Middlesbrough Town Hall was officially opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 23 January 1889, but its story begins long before that. On this page, you will find lots of information about the origins of the Town Hall, its development over the 130 years since it was built, and its place in the story of Middlesbrough, up to and including our ongoing refurbishment. If you are interested in learning more about the heritage of the Town Hall, look out for our programme of tours and heritage events which will be available later this year.
Middlesbrough – from hamlet to town: An Infant Hercules
The first Town Hall in Middlesbrough opened in 1846 in the marketplace in St. Hilda’s (now Middlehaven), which was the centre of Middlesbrough at the time. In just ten years, the population of Middlesbrough had risen from 150 to over 5,000 as the growth of the coal and iron industries had people flocking to the town.
By the late 1880s, the population was nearing 90,000, and the town covered much more than just the St. Hilda’s area. To handle the demands of such a huge increase in population, a bigger town hall was needed, and the decision was made to locate it at the corner of Albert Road and Corporation Road.
At the time, the area was mostly housing; Central Library wouldn’t be built for another 30 years, and the buildings which surround the Town Hall today, like the Civic Centre, Cleveland Centre, and Centre North East, weren’t even a twinkle in a developer’s eye.
A competition to design a new Town Hall building was launched in 1882, and in 1883, architect G.G. Hoskins’ ‘Law and Order’ design was chosen as the winner. Hoskins was almost entirely responsible for the architectural design of Victorian Darlington, and would have been well-known in the architecture community. The Backhouse Bank building in Middlesbrough (at the corner of Albert Road and Zetland Road) was also designed by Hoskins.
Not wasting any time, the new town hall’s foundation stone was laid on 24 October 1883.
Much like today, the Town Hall had two very different uses. Part of the building was given over to the municipal functions needed to keep the town running, and the other part established itself as a respected entertainment venue.
The heart of civic life
The Town Hall housed the Mayor and staff of the Middlesbrough Corporation (the forerunner to Middlesbrough Council), as well as the police station and cells, courtroom, library, water board office, and fire station.
It was very much at the heart of civic life, and was a bustling focal point around which much of what we now know as the town centre was developed. Hotels, pubs, offices, and shops transformed the area into the commercial heart of Middlesbrough, which continues to this day.
Middlesbrough continued to expand, and many of the original civic functions of the Town Hall required new, purpose-built headquarters. The library moved to Central Library in 1912, and fire station moved to Park Road South in 1939. This was followed in 1962 by the police station. The courtroom, which focussed on petty sessions and magistrates’ court hearings, stayed in use until 1973, at which point it became a cafeteria for the remaining Council functions of the building. The spaces that these functions left behind were repurposed where possible, often becoming new offices or storage, and many of them were lost to public life.
The Town Hall has also hosted many important civic functions over the years, including royal visits, galas, and university graduations.
Music and entertainment
Middlesbrough Town Hall’s reputation as a respected entertainment venue began with the grand concert hall, which featured a custom-built organ by the prestigious William Hill and Son.
Performers from across the world flocked to the Town Hall, including the Russian virtuoso pianist, Sergei Rachmaninov, who appeared not once but twice, in 1911 and 1939; Dame Nellie Melba; Johann Strauss, and Sir Edward Elgar with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Over the years, the Town Hall has also played host to many great names in music, including blues guitar legend, Sister Rosetta Tharpe; Oasis; Bowie; The Clash; AC/DC, and Robbie Williams.
In April 2016, the Town Hall closed its doors for almost two years to undertake a £7.7m refurbishment, funded by Middlesbrough Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
After operating as a pillar of the local community for over 125 years, the Town Hall has undergone extensive renovations, restoring rarely seen elements of the Grade II listed building, and allowing its rich narrative to continue.
The renovations have seen the grand concert hall restored to its former glory, as well as the opening up of fascinating areas that haven’t been seen by the public in decades. These areas include the old police cells, courtroom, and fire station, as well as the spectacular carriage driveway.
“The fully restored Middlesbrough Town Hall is truly a venue for the 21st Century, and one that will draw enthusiastic audiences from far and wide. It has been given a new lease of life as a major regional focal point for music, comedy and entertainment. For the creative and the curious, for everyone who wants to feel inspired, welcomed and to experience the very best in contemporary arts and culture, Middlesbrough Town Hall will be the place to be,” said Councillor Mick Thompson, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Culture and Communities.
The Town Hall threw open its doors again in May 2018 with a very special one-off, community performance named Erimus, to mark the reopening.
Film by Laura Degnan.