Recognised as one of the most impressive examples of Roman Revival civic architecture, the style of Town Hall is based upon the Roman Temple of Castor and Pollux.
It was designed by Joseph Aloyisus Hansom, who is better known as the creator of the famous ‘Hansom cab’. Naively agreeing to underwrite the cost of the project resulted in the bankruptcy and financial ruin of the 27-year-old.
Built in a period when Birmingham rallied at the forefront of the protests for national democratic reform, Town Hall provided citizens with a forum for political debate as well as an important symbol of their, and the town’s, purpose and aspirations. It was the meeting place for local government until the Council House opened in the 1870s, Town Hall continued as a forum for debate and speech-making through the 20th century. Since its opening, practically every prime minister and politician of note has spoken there; with notable speakers including Joseph Chamberlain, William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain, Clement Atlee, Neil Kinnock and Margaret Thatcher.
Until its temporary closure in 1996, Town Hall was an internationally recognised venue for music, in particular the Triennial Music Festivals (between 1834 and 1912). Home to the CBSO between 1926 and 1991, the Hall has showcased many premieres and reverberated to every type of music from Elgar to the Rolling Stones, Mendelssohn to The Beatles and Count Basie to Black Sabbath.
It has also hosted a wide variety of events including wrestling matches, Charles Dickens’ reading of A Christmas Carol, graduation ceremonies and craft fairs! Closed in 1996 on health and safety grounds and concerns over structural stability, Town Hall has undergone numerous alterations and changes to reflect the needs of users and performers of the time; the 21st-century redevelopmentwas the next stage in that process.