Mayor leads tours around Bolton Town Hall
THE Mayor of Bolton is giving tours of Bolton Town Hall — Vickie Scullard went along to find out more.
THE Town Hall is as important to Bolton as the likes of Fred Dibnah, Nat Lofthouse and Peter Kay — but, sadly, these days it is probably the least celebrated.
The beautiful Victorian building has survived two world wars, a serious fire, and has outlived five British monarchs since it was opened in 1873 by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
The Prince, who later became King Edward VII, opened the building with a silver key in front of 150,000 people who lined the streets to witness Bolton’s first royal visit.
The building as it stands now has been modified and extended over the years, but despite this, many original features still remain; from the lions that watch over Victoria Square, to the elephants which you will find in most of the building’s grand rooms.
The structural presence of its many pillars and tall windows stand out from any other building in the town centre — and the Mayor and Mayoress, Cllr Colin Shaw and his wife Dee, are the first to say that the town is “very lucky” to have such a building.
What may come as a surprise to many is that anybody in Bolton who would like to meet the Mayor and have a guided tour around the town hall can do so simply by calling the Mayor’s office.
The tour itself is a relaxed and very informative affair, beginning in a quaint room situated below the clock tower — now named the Mayor’s Parlour.
Looking over the war memorial towards the Parish Church, Cllr Shaw said: “Lord Leverhulme, who was Mayor of Bolton in 1918, wanted a pathway from the town hall to the Parish Church but it never happened. “This is the old withdrawing room. The Prince of Wales had come here to open the hall and he stayed at Haigh Hall and came by train and horse and carriage.
“The room is directly below the clock tower and is the only room with solid pillars, and the crest, Supera Moras, which means ‘Overcome Delays’.
“You’ll find elephants in many of the rooms of the building. Around 600 years ago Bolton was within the Diocese of Coventry, and the motif for the Bishop of Coventry was an elephant, so we carried it on from there.”
The sky blue painted room leads into another room of similar colour — the Reception Room — which is long enough to be the perfect wedding hall.
Mrs Shaw said: “A lot of people have had weddings here in the past – it’s the perfect size. The chairs can fit down either side to make way for an aisle to the top of the room.”
The Banqueting Suite is next — the old Council Chamber — which features a table that can be stretched to the length of the room by winding a large handle, and a rare three-tier serving table.
Cllr Shaw said: “As far as we know this three-tier table is a one off. The Antiques Road Show came here a few years ago and said it was worth six figures. But it was originally used to simply display cheese.”
Walking down the corridor towards the Albert Halls, where numerous music concerts and theatre performances have been seen by thousands, its legacy is captured in photographs depicting the fire on November 14, 1981, and its return to glory three years later.
Cllr Shaw said: “When the hall caught fire, it was at about 5pm and a dance was in full flow. It is said that the organist Fred Balshaw continued to play away as the flames began to spread around the room.
“My wife and I were shopping at the time and couldn’t believe it when we saw it was on fire. We just stood there and saw the smoke billowing out of the roof.
“I don’t think people realised the extent of the damage at first. Thankfully the fire didn’t spread because the brass doors to the room were closed, so the fire was contained.”
When the room was rebuilt and reopened in 1985, it was split into two levels rather than just one — the Albert Halls above, and the Festival Halls below. The grand organ was lifted to the top floor, where the theatre is, and below was created to be used for large functions, dinner parties and wedding receptions.
The Council Chambers used to be the old Magistrates’ Court Cllr Shaw said: “Magistrates are still allowed access to this room for their annual meeting. The Mayor used to be the chief of magistrates — even though they had little or no legal experience. This is why mayors are called Your Worship, but this was changed in 1967.”
The crest at the back of the room has a profound saying — “Wisdom is better than rubies” — and the room also hosts information about Bolton’s twinning with Le Mans in France and Paderborn in Germany.
He added: “The town twinned with Le Mans in 1973, and two years later with Paderborn. The reason for this was to make communities closer post-war and to create interest about each place within each community.”
As with the House of Commons, the room has seats for the elected party and the opposition, and the distance between the two is two swords’ length so that they do not fight.
Cllr Shaw, who sits at the head of the room during meetings, said: “As with Parliament, the meeting isn’t officially in session until the mace is in place, which sits on the table in front of the mayor. This is a symbol of the mayor’s authority.”
As we walk back through the Albert Halls to the rather eerie back stair case, talk of ghosts are not far from everyone’s lips. There are rumours that one of the rooms, which used to be a court, saw a man kill himself rather than face jail.
Mrs Shaw said: “There have been tales of ghosts around the back staircase of the hall too but as yet we have not seen one.”
Walking towards the large main doors which were opened by King Edward VII back in 1873, you pass the war memorial book encased in a glass table which includes every serviceman and woman from Bolton who fought in First World War.
Cllr Shaw said: “The memorial book and the war memorial on the square is to remember everyone from Bolton who fought in The Great War. Their name and regiment are written in the book to honour each and every one of their lives.”
Looking out on to Victoria Square through the pillars is a very impressive sight — and the lions look even more formidable close up. But a little door tucked away to the side of the main entrance, out of view from the square, opens up a little bit of history that you would otherwise not know.
Cllr Shaw explained: “The secret staircase was used by the Prince of Wales after he opened the building.
He went that way to the Withdrawing Room rather than going the long way round.”
After an inspection of the little staircase, it is amazing to think that a future king would have walked those same steps all those years ago — and that so many thousands of people would have turned out for such a special day.
The tour is a fantastic glimpse into the past of not only the hall itself, but Bolton as a whole — and for anyone who does not know of the town’s amazing history, the tour is available — for free — for all to enjoy.
To book a tour, which is available for parties large and small, including schools, call The Mayor’s Office on 01204 331090.
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