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The Council House, Nottingham

The Council House from Old Market Square
Building
Type Municipal Headquarters
Architectural style Classical
Town Nottingham
Country England England, United Kingdom
Client Nottingham Corporation
Construction
Started 1927
Completed 1929
Design team
Architect Thomas Cecil Howitt

Nottingham Council House is the city hall of Nottingham, England. The 200 foot high dome that rises above the city is the centrepiece of a skyline packed with elegant architecture and presides magnificently over the Old Market Square. This grand central open space of Nottingham, said to be the largest square in England, has been recently redesigned by Neil Porter of Gustafson Porter and opened in 2007.

It is claimed that the chimes of Little John (for many years the deepest toned clock bell in the United Kingdom, weighing over 10 tons) that ring out from inside the dome can be heard for a distance of seven miles.

Nottingham Council House was designed by Thomas Cecil Howitt and built between 1927 and 1929 in the neo-Baroque style characterised by the huge pillars that circle the building along with the carvings on the facade. The foundation stone (behind the left-hand lion as you approach the building) was laid by Alderman Herbert Bowles (Chairman of the Estates Committee), on 17 March 1927. The building was officially opened by H.R.H the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor) on 22 May 1929. The total cost of the building at the time was £502,876. By the time the bill was finally cleared in 1981, the total including interest was £620,294.

The building has staged many glittering occasions; royalty, statesmen and women and stars of the stage and screen have been entertained there and both the F.A. and European Cups have been held aloft from its balcony.

Contents

Layout

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The Council House

  • The Entrance Hall has columns, walls, floor and made from Italian marble. The City Arms are inlaid as a mosaic in the centre of the floor. Bronze plaques on the left (northern) wall list the Honorary Freemen of the City of Nottingham; whilst those on the right (southern) wall list the City's Honorary Aldermen. Another plaque commemorates the opening of the building in 1929, including the golden key used by the Prince of Wales to open the doors. In a nod to modernity, a final plaque is used to display the building's energy efficiency rating.
  • A grand sweeping marble staircase leads up to the first floor. At the top of the stairs is a bronze cast figure entitled "Welcome", by Sir William Reid Dick. It features a female figure with arms outstretched, welcoming visitors to the Council House. Presented to the City by Sir Julien Cahn the statue was unveiled on 10 February 1931.
  • The Ballroom, is similar in style to that at the Palace of Versailles, with gilt embellished columns and a highly decorated ceiling. It is from here that distinguished visitors have gained access to the famous balcony overlooking the Old Market Square.
  • The Dining Room has Ancona walnut panelling and an Italian marble fireplace, and is generally for smaller events. The room is dominated by a fine portrait of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II by John Townsend, presented to the City by Mr Lewis Colton in 1970.
  • Display cabinets on the first floor house silverware gifts given to the council by visiting dignitaries. There is also a display giving details of the ship HMS Nottingham. A matchstick model of the Council House building invites donations from visitors to the Lord Mayor's charities.
  • The Committee Room, which is on the second floor, contains a horseshoe table in walnut veneer, and is where most executive board meetings are held.
  • The Tea Room, which is smaller still, on the third floor, and holds up to 30 people.
  • The Members' Room, also on the third floor, has facilities for councillors, including newspapers and journals, a computer and a television. An archive of minutes of City Council meetings is available in glass-fronted bookshelves.
  • The Council Chamber takes up the remainder of the third floor. The fixed seating is arranged in a semicircle so no one is more than 26 feet from the Lord Mayor, above whose dais can be found two Latin inscriptions whose translations read "Laws are made for the welfare of the citizens and the city" and "It is the highest justice to give each man his due". The chamber's walls are of Ancona walnut, with fabric wall panels containing seaweed to aid the acoustics. A separate entrance from the Exchange Arcade (Smithy Row side) gives direct access to the public galleries.
  • The building has office suites dedicated to councillors of the City of Nottingham, and to particular offices held by councillors. The Lord Mayor, the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Sheriff of Nottingham each have their own parlour, and each has a private bathroom equipped with a full-size bath. There are offices for the Leader of the Council and his or her staff, and the two opposition groups on the Council each have a third-floor office outside the Council Chamber.

The Dome

The most striking visual element of the building, and in itself an iconic symbol of the City. The golden ball on the very top of the dome stands 200 feet above the Old Market Square below. Apart from Little John, the famous bell and its clock mechanism, the dome also contains water tanks (used for fire-prevention sprinkler systems).

