Inside Rochdale Town Hall’s multi-million pound transformation before it opens to the public
Years of painstaking work have gone into giving the Rochdale Town Hall a brand new lease of life.
Rochdale Town Hall, one of Greater Manchester’s most historic buildings, has revealed its spectacular revamp ahead of opening to the public.
The Grade I-listed building has undergone a multi-million pound restoration project, bringing back to life the incredible detail and craftsmanship of the landmark.
Since 2020, a team have been hard at work bringing the Rochdale Town Hall back to its former glory, carefully stripping away decades of grime with cotton buds and repairing Minton tiles.
The most breathtaking space of all is the Great Hall, where 350 hand-painted panels cover the vaulted ceiling, carved wooden angels hold lanterns, stained glass windows tower overhead, and an enormous organ stands on the stage.
Now that it’s restored, visitors will find themselves in a room filled with red and gold patterns, including images of the English lions and Scottish thistle.
The Exchange, which will be used as the main entrance hall, has ornate Minton tiles covering the floor, depicting insignia of Rochdale like the hanging fleece and a red rose.
Candy-striped pillars, created from shades of granite and marble, reach up into the vaulted ceiling and along to the sweeping staircase.
Other restoration work has included the stained glass windows, the hand-painted walls, furniture, wood panelling, and masonry.
But as well as celebrating the historical features of Rochdale Town Hall, there are also new artworks created with local community groups and schools, celebrating present day Rochdale.
Many of Rochdale Town Hall’s spaces that were previously closed off to the public have been brought back into use as community spaces, like the Bright Hall.
Now a double-height room with angels along the walls and an internal window looking over the Great Hall, the space was previously an office with partition walls and a mezzanine floor. Now, it will be a beautiful space for community groups and events to use.
When it officially reopens in March, there’ll be more tours, longer opening hours, and new exhibition spaces for locals and visitors to explore.
The whole building has been made fully accessible for the first time, and there are new heating systems and a sturdier roof all in place to future-proof Rochdale Town Hall for decades to come.
There’ll even be a brand new restaurant, the Martlet, expected to open in spring, in the space which was formerly occupied by the Clock Tower dining room.
The huge project was made possible with funding support to the tune of an £8.9m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, councillor Neil Emmott, said: “Rochdale Town Hall is probably one of the finest examples of neo gothic architecture in the country, but like many buildings this old, it was showing its age.
“Now, after four years of painstaking work, it looks incredible, just as it would have done when it first opened its doors well over a century ago.
“Like so many of our residents, I know this building really well and I’m blown away by the quality of the work and how good everything looks. I’m honoured to have seen it today and I’m delighted that our residents and visitors will be able to enjoy this space in just a few short weeks.”
In addition to experts, over 500 volunteers got on board with the project, with Rochdale residents from the ages of 15 to 82, supporting with everything from historical research to cleaning and conservation.
Eilish McGuinness, Chief Executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “As the UK’s largest funder of heritage, we believe in the power of historic buildings, like Rochdale Town Hall, to ignite the imagination, offer joy and inspiration, and to build pride in place.
“The town hall has been part of Rochdale’s story for over 150 years, and is already a treasured building, so I am delighted that National Lottery funding has helped restore and protect its spectacular heritage, made the building fully accessible for the first time, and created new community spaces, ensuring that Rochdale Town Hall, continues to be valued, cared for and sustained for everyone, now and in the future. Congratulations to all involved in making this project a success.”
Alison Iveson, from Norden, is one of the many locals who pitched in to help bring the town hall back to life.
She said: “I remember first visiting the town hall in the 1980s and my jaw dropped to the floor. It’s an incredible building and we’re so lucky to have it here in Rochdale. I have a little connection to it too, as my husband’s family owned the Ivesons shop, which was just around the corner from the town hall and was known as Rochdale’s first department store when it opened in 1901. Ivesons supplied and fitted carpets in the council chamber in 1951 and I’ve donated some photos of this to the new Welcome Gallery exhibition space.
“I’ve had so many opportunities as a volunteer on this project. I’ve researched the building’s history and found out about all the Suffragette meetings which were held here and the old fire station which was round the back of the building and which had to respond to the clock tower fire in 1883. People will be able to find out about all these stories in the Welcome Gallery. I got involved in the archaeological dig in Town Hall Square, where I got a qualification in archaeology, and I even helped to clean some of the delicate historic pieces.”
The Rochdale Town Hall will open to the public on Sunday 3 March 2024.
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Featured image: The Manc Group