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Town Hall

A Grade II Listed Building in Lowestoft, Suffolk

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.4831 / 52°28'59"N

Longitude: 1.756 / 1°45'21"E

OS Eastings: 655120

OS Northings: 293880

OS Grid: TM551938

Mapcode National: GBR YTB.6SR

Mapcode Global: VHN3X.DV59

Plus Code: 9F43FQM4+79

Entry Name: Town Hall

Listing Date: 21 June 1993

Last Amended: 19 September 2018

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1279943

English Heritage Legacy ID: 391325

Location: Lowestoft, East Suffolk, Suffolk, NR32

County: Suffolk

District: East Suffolk

Electoral Ward/Division: Harbour

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Lowestoft

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Lowestoft St Margaret

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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Lowestoft

Summary


Town Hall, built 1857-1860 to the designs of J L Clemence, altered 1869-1873 by W Oldham Chambers, rebuilt and extended 1899-1905, with further C20 extensions.

Description

Town Hall, built 1857-1860 to the designs of J L Clemence, altered 1869-1873 by W Oldham Chambers, rebuilt and extended 1899-1905, with further C20 extensions.

MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond with gault brick dressings, and roof covering of slate except for pantiles over the Council Chamber.

PLAN: the building occupies a large plot facing east onto the High Street with Mariners Street to the north and Compass Street to the south. The Council Chamber of 1857-1860 is located in the middle of the main range, orientated east-west. To the north is an extension of around 1912, occupying the corner of the High Street and Mariners Street, on the west side of which is an extension of around 1935. A long range of 1905 faces onto Compass Street and has two rear extensions.

The former inn of around 1870, which adjoins the west side of the Town Hall on Compass Street, is not included in the listing.

EXTERIOR: the two-storey Town Hall is in the Italianate style with a plinth and corner pilaster strips with long recessed panels of gault brick, and moulded stone string courses to both floors, the upper one enriched with a dentilled cornice. The principal, seven-bay east-facing range is dominated by a central clock tower with a pyramidal roof and wide eaves supported by brackets. The main entrance has double-leaf doors with six raised and fielded panels flanked by pilasters surmounted by stone composite capitals bearing tablets with the initials V and R. Above the door a keyed stone arch is inscribed TOWN HALL. The central bay is defined by pilaster strips (of the same design as those at the corner of the building) which rise through the two storeys up to the two-stage tower. This is pierced on the first stage by a one-over-one pane sash window under a gauged brick arch, and on the second stage all four faces have a circular clock with a brick surround. The windows in the flanking bays are one-over-one pane sashes with moulded stone sills. Those on the ground floor have gauged brick arches with stone keystones and a row of carved stylised flowers in small square panels beneath the sills. The windows relating to the higher status offices within are decorated with etched glass. Those on the first floor are round-headed with stone keystones. The central bay above the door is lit by a pair of smaller round-headed sashes.

Adjoining the main range to the right is the one-and-a-half storey extension of around 1912. It is in a similar style with a brick plinth, corner pilaster strips, moulded stone string course and parapet, and is lit by three flat-headed sashes with the same detailing as the fenestration on the main range. Set back behind the parapet rises the half-hipped gable end of the Council Chamber. The right return (north elevation) of the around 1912 extension is of three bays, defined by pilaster strips which rise through the string course. The first gabled bay is pierced in the gable head by a small window set in a pedimented stone surround. The central bay contains a three-panelled door with an open-bed triangular pediment, and a gabled dormer window above, repeated in the third bay. The ground-floor windows have flat gauged arches with keystones. Adjoining this to the right is the two-storey, two-bay extension of around 1935 in a plainer style with unadorned red brick pilaster strips to the ground floor. This has been re-faced in brown brick and contains a recessed door in the first bay. The first floor is lit by three windows.

The long, two-storey range facing onto Compass Street (south) has the same detailing and fenestration as the principal range. It is 16 window bays wide. The first three bays (from the left) are under a semi-circular gable with a date stone of 1904 in the gable head, and the seventh to twelfth bays are under a triangular pediment.

Other than the large semi-circular window on the west gable end of the Council Chamber, the rear elevations are subsidiary and are largely obscured by later extensions.

INTERIOR: the plan form of the Town Hall survives reasonably intact. The principal rooms of interest are those in the main range facing onto the High Street, including the entrance hall, staircase hall and reception room on the ground floor, and the Council Chamber and Chairman’s Room on the first floor. Much of the original joinery and numerous fixtures and fittings remain, including deep moulded skirting boards, cornices and decorative iron radiators. The corridors are articulated by arches with a single roll moulding and some areas have intricately designed geometric tiled floors. The principal open well staircase has been repositioned to the south-west corner and it is not clear if it is the original staircase or a slightly later one dating to the re-building. It has a panelled spandrel, quarter pace landings and a closed and moulded string. Twisted balusters and decorative newel posts with ball finials support a moulded handrail.

The double-height, four-bay Council Chamber is articulated by pilasters rising to a dentilled cornice and is lit on both sides by tall round-arched windows. It is panelled to dado height with moulded square panels and an incorporated moulded skirting board. The elaborate iron radiator covers have grilled panels divided by classical-style pilasters. The west wall is lit by a large round-arched window filled with stained glass and flanked by pairs of superimposed pilasters with a dentilled cornice. The window, given by Sir Samuel Morton Peto, displays figures of St George and St Denis separated by a panel depicting the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Two smaller windows on either side of the chamber commemorate Peto’s links with Lowestoft. The ante-room is panelled to above dado height and has double-leaf panelled doors in a moulded doorframe.

