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Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Sep 2008

 
 

Sat 13 Sep 2008

National Heritage Open Days co-ordinated by the Civic Trust.
Conducted tour of Chorley Town Hall.

As part of the National Heritage Open days co-ordinated by the Civic Trust Chorley’s Town Hall was opened and two conducted tours were held at 1pm and 2:30pm. A warm sunny day greeted the first group of 30 visitors. Tim James and Brendan Spier of the Council staff were our guides and we were first taken on an external tour round the Town Hall and shown the location of the first Town Hall which used to be opposite the front doors of the present Town Hall which was opened on 2nd Aug 1879. The original hall dated from 1802 and wasn’t demolished until the 1930s so for over 50 years Chorley had two Town Halls. As with many towns Chorley grew rapidly with the industrial revolution with a population growth from 4,500 in 1801 to 17,000 in 1871.


New Town Hall, Chorley, from
The Building News 22 Jan 1875.


New lifts, stairs and glass ceiling

Photographs of the Town Hall refurbishment.


The magnificent Lancastrian room.

Chorley's size and wealth soon gave it the ability to receive a Royal Charter and achieve Borough status. A new Town Hall and a Mayor, Augustus William Smethurst, to represent the Monarch were part of the process. The Town Hall was extensively re-furbished around 2004-5 and we were shown the new entrance area where the original staircase used to be. Two lifts and narrower stairs replaced the original but a more modern look was given including a view of the clock-tower through a glass ceiling. Tim then showed us a display of photographs of the refurbishment works in the magnificent Lancastrian Room.

We then descended another series of steps down into the basement where the original butter-market used to be. When the Town Hall was opened the market was held on the west side of the building near the existing Police Station. The cool interior of the Town Hall cellar was ideal for the butter market. Also in the cellars used to be a ‘Cold War’ monitoring station which was part of the E.C.N. (Emergency Communication Network). During the 1950s and 60s a frosty relationship with the Soviet Union caused many monitoring stations and ‘bunkers’ to be constructed all over the UK. Photographs were shown of a local bunker on Denham Hill, Brindle. The Town Hall monitoring station was dismantled some years ago but a replacement co-ordination room still exists. Access to it is through ‘door 21’ and public entry is not permitted, not even for the Heritage Open Weekend!


In the cellar where the butter market used to be.


Inside the Council Chamber.

The next part of the tour was to the Council Chamber. Brendan gave us an introduction to the Mayor’s insignia which consists mainly of the mace and chains. Then the Mayor, Councillor Terry Brown and Mayoress, his wife Julie, joined us in the Council Chamber. The chain is of particular interest as it has pendants on it for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee (50year reign) in 1887 and diamond jubilee (60years) in 1897. It is thought to be the only one containing both jubilees. When the Town Hall opened in 1879 6,500 commemorative medals were given to all the children of the Borough. We were shown what is thought to be the only two left. In spite of requests in the Chorley Guardian further medals have not been located. Tea, coffee and biscuits followed in a meeting room where more interesting documents were on display to keep us all occupied. The two tours were very well attended, 30 on the first and 20 on the second. I think if more had turned up it would have been too crowded. All concerned with the organisation should be congratulated for a magnificent event.