Town Hall, Priory Street, Dudley - War memorial stone
This is the Town Hall on Priory Street in Dudley, dating from between 1924 and 1928.
It includes the The Town Hall, Coroner's Court, Former Sessions Court And Brooke Robinson Museum.
It is a Grade II* listed building, listed in 2010.
Also Known As:
THE TOWN HALL, CORONER'S COURT, FORMER SESSIONS COURT AND BROOKE ROBINSON MUSEUM
, ST JAMES'S ROAD
A group of civic buildings. The Town Hall, Coroner's Court, Museum Room and the former Magistrates' Court and Memorial Tower were designed by Harvey and Wicks and built between 1924 and 1928.
MATERIALS: The buildings are of red brick laid in English bond with blue brick diapering and ashlar dressings
PLAN: The building occupies a corner site with the Town Hall and Coroner's court facing south-west onto St. James's Road, and the Memorial Tower, which forms an entrance to the former Sessions court, facing south-east onto Priory Street. The Town Hall is connected to the library building on St. James's Road, which is separately listed (Grade II), and the former Sessions Court is connected to the Old Police Headquarters, which is also separately listed (Grade II) and faces Priory Street. The buildings are of two or three storeys.
EXTERIOR: The town hall building faces onto St. James's Road and has five bays, of which the central three are closely grouped. To the ground floor there are three central arches, approached by a flight of steps. These have four-centred arches and cable mouldings to the outer edge of their ashlar surrounds. The arches lead to a covered lobby and have wrought iron gates and grilles with the date '1928' to each surmount. At either side of these are set plain, two-light mullioned windows, lighting cloakrooms. To the first floor the tall windows are of two and three lights with mullions and transoms. The central window, of three lights, is fronted by a stone balcony supported on carved brackets and with barley-twist columns to the corners. The central plaque records the gift of the hall and the museum to the town by Brooke and Eugenia Robinson. To either side of the window are attached barley-twist columns which rise to stylised flame finials set at either side of an arched overthrow which has the coat of arms of Dudley to the tympanum in relief. Flanking this centrepiece are windows of 3x2 lights and to the far right and left are windows of 3x2 lights. The second floor walling is blank, but decorated with a lattice pattern of blue brick diapering. The combination of the first floor window balcony and overthrow and patterned upper brickwork is reminiscent of, and seems to be a conscious reference to, the Doge's Palace in Venice. To left of this facade, and linking the building to the library, is a single recessed bay which has a four-centred carriage arch to the street above which is a two-light mullioned window.
To the right of the Town Hall is a gabled block which houses the Coroner's court at ground floor level and the Brook Robinson Museum room at first floor level. This turns the corner between St. James's Road and Priory Street and has six bays facing St. James's Road, with four-centred doors to far right and left. The left-hand door is approached by a double flight of steps with a wrought iron hand rail and the door has an overthrow inscribed with the wording 'CORONERS COURT / BROOKE ROBINSON MUSEUM' and with carved shields and foliage to the spandrels. Windows to both floors are of two lights with mullions and a transom to the ground floor windows. The gabled front of this block faces onto Priory Street and has two-light mullioned windows to both floors. Between the first floor windows is set an inscribed tablet which records the opening of the building by Stanley Baldwin in October 1928. Below this is the bronze RIBA plaque, awarded to the building in 1934.
To the right of this and projecting is the Memorial Tower which has a stone plinth. The central doorway and the first floor window are combined within a stone surround to form a frontispiece which is similar to the central bay on the town hall. Above the four-centred door surround, which here has carved panels of foliage to a hollow mould, is a stone balcony supported on carved brackets. The corners of the balcony and the sides of the window have barley-twist columns and the two-light window has an overthrow with tympanum which shows St. George carved in relief. To the central panel of the balcony is an inscription composed for the building by Thomas Hardy 'IF YOU THINK HAVE A KINDLY THOUGHT / IF YOU SPEAK SPEAK GENEROUSLY / OF THOSE WHO AS HEROES FOUGHT / AND DIED TO KEEP YOU FREE'. Much of the carving on the War Memorial Tower was executed by the Birmingham sculptor, William James Bloye. Flanking this centrepiece are bronze lions' masks with rings to their mouths which support flag staffs, which were added to the building in 1936. To the top of the tower and facing in three directions are clock faces set in diamond shaped surrounds with a triangular hood to the top.
To right of this are four bays of the Sessions court block. This has two-light mullioned windows to both floors and a battlemented parapet to the top of the wall. At right is a doorway with four-centred arch and carved label stops and spandrels.
The rear elevations of the constituent parts of the building face onto a courtyard which has been considerably built over in the course of the C20. They are mainly functional in character, with random fenestration. An exception are the flanks of the town hall building which have plain pilaster strips set between the windows and which can be seen from the window of the former sessions courtroom. A small caretaker's house for the hall has now been demolished.
