Ossett Pictures - Ossett Town Hall
Ossett historian David Scriven very kindly provided this excellent account of the origins of Ossett Town Hall and I have reproduced it below from David's original manuscript with permission:
Today the dramatic façade of Ossett’s Town Hall dominates the Market Place and provides a backdrop for the town’s twice weekly markets. It is over one hundred years old and, like many familiar buildings, it is taken very much for granted. However, if some Ossettonians had had their way it would have been built elsewhere or perhaps never built.
The first proposals for a town hall were prompted by the fact that all the larger meeting places in Ossett belonged to the church, chapels or schools. In 1855 Thomas Dews, a member of the local Mechanics’ Institute, suggested that a town hall was needed and in the following year the Institute’s president, Dr William Wood Wiseman, repeated the suggestion. The Institute would have benefited from a large assembly room, but little or nothing resulted from these suggestions. There was no voluntary movement to build a hall and Ossett lacked an elected local authority with the power to use public funds on such a project.1
In 1870 the town did gain a modern elected local authority, the Ossett Local Board of Health. The Local Board rented offices in New Street, but in 1877 and 1880 it bought land fronting Bank and Illingworth Streets in order to build its own premises. The plans the Dewsbury architects Holtom and Fox prepared for the site in 1886 were for a building in the ‘modern classical style’ with a public hall for 1,300 people. Unfortunately the scheme was vetoed by the Local Government Board in the following year on the grounds that a Local Board of Health did not have the power to build a public hall. Ossett Local Board also explored the possibility of buying a property in Wesley Street, Wesley House, to convert into offices and to accommodate the Technical School and the Mechanics’ Institute. This scheme came to nothing and revised plans, omitting the public hall, were drawn up for the Bank Street-Illingworth Street site. These were approved by the Local Government Board in 1889, but they were never acted on by the Local Board.2
This was because in 1890 Ossett successfully applied for a borough charter and as a result the Local Board of Health was replaced by the Borough Council. As the Borough Council had the legal authority to build a public hall, it decided not to proceed with the scheme for offices on the Bank Street-Illingworth Street site. Faced by this lack of progress, some residents proposed that Croft House in New Street should be purchased by the Council for offices and to provide a recreation ground, but the Council did not adopt the proposal. It was not until 1896, partly in response to public pressure, that the Borough Council revived Holtom and Fox’s scheme for a town hall in the ‘classic style’ on the Bank Street site. Support for the project was not unanimous as some residents suggested that a more prominent position for their Town Hall would be the Market Place. As a result the Local Government Board refused the Council’s request for borrowing powers for a town hall in Bank Street. Eventually the Council was won over to this view, approving by one vote the Market Place site in 1897.3
There was still some reluctance among councillors to commit themselves to an expensive building project, particularly as the Council was buying the local gas works. This opposition was finally overcome when the local magistrates put pressure on the Council to provide them with proper accommodation. In 1904 the Council, which had already taken control of the old Grammar School, bought the other property it needed to build on the Market Place. A competition to design the Town Hall attracted 33 entrants and the Council’s assessor, the firm of Kirk and Son of Dewsbury and Huddersfield, selected the design submitted by Walter Hanstock and Son of Batley as the winner. Hanstocks were well known locally, having already designed a town hall for Batley as well as offices for Horbury Urban District Council. For Ossett Town Hall the firm created a façade in a ‘renaissance’ style with windows with prominent Gibbs surrounds on the ground floor, a central entrance flanked by caryatids and on the first floor Ionic pilasters. The façade was crowned by three open topped curved pediments with a tower rising above the middle pediment. Inside the Town Hall there was to be a hall capable of seating 1,300 people, offices, a council chamber, a committee room, a court room and a mayor’s parlour. The site of the Town Hall had cost £5,600, the price of the building work was estimated at £12,000 and a further £2,000 was set aside for furnishings.4
The foundation stone of the Town Hall was laid by James Hampshire Nettleton, the Mayor of Ossett, during a heavy snow storm on 27 February 1906. Fortunately when the building was officially opened on 2 June 1908 only one sharp shower interrupted the proceedings. The ceremony, performed by the Mayor of Ossett, John Thomas Marsden, was the beginning of three days of public celebrations. These included tea parties, an entertainment for old people, the Mayoress’ ‘At Home’ in the Town Hall and a fair on the Gedham Field. 5
The scale of the celebrations reflected civic pride and so did much of the Town Hall’s decoration. Ossett’s civic heraldry, with its references to farming, coal mining and the woollen industry, filled the façade’s central pediment. The clock tower above the central pediment was the gift of the two Misses Ward, daughters of Joseph Ward, a former mayor of the borough. On the southern side of the building Councillor Nettleton and Alderman Walter Townend, Chairman of the Building Committee, were commemorated in heraldic sculpture. Inside the Town Hall the theme of Ossett’s civic heraldry was continued on stained glass window on the main staircase.6
Local pride in the Town Hall was justified and over a hundred years after its opening it is still one of the most striking pieces of architecture in the town. However, most of the Town Hall’s original functions have been taken away from it as a result of the reorganisation of local government in 1974. Ossett, which once formed part of the manor of Wakefield, is now part of the Wakefield Metropolitan District.
More about the Town Hall can be learned from Ruth Nettleton’s, ‘Ossett Town Hall 1908-2008’, which can be ordered from email@example.com for £8 plus postage and packing.
1. ‘Wakefield Journal’, 5.1.1855; ‘Ossett Observer’, 13.8.1904.
2. ‘Ossett Observer’, 17.12.1881; ‘Ossett Observer’, 4.12.1886; ‘Ossett Observer’, 12.11.1887; ‘Ossett Observer’, 16.3.1889; ‘Ossett Observer’, 11.2.1905.
3. Ossett Observer’, 25.4.1896; ‘Ossett Observer’, 28.3.1891; ‘Ossett Observer’, 18.1.1896; ‘Ossett Observer’, 28.3.1896; ‘Ossett Observer’, 11.2.1905.4. ‘Ossett Observer’, 9.7.1904; ‘Ossett Observer’, 23.7.1904; ‘Ossett Observer’, 30.7.1904; ‘Ossett Observer’, 11.2.1905; D. Lindstrum, ‘West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture’, (London, 1978), 377, 380.
5. ‘Ossett Observer’, 3.3.1906; ‘Ossett Observer’, 6.6.1908.
6. ‘Ossett Observer’, 15.12.1906; ‘Ossett Observer’, 6.6.1908