Exchange Arcade

The ground floor is predominantly an upmarket shopping mall called Exchange Arcade which houses numerous boutique stores. This was included in the building's design to fund the Corporation's construction of the building, during the Great Depression. Each shop has its own basement showroom or storage facilities, deliveries made via an underground roadway, served by a vehicular lift on Cheapside. Murals underneath the Council House dome feature: the Danes capturing Nottingham in 868, William the Conqueror ordering the building of the castle in 1068, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and King Charles I raising his standard at the start of the Civil war in 1642. Each mural was the work of local artist Denholm Davis. The artist used local celebrities as models. Thus T. Cecil Howitt himself appears in the guise of William the Conqueror's surveyor, and legendary Notts County goalkeeper Albert Iremonger as Little John.

The upper floors of the Exchange Arcade house council offices. On the North side, the space is given over to the planning and building control functions of the city council.

Statuary

Much of the external statuary is by Joseph Else (1875 - 1955), Principal of the Nottingham School of Art (now part of Nottingham Trent University). Else was responsible for the famous lions guarding the entrance, for the frieze above the Ballroom windows (representing ancient local industries such as bell-founding and alabaster) and for the figures in the principal facade's pediment (depicting the arts and public service). A miniature Council House is featured here (see image above) representing the art of architecture.

The Lions

Created by Joseph Else, the 2 stone art-deco lions stand guard on either side of the entrance steps. They are similar in design to the lions used to publicise the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924-25. There are alternative 'names' attached to them, some people call them "Meneleus and Agamemnon", others "Leo and Oscar". Whatever their names, meeting 'At The Lions' has become an essential part of Nottingham life since the building opened.

Sculpture groups around the dome

These groups were created by Joseph Else and three former students of the School of Art. All the sculptors were born and raised in Nottingham.

  • "Commerce" by Joseph Else. 2 male figures are pushing a ship, carrying a female holding a caduceus. This is at the Exchange Walk (Natwest Bank) corner.
  • "Civic Law" by Charles LJ Doman. A smiling central female figure holds a sceptre in her right hand and book in her left. At her feet are the figures of Law (holding a fasces and Justice (carrying a sword). This group is at the Long Row / King Street corner.
  • "Prosperity" by James Woodford. Strikingly Art-Deco, a female holds a sword. At her feet are a mother and baby, and a female holding the fruits of the earth. This group is at the Long Row East corner, (best seen from outside the Yorkshire Bank). Woodford is the most famous of the sculptors outside his native Nottingham, having created the heraldic Queen's Beasts for the 1953 Coronation Pavilion at Westminster Abbey. He also had commissions for the liner 'Queen Mary', the RIBA building in London, as well as the famous statue of Robin Hood at Nottingham Castle.
  • "Knowledge" by Ernest Webb. A female figure (in striking 1920s hat) holds a globe. 2 male figures sit at her feet, one holding a book, the other a set of compasses.

Architectural Criticism

Howitt himself was in no doubt that the use of classical lines would mean that it would not look dated in a few years' time.

The most scathing criticism came from Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire (published in 1951);

"Not much can be said in defence of this kind of neo-Baroque display at a date when the Stockholm Town Hall was complete and a style congenial to the C20 established. Wren has to answer for much, once the connection between Greenwich and this dome (via the Old Bailey?) is noted. The Ionic columniation is no more inspiring or truthful than the interiors. The only positive interest lies in the plan of the building. Its centre is a shopping arcade of great height with a glass roof, and shops run all along the ground floor on the N and S sides."

Council House Tours

As a working building, the Council House is only normally open to tours as advertised or by appointment only. The building is normally opened for Heritage Open Days (in September each year).

Please contact the Civic Office on 0115 915 5014 or check the website Nottingham City Council - Council House Tours for more information.

References

  • Beckett, John and Brand, Ken: (2004) The Council House, Nottingham and the Old Market Square (Nottingham Civic Society) ISBN 1902443098
  • Granger, Frank: (1929) The Council House Nottingham - a review of the Council House and Exchange Buildings (City of Nottingham Estates Committee)
  • Harwood, Elain: (2008) Nottingham - Pevsner Architectural Guide (Yale University Press) ISBN 978-0-300-12666-2
  • Pevsner, N. (2nd Edition,1978) The Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire (Penguin Books) ISBN 0-14-071002-7
  • Scoffham, Ernie: (1992) A Vision of the City: The Architecture of TC Howitt (Nottinghamshire County Council Leisure Services) ISBN 0-900943-44-0

External links


Coordinates: 52°57′12″N 1°08′54″W / 52.95333°N 1.14833°W / 52.95333; -1.14833


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