In 1847 Queen Victoria signed a Charter of Incorporation uniting the Townships of Bradford, Manningham, Bowling and Horton as a Borough, with permission to elect a mayor, 14 aldermen and 42 councillors. There was no accommodation for the Council and the first town hall was sited in the Fire Station House in Swain Street. This remained the Town Hall for twenty-six years.
It soon became obvious that a purpose-built civic building was necessary and in 1869 the present site was purchased. A competition to design the new town hall was held and thirty-two entries were received. The winning design was submitted by Lockwood and Mawson, a Bradford firm of architects. The builder was John Ives & Son of Shipley, who constructed the Town Hall at a cost of £100,000.
The Town Hall took three years to build and was opened on 9 September 1873 by the Mayor, Alderman Matthew Thompson. This original building was 70 feet high and 275 feet long, with a 217 foot tower.
By the end of the 19th Century, the Town Hall did not have adequate space, and a decision was taken to extend it. Two schemes followed. The first, opened in September 1909, provided a new council chamber, committee rooms and a banqueting hall. The second scheme, completed in 1914, included a redesigned entrance and grand staircase.
The Town Hall became City Hall in November 1965, the change of name considered more in keeping with Bradford's status and importance. At the same time the building received a £12,000 facelift.
City Hall's most notable feature is the magnificent clock tower that soars 220 feet above the skyline. The City Hall clock tower is Italianate, inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. It has thirteen bells which were installed at a cost of £5,000. The total weight of the bells is 17 tons. 1997 heralds a new era for the bells; since 1992 the City Hall Bells have lain silent due to severe decay in the bell frame. With help from the National Lottery the bells are once again chiming.
Its bells toll every fifteen minutes. It plays tunes at lunchtime and teatime every day and carols at Christmas. The USA national anthem rang out to mark the recent three minutes' silence for those who lost their lives during terrorist attacks.
The bells of City Hall were once used to play "No Matter What" by Boyzone to promote the "Whistle Down the Wind" production at the local Alhambra Theatre.
City Hall has two flag poles on its roof. We have a number of set 'flag flying days' throughout the year when we fly certain flags on City Hall. Examples of these being the flying of the Welsh flag on St. David's Day and the Australian flag on Australia Day.
When an eminent citizen of Bradford dies, for example a former lord mayor or mayoress, we fly the flags at City Hall at half-mast from the moment we receive news of the death until the funeral has taken place. The minute bells also ring for an hour after the receipt of notice of the death and for an hour on the start of the funeral.
The flags are flown on royal visits to Bradford as well as on Royal birthdays, weddings and coronations.
If there is a major disaster we consult Central Government to determine how to mark our respect. If no guidelines are available we would then choose the most appropriate way of symbolising our thoughts in Bradford.
The façade of the original Town Hall is adorned with thirty-five statues of rulers of England from the Norman Conquest up to Queen Victoria. Each statue is said to be a faithful likeness and each one was carved by the London firm of Farmer & Brindley from a piece of Cliffe Wood stone (a local quarry) and cost £63!
Each statue appears in chronological order from left to right with the exception of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I who appear on each side of the main entrance in canopied niches.
There are a few bits of trivia associated with the monarchs:
- One of the statues is of Oliver Cromwell who, of course, was not a king (or Queen).
- Richard Cromwell took over the reins from Oliver but did not warrant a statue.
- William and Mary were joint monarchs from 1689 to 1694 but Mary did not warrant a statue; William carried on as King after Mary's death and has a statue.
- Edward V succeeded Edward IV but was never crowned. He and his brother were killed by persons unknown in 1483 (the Princes in the Tower tale). What happened all those years ago will remain a mystery for all time.
1997 was Bradford City's centenary, and major development work was carried out to create a new Centenary Square in front of City Hall. The area is pedestrianised with seating and a large open paved area directly in front of the main entrance.
Tours of City Hall are available for groups and individuals. These can be tailored to your needs, including tours to help 'sell' the area to visiting business people, or for helping local schoolchildren with their studies.