roofed, restored and reopened in 1959.

MATERIALS: Granite and Plymouth limestone with freestone dressings; steep dry slate roof to the Guildhall behind a parapet with moulded and carved cornice; shallower-pitch dry slate aisle roofs with simple eaves entablature.

PLAN: A long overall rectangular building with two attached ranges: an East range (formerly the City Treasurer's Department, now used as a restaurant) of determined early Gothic style with French influence and a West range with a tall south west tower and a squat north west tower, also early Gothic in style apart from the towers which now seem more Italian in inspiration because they have lost their steeply-pitched two-tier roofs. The original north entrance is now blocked and there is now a tripartite west entrance to the left of the original tower entrance.

EXTERIOR: two-storey elevations; the Guildhall has a symmetrical seven bay north front with the three bay East range to left; and a four bay west front. The front has central porch and flanking aisle front with blind panels. The porch has a wide pointed-arched doorway of three moulded orders over squat nook shafts with carved capitals; a steep gable over with coat of arms and a flanking parapet with moulded entablature and carved dogs at the ends. The aisle has moulded plinth buttress cornices halfway up the panels, including intermediate buttresses surmounted by paired, squat, square attached columns with carved capitals and flanking carved figures. Set back behind the aisle roof are seven very Gothic-style bays with steep crocketed gables with crocketed finials over pointed arches framing rose-window tracery and paired lights with plate tracery. There are slender buttresses surmounted by pinnacles dividing the bays. At either end are corbelled round turrets with open arcaded and traceried bellcotes with steep conical roofs. The west front has strings dividing the floors and the dividing stages of the towers. There are three central first floor pointed-arched two-light windows with plate tracery over two widely-spaced string courses, and to ground floor there are three post-1954 entrance doorways with serpentine-vaulted hood. On the left is an octagonal tower with a pointed-arched doorway to its left-hand corner angle; small window above between strings and two more to right; taller window above the second small window and a pair of strings below the upper stage. This stage has triple-pointed lights to each side with turned mullion shafts and carved capitals; a moulded parapet entablature and steep conical roof behind. The very tall five-stage straight tower on the right has a doorway similar to the north doorway but with only two orders and there is a pair of segmental-arched doorways within, Madonna and Child statue between and carved tympanum above. There are lancets above doorway and two slit ventilators to each stage above. The tall two-tier upper stage has triple lancets to each side (only one at rear) and there is a machicolated cornice under a C20 belvedere at the top. The rear of tower has a square-plan stair turret.

INTERIOR: the East range was not significantly damaged during the Blitz and retains its original interior with beamed and coffered ceilings and timber panelled walls. The remainder of the building was totally gutted in 1940-1 and was rebuilt in 1954-9. The main entrance is on the west. The underside of the projecting serpentine hood continues into the entrance lobby as a coffered ceiling, with three tympani at the east end containing semi-abstract sculpted panels representing aspects of the city and its surroundings. Steps lead up to the main entrance hall, which is double-height with a gallery to all four sides supported by polished serpentine-clad columns of star-shaped plan. A black and white marble staircase in the centre leads to the gallery and main hall beyond. Behind the staircase, the lobby and staircase to the lower guildhall has mural decorations by Wyn George of Plymouth, depicting famous sons of Plymouth and the city's maritime history. The upper entrance hall has a ceiling coffered in hexagonal panels, those over the staircase being glazed. The balustrade to the gallery is in steel with a wooden handrail and panels of padded leather bearing the city's coat of arms. The main hall occupies the upper part of the original single hall. It is rectangular, of seven bays, with a shallow, segmental-vaulted ceiling, the centre lower than the sides, which have plaster reliefs by David Weeks depicting the Twelve Labours of Hercules. There are three large 1950s chandeliers, mahogany panelling below the window sills, and a timber sprung floor. Above the entrance, is a large segment-headed alcove containing tiered seating. The windows of the hall are those of the Victorian guildhall, re-glazed with scenes of Plymouth's history made in the "sculpt-art" technique by FH Coventry, an experimental 1950s method involving diamond-cut images infilled with colour. At the east end, is a raised dais.

HISTORY: Paton Watson and Patrick Abercombie, in their Plan for Plymouth, an ambitious plan for the reconstruction of the city following the devastating bombing of World War II, envisaged a Beaux Arts planned city with a central axis focused on the Guildhall tower. Subsequently reprieved from demolition by a single Council vote in 1951, the Guildhall was seen as the focus of Plymouth's rebuilding and as perhaps the most significant survival from the bombed city centre. It was one of the few damaged buildings that was restored rather than rebuilt. The design of the new civic area was masterminded by HJW Stirling, who was appointed City Architect in 1951. The restoration of the Guildhall which was undertaken in 1951-59 involved the stabilisation of what remained of the original building, and the construction of new roofs, entrances and interior.

SOURCES: N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Devon (1989), pp 657
Jeremy & Caroline Gould, Plymouth Planned. The Architecture of the Plan for Plymouth 1943-1962 (2000)

REASON FOR DESIGNATION: The Guildhall is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* A distinguished town hall design for the period: the Northern French Gothic style, mixed curiously with an Italian campanile, is clearly evocative of the great civic buildings of medieval Europe
* Its combination of old and new is significant nationally: the conservation of a C19 Gothic building with new work that was entirely modern in spirit and redolent of the philosophy of the 1950s
* In its use and celebration of purely decorative art and in its slightly whimsical atmosphere, it is a rare and unusually rich example of an unaltered `Festival of Britain' interior
* The striking tower provides a landmark within the city

Listing NGR: SX4783254395

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