Burnley Town Hall's £2.7m. four-year restoration

The Burnley Express has been given an exclusive close-up look at the huge four-year restoration of Burnley Town Hall.

Burnley Town Hall is a Victorian architectural landmark – a Grade II listed building that has dominated the town centre for more than 130 years.

For the past four years its beauty has been shrouded in scaffolding and sheeting as extensive work sympathetic to its historical significance has been undertaken to help protect it for generations to come.

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It has cost £2.7 million - a massive but necessary investment in our past and future. Before work began the council took the strategic decision to award a fixed price contract. It proved to be a good decision as costs have since skyrocketed due to inflation rises.

The restoration of Burnley Town Hall has cost £2.7m.

Over recent years the council has “centralised” many of its services at the town hall and closed outlying offices, saving around £200,000 a year. Around 125 people (or approximately two-thirds of the council workforce) work at the town hall providing services to our residents.

Coun. Sue Graham, Burnley Council’s executive member for resources and performance management, said: “The town hall was originally designed to be a good use of money by bringing together the courts, the police station, and even a public swimming pool at the back of the building.

“We’ve gone full circle and once again we’ve brought a wide range of council services back under its roof. We had a duty to ensure the town hall continues to be a busy centre of activity, delivering essential services to our residents.”

The work, which was carried out by a local firm expert in architectural restoration, was designed and carried out to protect the listed building and restore it to its former glory in a sympathetic way, where possible using traditional materials and ways of working; not to make it look different.

Roger Frost, of Burnley Civic Trust, said: “The town hall is a landmark of Victorian architecture and one of the most historically important buildings in the borough. It's important that it is protected and preserved for generations to come.

"A vast amount of work has been put into renovating the building, using traditional skills and materials, and it's very pleasing to see it back to its former glory."

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Phil Braithwaite, director, UK Restoration Services, said: “Burnley Town Hall has been an incredible project to work on.

“The building is an important part of the town and the local community rightfully wants it to look its best. The work has included a great deal of stonemasonry from our skilled team, seeing whole segments of stone replaced with newer, stronger stone blocks. The old, corroding mortar has been raked out and the newpointing works will ensure the building stays stronger for longer.

“A big part of the job was the roof repair, which took up the most time but is something the building badly needed. Chimneys were in need of dismantlement and re-building, dry rot had to be removed, and batten timbers, slates, gutters and windows all requiring extensive restoration.

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“We have almost 200 listed buildings in Burnley and the town hall is one of the biggest and most prominent. We're delighted to get the scaffold down so it can once again shine and we at UKRS would like to thank the residents and the council for their co-operation and patience while we carefully restored this amazing structure.”

Why was the work needed?

The town hall is almost 135 years old and like every other building is suffers from old age and the effects of the weather. While temporary repairs have been carried out through the years they were only a “sticking plaster” and it became apparent that major and massive restoration was needed.

Intensive surveys of the building found extensive damage that, in some cases, was dangerous both to passing public and the staff who worked inside. The health and safety implications were huge.

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The complete roof of the building was in a poor state with numerous areas of raining in caused by defective slates, lead flashings etc. The copper dome to the clock tower was also in a poor state and suffering from rainwater getting into where it shouldn’t be. The timber finial at the top of the tower was completely decayed and in danger of becoming detached from the main dome structure.

Some of the high-level stone balusters were loose and in danger of falling. A survey found numerous areas of defective stone detailing including failure of historical repairs, which posed a significant danger to staff and members of the public. It was also identified that the pointing was defective, which was causing leaks and dampness issues inside the building.

Extensive areas of wet and dry rot were also discovered.

What’s been done?

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The council brought in Burnley-based North West Restoration Services to carry out extensive repairs and restoration throughout the whole building. They used traditional materials and skills to replace like-for-like wherever possible to maintain the architectural integrity of this listed building.

Among the work carried out was:

· Complete re-roof of slated pitched roofs

· Renewal of defective roof timbers

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· Complete re-covering of all flat roof areas

· Repairs to chimneys – watch video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMhQMIs80hI

· Renewal of lead work

· Renewal of clock tower

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· Redecoration of windows, railings etc.

· Major structural repairs above front entrance

· Re-pointing and grouting of stonework

. Replacement of defective stone elements to front and side walls

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A bit of history:

In the middle of the 19th Century council meetings were held first in the old fire station in Manchester Road and then later in the public hall in Elizabeth Street. Neither were ideal and the search began for a new site. The first location considered was where the former Red Lion pub was at the bottom of Manchester Road. However, a new site was acquired next to the Mechanics Institute (now the Mechanics Theatre) which had been built in 1855.

Alfred Waterhouse (architect of Manchester Town Hall, and important Victorian artist, there is a small collection of his pictures in Towneley) was invited to design Burnley Town Hall. He was, however, engaged in a number of other projects at the time but offered to chair the committee which would choose the design for the town hall. He did so, and the design by Harry Holtom and George Arthur Fox (who also designed Dewsbury Town Hall) were chosen.

The town hall was opened in October 1888. The clock was designed style as the mechanism for the clock of the Palace of Westminster. Its large bell weighs just over a tonne (watch clock mechanism in action - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCqVm1lKT5A

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Did you know?

Before the town hall was built, the site was the Burnley gooseberry development ground, a market garden which specialised in developing the gooseberry. Lancashire was the centre of gooseberry production from the late 18th Century until the period leading up to the Second World War, and Burnley was a leading centre of the industry.

The top of the clock’s dome is 90 feet above street level

It was one of the first buildings in Burnley to be lit by electricity

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The building originally housed a police station, 30 cells and a magistrates’ court

In 1902 famous escapologist Harry Houdini offered to pay £50 if he couldn’t escape from one of the cells in under five minutes. He didn’t have to pay up; he escaped, and went on to perform for six nights at the former Empire Theatre

The cells still remain and are used for storage, although one has been kept in its original state complete with graffiti on the walls written by bored prisoners

The former exercise “yard” still exists as does some of the court’s wooden panelling

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The late Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh visited in 1955, while the current King was guest of honour in 2008 when he was the Prince of Wales. Other members of the Royal Family have also visited

The building’s meeting rooms are used by local organisations for meetings etc

Before Covid there were regular tours of the building for the public and local organisations, especially Brownies, Guides and Scouts, as well as school visits etc.