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 when the building reopens in 2018.
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.
The heart of civic life
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 – it housed the Mayor and staff of the Middlesbrough Corporation, the forerunner to Middlesbrough Council. It also included the police station and cells, courtroom, library, water board office, and fire station.
The Town Hall 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. The Empire Theatre was opened in 1899, and Central Library in 1912. Much of the housing in the area was redeveloped, and hotels, pubs, offices and shops transformed the area into the commercial heart of Middlesbrough, which continues to this day.
During this time, Middlesbrough continued to expand, and many of the original civic purposes 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
The other part of the building housed a grand concert hall, with an organ custom built by prestigious organ builders William Hill and Son. Almost immediately, the Town Hall became a respected entertainment venue, with performers from across the world performing concerts there. The Russian virtuoso pianist, Sergei Rachmaninov, appeared not once but twice, in 1911 and 1939. Other notable performers include Dame Nellie Melba, Johann Strauss, and Sir Edward Elgar with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Being designed with classical music in mind didn’t stop the Town Hall embracing new musical styles, and through the years a great many artists have performed on the Main Hall stage, and in the Crypt. Losing none of its standing in the entertainment world, the Town Hall has played host to mega music names including blues guitar legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Oasis, David Bowie, The Clash, AC/DC, and Robbie Williams, as well as some of the biggest comedians of recent times.
Towards a new era
Attracting in the region of 75,000 visitors per year was taking its toll on the building, and Middlesbrough Council decided that a refurbishment was in order. This also presented a great opportunity to redevelop some of the spaces which had previously been lost to public use, alongside the spaces people know and love. In 2015, funding was secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund and matched by Middlesbrough Council to start work refurbishing the venue, securing its future as a sustainable and exciting place where people can enjoy the many shows and performances, learn about the heritage of the area and of the venue, and take part in inspiring and engaging activities and events. The Town Hall closed its doors in April 2016 with a performance by local legends The Wildcats of Kilkenny.
The HLF-funded refurbishment will restore the concert hall to its former glory and improve the hospitality facilities, making a visit to the Town Hall an even more enjoyable experience. It will also open up fascinating areas like the old police cells, courtroom and fire station, and the impressive carriage driveway, which haven’t been seen by the public in decades.
Middlesbrough Town Hall will reopen in the spring of 2018. We look forward to welcoming you very soon!