Ossett Town Hall
The Grade II listed Town Hall is one of Ossett's most iconic buildings and has been deservedly nominated for a real Blue Plaque. Built in 1908, the Town Hall served as a civic centre, magistrates court and offices for Ossett Borough Council until 1974 when Ossett became part of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council. The public hall has served as a concert hall, dance hall, venue for school speech days and indoor market area. Sadly, with only parts of the Town Hall in regular use, the building is now falling into disrepair.
During the 19th century there were several proposals to build a Town Hall for the rapidly growing town of Ossett during the 19th century. W.S. Wiseman of the Mechanics Institute called a public meeting in 1856 to gauge interest in the idea of building a Town Hall. In the event, the people of Ossett were not convinced, especially about raising the funds privately for the proposed new civic building and the idea went no further.
There was another proposal for a Town Hall in 1877, when at a cost of £3,000, a site being purchased by the Local Board on Bank Street. It was several years later, in 1882, that Dewsbury architect Henry Holtom was appointed to draw up plans for the Town Hall. However, once again, the idea was shelved because of concerns about the increase in rates to be levied on Ossett people in order raise the capital required.
Ossett became a Borough in 1890, but still no further progress had been made. In 1896 the new Borough Council decided to proceed with the proposal to build a new Town Hall on the Bank Street site. After some further debate by members of the Borough Council, it was decided that Ossett's Town Hall should be built in the Market Place, despite strong local opposition to the idea. In 1904 a suitable site was purchased in the Market Place at a cost of £5,700 with another £15,000 allocated for the construction of the new Town Hall. The money had to be borrowed. The Local Government Board gave their approval for the scheme to proceed.
Batley architects Walter Hanstock and Sons won the contract to design the new building. Walter Hanstock and his son Arthur Hanstock, were to be responsible for some of the most imposing buildings built in Victorian and Edwardian Batley. Other projects included Leeds City Public Baths, Selby Public Baths and Horbury's Council Offices.
Above: The old Grammar School building that was demolished circa 1904 to be replaced by Ossett Town Hall.
Some of the site bought by Ossett Borough Council for the new Town Hall was actually the old Ossett Grammar School building and for a while, the school was housed in the Central Baptist schoolroom in old Church Street. Eventually, Ossett Borough Council purchased Park House, off Storrs Hill Road, from the Ellis family at a cost of £2,500. The he value no doubt reduced because Park House had been used for the convalescence of victims of a smallpox epidemic. Park House was to be the location for the new Grammar School.
On the 27th February 1906, in a heavy snowstorm, Ossett's mayor Alderman John Hampshire Nettleton laid the foundation stone for the new Town Hall in a heavy snowstorm and on Tuesday 2nd June 1908 the new Town Hall was officially opened by the Mayor Councillor J.T. Marsden. The building was decked out with buntings, flags and other decorations and over 12,000 local people gathered in the Market Place for the grand opening of the new Town Hall.
Above: The new Town Hall in 1908 decked out ready for the opening ceremony.
Above: Ossett's Mayor J.T. Marsden at the opening ceremony of Ossett Town Hall, 2nd June 1908.
The new Town Hall was described as being "built on the finest site in Ossett" by the "Ossett Observer" and as follows:
"The building consists a two storied façade, with its three curved pediments and central entrance flanked by caryatids (sculpted female figures serving as architectural supports). Topping the building was a clock tower, the clock being a gift from the daughters of a former mayor, Joseph Ward. On the ground floor were the offices of the borough accountant, the rate collector, the educational officials and the borough surveyor. The was also a court room with solicitors' and witnesses rooms and a magistrates retiring room. The biggest room on the ground floor was a large public hall capable of seating over 1,300 people. On the first floor were the council chamber, the mayor's parlour, two committee rooms and the town clerk's room. The basement provided accommodation for kitchens, performers' dressing rooms, store rooms and offices for the sanitary inspector and the weights and measurements inspector."
The Public Hall was actually finished first and opened earlier than the rest of the Town Hall in November 1907 for a choral concert. An external door facing Dale Street has a 1907 date marker on the lintel.
Above: Inside the Town Hall.
Nowadays, Ossett Town Hall is regarded as one of the finest halls for public functions in the district. There is a seating capacity for over 700 people with a balcony area. The public hall is 95ft (29m) x 46ft (14m) and 36ft (11m) high with a large stage area that was built in the 1970s.
A major refurbishment programme for Ossett Town Hall is planned to create a new and permanent home for the town’s library. The library, which is currently based on the first floor of the Town Hall, was moved temporarily downstairs in November 2018, to enable the project to begin.
Above: Ossett Town Hall with a Virtual Blue Plaque.
The £500,000 investment will provide a full refurbishment of the first floor of the Town Hall to create a modern, more usable and flexible library space with computers, Wi-Fi, printing and photo copying, as well as enabling some essential external repairs to the building. The works will include a new lift that will give full access to the first floor and the installation of an accessible toilet.
The refurbishment was expected to be completed in Summer 2019, but hasn't yet been started.
1. "Ossett Town Hall 1908-2008", Ossett Historical Society by Ruth Nettleton
2. Ossett Through The Ages (OTTA) - Facebook post by Helen Bickerdike
3. Picture Gallery Ossett Town Hall on ossett.net