New start for a Great Yarmouth gem
By Andrew Turner
The Town Hall in Great Yarmouth is undergoing a massive £1.5 million restoration project to undo damage caused by harsh weather conditions and unsympathetic repairs over the past 125 years.
Dominating the view of Hall Quay, Great Yarmouth Town Hall is receiving a well needed boost to restore it to its former glory.
Arguably one of the best buildings in the town, the Town Hall was built in the 1880s and it stands as a classic example of fine Victorian gothic architecture.
The view from the Town Hall
After more than a century of harsh east coast weather and neglect from various administrations in office, its roof and masonry have suffered over the years.
However, £1.5 million of local council tax and English Heritage money is being spent on the hall to make it gleam and dominate the town’s landscape once again.
The Town Hall is the prestigious home of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, but surprisingly it has been able to stay in most of the building while the work has been undertaken. Only the Assembly Room of the hall has been closed off during the project.
In 2007, a shroud of scaffolding and polythene sheeting was erected around the building to allow major repairs and re-roofing. Investigations only possibly from the scaffold found more structural problems than workers and councillors originally expected.
Forward to 2008, the builders are far nearer to completion of the project, with the decayed stonework skillfully replaced, brickwork repaired, slates renewed and insulation fitted beneath them to cut heating bills and emissions. The scaffolding is also finally on its way down, revealing its new-found beauty.
David Frowde, architect for Great Yarmouth Borough Council, explains further about the work that is being done.
"We're doing a full re-roof of the Town Hall and we are sorting out some stonework problems, some lead work and other various pieces that have deteriorated over the years. It’s a really major refurbishment for us," said David.
The roof has been completely re-laid
The work on the Town Hall is being carried out by M S Oakes.
"We're making decisions as we go to preserve the integrity of the building, whilst making sure we get the best use of the scaffolding while it's here. Hopefully, it won't have to be done again in the near future," said managing director Mark Oakes.
The restoration is being largely funded by council tax money. Councillor Barry Stone, deputy leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, believes it is his duty to ensure the public's needs are met.
"This is a Grade II listed building and it's part of the town's heritage. It's our responsibility to look after it on behalf of the people of Great Yarmouth. Even though it's costing us a lot of money, the work should leave it in good order for at least several generations to come," said Barry.
It had been argued by the opposition Labour Party that a decade of Tory rule had left the Town Hall in a poor state of repair, leading to a significant repair cost. However, Mr Stone disputed the claim.
The hall contains gothic architecture
"In times of financial constraint, we often cut back on things like inspections and perhaps maintenance, but I wouldn't lay blame at any door. We're all as guilty as one another when it comes to looking after our heritage," he said.
"Even though we have the responsibility of looking after and paying for it now, I'm sure the same would have happened whatever party was in control," he added.
One of the main reasons for the stonemasonry being so badly damaged on the building is due to the harsh salt air from the coast. David Frowde feels the hall's position in the town leaves it open to deterioration.
"It’s a really exposed site, particularly on the west where it faces directly onto the river. We've also had a problem of correcting repairs that have been done in the past, where materials that were state of the art years ago are found to be no longer appropriate. It's really been quite a complicated project for us," he said.
Despite its setbacks, Mark Oakes is overjoyed with the success of the restoration.
"Everything that's done here is very traditional, using top quality materials. It's a pleasure working for something like this - it's a once in a lifetime opportunity and it won't be done again for a very long time," said Mark.
The restoration team at the Town Hall
The bells toll once more
One of the most prized possessions of the hall is it's clock face and bell tower. This too has been given a good spit and polish under the project and Mr Frowde is looking forward to seeing it back in action.
"The clock is due to go back up in a couple of weeks. It's been fully restored by a clock maker in Norwich," said David.
"All the bells have been checked and once it's back in it will be electronically wound, which means the porters won't have to climb the tower and manually wind it three times a week like they have done in the past," he added.
"We've kept a very close photographic record of the job at each stage. We have the pictures displayed in the Town Hall foyer and we will continue to do that until the project is finished. The public can come and see them at their wish," he added.
last updated: 09/12/2008 at 12:44
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