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Lerwick Town Hall, Hillhead Street, Lerwick

A Category A Listed Building in Lerwick, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.1545 / 60°9'16"N

Longitude: -1.1464 / 1°8'47"W

OS Eastings: 447488

OS Northings: 1141415

OS Grid: HU474414

Mapcode National: GBR R1JW.TKS

Mapcode Global: XHFB4.H178

Plus Code: 9CGW5V33+QC

Entry Name: Lerwick Town Hall, Hillhead Street, Lerwick

Listing Name: Lerwick Town hall, Hillhead and Charlotte Street, Including Lamp Standards, Gatepiers, Boundary Walls and Railings, Lerwick

Listing Date: 8 November 1974

Last Amended: 16 December 2015

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 405805

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB37256

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Lerwick

County: Shetland Islands

Town: Lerwick

Electoral Ward: Lerwick North

Traditional County: Shetland

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The building was designed by Alexander Ross and dates to 1881-3 with design alterations made during construction by John M. Aitken in 1882. It is a 2-storey, 5-bay symmetrical Gothic and Flemish Baronial style town hall, with crow-stepped gables, distinctive corner bartizans and a square-plan, battlemented clock tower to the rear (east) rising between a pair of 2-storey and attic wings. The building is set on an elevated site in Lerwick, facing west and is of stugged, squared and snecked sandstone with ashlar margins. There is a base course, moulded band courses and eaves course and finialled triangular roof vents. The entrance (west) elevation has an advanced central gabled entrance bay with a segmental-arched doorway and a 3-light corbelled oriel window above. Flanking this central bay is a pair of mullioned and transomed bi-partite windows at ground level and mullioned bi-partite windows with carved apron panels at the 1st floor. There is a rose window to the north gable and pointed-arched tracery windows at the 1st floor of the south gable. A linking corridor to Lystina House (see separate listing) lies to the east.

There are grey slates to the roof with fishscale pattern to the bartizans and there are some apex stacks. The 1st floor has stained glass windows to the hall and other windows are set in timber sash and case frames. Those to the west elevation at the ground floor have stained glass over 4-pane sashes.

The interior was seen in 2014. The late 19th century room layout is relatively little altered and many features of this date survive. The main hall on the first floor has an open timber roof with corbels and curved trusses. There are a number of significant stained glass windows in the building by James Ballantine & Son, dating to 1883 and Cox and Sons, Buckley & Co of London, dating to 1882. These include an outstanding series of narrative windows in the main hall, depicting several important figures in the history of Shetland from around 870-1469 and a rose window to the north wall with several coats of arms. There are further stained glass windows in the Council Chamber. There is timber panelling with quatrefoil design to the dado rail in the hall and some rooms. The central dog-leg stair has highly decorative metal balusters and a stained glass stair window depicting Lord Aberdour. There is some plain cornicing and large stone fire surrounds.

There is a low coped boundary wall with cast iron railings and pyramidal-capped gatepiers to the west and north elevations. Cast iron lamp standards with entwined dolphins and finialled lanterns are situated to the west of the entrance.

Statement of Interest

Lerwick Town Hall was built in 1881-3 and is by the Inverness architect Alexander Ross, with a clock tower designed by the local builder John M. Aitken, during its construction in 1882. Built in the Gothic Flemish style, it is a landmark and distinctive civic building in Lerwick and contains an exceptional series of secular stained glass windows by leading studios of the period which were conceived as integral to the interior design of the building. The building is little altered to the exterior and there is a significant amount of high-quality decorative detailing. The building was designed to face away from the sea towards the area of the town which was developed in the latter part of the 19th century and is a sign of the increasing prosperity of the town.

Of particular interest internally are the outstanding series of stained glass windows in the main hall by James Ballantine & Son, Edinburgh 1883 and Cox and Sons, Buckley & Co of London, 1882. In 15 separate window panels, they depict figures from the period of Shetland's history from around 870, when the Norwegian King Harald Harfagri conquered Shetland, to 1469, when the Shetland Islands were given to Scotland as part of the dowry for Princess Margaret of Norway in her marriage to James III of Scotland. The windows are important as a set of unaltered secular stained glass which remain highly relevant to their locality. Exceptional in their extent, they are rare both in the quality of workmanship and also in the subject matter.

The local contractor John M Aitken suggested a few changes to the original design of the building including adding some extra rooms and building a square-plan clock tower instead of the fleche that is illustrated Ross' drawings, (Simpson 2008). These changes were approved and when it was completed the building contained the Council Chamber, the Burgh Courtroom with adjacent lock-up cells for males and females, a Magistrates' retiring room and an integral strong room, and with the Main Hall on the first floor. The surrounding stone walls and gatepiers were completed in 1909.

The building opened in 1883 but the original contract had no provision for interior decoration. As the building was considered to be a showpiece for the burgh, a decorators' committee was formed to ensure the resultant scheme was of a high standard. The main person responsible was a local merchant, Arthur Laurenson, who was also a keen student of Shetland history. He raised money from a number prominent citizens and stained glass was commissioned adopting the narrative theme of Shetland's history. The stained glass windows were restored in the 1980s and '90s. The hall was used as a dance hall during the Second World War. The building remains the headquarters of the Shetland Islands Council.

Alexander Ross (1834-1925) was based in Inverness and built extensively throughout the Highlands and Islands. He was particularly noted for his school buildings, and is thought to have designed around 450 of these. He also did much work for the Scottish Episcopal Church.

James Ballantine established his own firm of stained glass makers in 1837 and wrote the first Scottish booklet on the subject, 'A Treatise on Painted Glass', (1845). The windows at Lerwick are dated to the time when his son, Alexander, was in charge of the firm. James Ballantine won a competition to design some windows for the House of Lords in 1844, but Pugin redesigned these. The firm installed a scheme of windows in St Giles' Cathedral from 1881.

Cox and Son were initially ecclesiastical furnishers who made windows from around 1860. In 1881 they merged with the firm of Buckley and Co and became Cox & Son, Buckley and Co. They were a popular and prolific London studio and their work can typically be found in churches around Britain.

Statutory address updated in 2014. Previously listed as 'Hillhead And Charlotte Street, Lerwick Town Hall, including Lamp Standards, Gatepiers, Boundary Walls and Railings'.

Category changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2015.

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