INTERIOR: The town hall is approached from an outer lobby with groin vault. Three sets of half-glazed doors lead through to an inner lobby or crush hall, which has a barrel vault. The auditorium has a stage with proscenium arch to its north-eastern end and a balcony to the south-west. The lower walls are panelled and above this, to either side, are six bays of mullioned and transomed windows. The ceiling is formed by a segmental barrel vault. Large brackets set between the window bays support deep ribs which have lattice decoration. Roundels to the centre of the ceiling in each bay are similarly decorated, presumably to ventilate the hall. Each window has barley-twist columns to either side supporting an overthrow and to the bottom are miniature balconies which house up-lighters. The balcony front has similar twisted columns set in pairs. On the back wall of the stage is a mural, signed by Hans Feibusch and dated 1948. It shows a re-interpretation of the medieval scene of Roger de Somery stag hunting in Kinver Forest and being stopped by the King's men. The balcony is approached by a pair of stone staircases with bronze handrails and these also lead to the banqueting hall, which is at first floor level and faces out over St. James's Road. It has an arcade to its north-eastern side, with attached Romanesque columns with cushion capitals. The ceiling has a deep coving with lattice decoration
The Coroner's court has panelling to dado level and fixed benches and desks with inset inkwells to all four sides. Several of the bench ends are ramped and carved with guilloche patterning. The apron in front of the Coroner's desk has miniature spiral-fluted columns with carved cushion capitals. The projecting cornice which runs around the room is fluted and supported on brackets. A stone staircase with ramped bronze handrail leads to the former Brooke Robinson museum room. The room is barrel vaulted with large-scale plaster decoration to the transverse ribs and has a central skylight.
The memorial lobby beneath the tower has a stone vault with central boss which is carved with interlacing foliage and holds an eternal light. Names of the Fallen from the First World War are inscribed on the lateral walls.
The former Sessions court is approached through the memorial lobby or by another door onto Priory Street. The courtroom has been divided horizontally to form two floors of office accommodation. Few features survive at the lower level, save for the scribed plaster of the walls. At the upper level are the deep ribs of the panelled ceiling with guilloche moulding and a central skylight and the capitals and columns attached to the mullions of the window, which has three arched lights. The jury room has also been converted to office space, but its carved stone fireplace survives, with free-standing spiral-fluted columns and a band of Celtic plat decoration to the lintel. Here, too, the walls are scribed.
HISTORY: The rectangular island site has been the location for various municipal buildings since the mid-C19. The Police buildings were designed in 1847 by Harvey Eginton of Worcester. The former town hall building, on a corner site, facing Priory Street and Priory Road was built in 1858 in a Gothic style. The library building facing onto St. James's Road was opened in 1908 to the designs of G.H. Wenyon.
The new Town Hall, museum and Coroner's court, were built in memory of Brooke Robinson and his wife, Eugenia (nee Collis). Robinson was a prominent local solicitor, who had served as the borough coroner for a number of years and also as the town's M.P. for four parliaments. He presented a selection of his collection of furniture and family portraits to the borough, which were housed in a museum room at first floor level above the Coroner's court.
An open competition for the new public buildings was held and assessed by William Curtis Green. Harvey and Wicks won the first premium from a field of 55 entrants. The winning scheme, as presented in The Builder of January 1924 (see SOURCES), varied from what was actually built. The competition brief had stipulated a design that should blend with the neighbouring structures. The initial Tudor Gothic design was altered to the present design of varied style following the decision to erect a new Police headquarters elsewhere. Old photographs also show that the fenestration of the police building was altered to include mullioned windows where there were previously stylised arrow loops.
Although the exterior appearance changed prior to execution, the plan form and the distribution of the rooms and their functions underwent little alteration. The foundation stone was laid on 14 April, 1926 by The Viscount Cobham and the complex was opened by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, on 16 October 1928. The initial intention to place an organ at the back of the orchestra seating in the hall was abandoned and in 1948 the German émigré artist Hans Feibusch painted a mural on the rear wall of the stage showing the local medieval landowner, Roger de Somery stag hunting in Kinver Forest.
Subsequently the Sessions Court became a Magistrate's Court and in the later C20 was changed into a banking hall for the payment of Council Tax. The double-height court room was divided horizontally to create two floors with further access doors and screen walls inserted. The Jury Room was converted to office space and the Brooke Robinson Museum room is also now used as an office, but this has caused no physical alteration to the building. In the 1990s an extensive range was built behind the St. James' Road front. This required the demolition of the former caretaker's house for the Brooke Robinson Memorial Hall.
SOURCES: The Builder, January 25, 1924.
The Architect & Building News, June 14, 1929, 785-789.
The Architect's Journal, 9 July, 1930, 48-51.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Hans Feibusch, Retrieved on 20 October 2009 from www.oxforddnb.com/index.jsp.
N. Pevsner, Buildings of England, Staffordshire, (1974), 122.
J.Bennett, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Public Art Guide, Duddley MBC, 1990, 24.
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION:
The group of Town Hall, Coroner's court, Brooke Robinson museum and former Sessions court are designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural: The design of this group of buildings with varied functions by the noted architectural practice of Harvey and Wicks is inspired and bridges the stylistic gap between the Edwardian Baroque library building and the medieval style of the old police buildings with flair.
* Planning: The handling of the internal spaces and the planning throughout the complex is carefully judged to reflect municipal ambition and allow smooth functioning.
* Decoration: The buildings contain sculptural decoration of high quality to both the exterior and interior and a large mural by the noted artist Hans Feibusch.
* Intactness: Despite some adaptation to changing functions, the buildings contain a high proportion of their original fittings and much of their original plan.
* Rarity: The existence and retention of the complete furnishings of the coroner's court is a distinct rarity.
War memorial stone laid in 1926. Sculpted by William Bloye. For the First World War.
Shots taken on Priory Street.
It is no longer a court. Is now the Dudley concert hall.