The rooms to the 1905 range facing onto Compass Street mostly retain the original skirting boards, cornices, six-panelled doors in moulded frames and some geometric tiled floors. The open well staircase at the west end has a panelled spandrel, closed string and moulded handrail.

History

The name Lowestoft is Scandinavian in origin and may be translated as Hloover’s toft – the homestead of Hloover. The town relocated to the cliff-top from an earlier site, about a mile to the south-west, during the period 1300-1350, partly because of increasing maritime activity (especially herring-fishing) and the need it created to be closer to the sea, and partly because of the difficulty of accommodating an expanding population in-situ without building houses on valuable agricultural land. The area chosen for the new site was low-grade coastal heath, used mainly for the rough-grazing of livestock which became a more useful asset to the manorial lord as building-land. The main street is of sinuous alignment, following the natural curves of the cliff. The better-off members of the community lived along the High Street whilst the less affluent largely resided in a gridiron side-street area to the west. Lowestoft was thus a planned late medieval town.

The High Street was lined with burgage plots containing prosperous merchants’ houses for much of the medieval and early modern period, and the cliff-face was made usable by terracing. The cliff-top itself provided an area behind the houses for the storage of household goods and materials; and the first step down was multi-purpose, sometimes planted with fruit trees and used as an amenity area, but also functioning as a place for putting all kinds of household waste. The second and third stages down were mainly taken up with the buildings that serviced fishing and other maritime enterprise: curing-houses, net-stores, stables and the like. Access from the cliff-top to the sea was provided by footways known as scores (three of them widened for use by carts) – a word deriving from the Old Norse ‘skora’, meaning ‘to cut’ or ‘to incise’. These had originally started life as surface-water gullies down the soft face of the cliff – a natural process that lent itself to use as tracks.

The chief trade of Lowestoft and the source of its prosperity remained herring fishing until the C19. Then in 1827 the harbour was created, and in 1832 the navigation continued through to Oulton Broad, giving access to the River Waveney and Norwich. Samuel Morton Peto was brought in to construct the outer harbour, and he ensured the arrival of the railway in 1847 as well as developing the land south of the harbour as a seaside resort. The town was bombarded by the Germans in 1916 and suffered considerable damage from 178 enemy raids in the Second World War. Post-war reconstruction involved new roads being cut through the northern part of the town. In the later years of the C20 the fishing industry has almost completely declined.

The site of the present Town Hall was originally developed during the first half of the C14. A building dating from approximately 1570 accommodated a market cross for corn-trading and a chapel-of-ease for worship during the winter months when the roadways to St Margaret’s parish church were difficult to negotiate. During the C16 and C17 the building was variously known as the Town Chapel, the Town Chamber and the Town House. Civic business was conducted there as well as religious activity. A major re-build of the chapel premises took place in 1698.

The core of the present building dates from 1857-1860 and forms part of the Town Hall designed by John Louth Clemence FRIBA (1822-1911). He was a local architect who, having been articled to C R Cockerell in London, returned to Lowestoft to work as an associate with Samuel Morton Peto in the development of the town as a fashionable holiday resort following the latter’s harbour and railway work during the 1840s. Clemence practised in his own right from 1854. He designed the two cemetery chapels and lych gate (1880) in Kirkley, Suffolk which are listed at Grade II, and has several other listed buildings to his name. The stained glass in the Council Chamber, given by Sir Morton Peto to commemorate the Anglo-French alliance against Russia, was designed by John Thomas and executed by James Ballantine of Edinburgh. The large window was shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1855.

It was not long before traffic on the High Street caused the Town Hall to be truncated, and around 1869-1872 its porch was removed and the building modified to the designs of William Oldham Chambers FRIBA (1838-1909), then a partner in the firm of Chambers and Roberts of Lowestoft. The ‘improvement works’ were meant to cost £2,500 but eventually cost £4,000. The entire High Street façade was rebuilt. The widening of the High Street around1899, under the supervision of Borough Engineer George Henry Hamby (1849-1935) involved the demolition of much of the 1857-1860 Town Hall, with only the council chamber being retained. The work culminated in the erection of the Town Hall extension on Compass Street, which was completed in 1905. The builder was G E Hawes of Norwich.

The building was extended to the north around 1912, on the corner of the High Street and Mariners Street, and a further addition was built onto the west side of this extension in approximately 1935. In the 1970s no 2 Compass Street, a former inn dating to approximately 1870, was incorporated into the Town Hall, and a single-storey extension was built to its rear (north) probably around the same time. The former inn is not included in the listing. The Town Hall is currently empty (2018), having been vacated by Waveney District Council in 2015.

Reasons for Listing

The Town Hall, built 1857-1860 to the designs of J L Clemence, altered 1869-1873 by W Oldham Chambers, rebuilt and extended 1899-1905, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* it is a good example of a civic building in the Italianate style which is the embodiment of local pride;

* the principal façade on the High Street and the Compass Street elevation of 1905 are skilfully composed with pleasing proportions and ornate detailing;

* the high quality materials are used to good effect with the gault brick dressings providing a subtle contrast to the rich red brick, and the stone carved detailing being reserved to emphasise the principal entrances;

* the principal suite of rooms is of particular importance for the quality of its fixtures and fittings as well as for its ceremonial role;

* the Council Chamber is especially significant as the only surviving part of Clemence’s original design which also contains the original stained glass given by Sir Morton Peto.

Historic interest:

* the site of the Town Hall has been a key one in the development of Lowestoft as civic business and religious activity has been carried out there in various buildings since at least the C16.

Group value:

* it is prominently located in the High Street and has group value with a considerable number of listed buildings, particularly nos 41-42, 43-44, 45 and 46 opposite which are now shops and flats with varying origins from the C14 to C17, mostly rebuilt in the C19.

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