Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

Civic Hall

North Street

This excellent photograph comes from "Music in Our Town" by L. B. Duckworth. It is by Stewart Bale. You can see its great merits even though we have had to crop it, reduce it drastically in size and otherwise adjust it to make it suitable for this web site. If Mr. Bale or anyone else with an interest in the copyright would be kind enough to contact us, we would be much obliged.

Listing: 1936-38. By Lyons and Israel. Modernistic Classical style.

Pevsner: With an eight column loggia, the columns very thin and octagonal, inspired by Tengbom's Stockholm Concert Hall.

Comment: By E. D. Lyons and L. Israel, of Ilford, who won a competition. This building contains the large Civic Hall at the front (with side access aisles and the usual offices) and the smaller Wulfrun Hall at the back; the two halls are separated by a refreshments area. All of this is clearly enough articulated in the exterior design. The design is in the tradition established by the Stockholm Concert Hall. Both halls have a stage and the larger hall has balconies and a four manual Compton organ. Both halls have good acoustics.

The hall was ceremoniously opened in 1938. Since then it has been constantly busy for concerts of all sorts, from classical soirees to rock gigs, for dances, for the University's degree ceremonies and anything else a well designed and well placed civic hall might be used for. It is one of the more austere pieces of architecture in the town centre but has fond memories for many townspeople.

A refurbishment programme was started in 2000.  One of the last performers before this work started was Victoria Wood, who declared she would never return to the place after the lavatory cistern in her dressing room fell on her head.  But the plans for the refurb persuaded her to change her mind and she gave a brilliant performance in July 2001, despite the excessive heat which the re-furbed hall seemed quite unable to cope with.  Unfortunately she made no comment on either the old hall or the new.

The architects for the alterations were Penoyre & Prasad, of London.  The work met with a mixed reception.  It received a Civic Trust Award in 2004, the Trust commenting that "new life has been breathed into this restrained Art Deco building ... with the original design being respected throughout".  Others, however, objected to the fact that the glass boxes attached to the sides failed to respect the original design at all.  Here are some interim comments by Duncan Nimmo (with Frank Sharman) and Duncan's photos.

The most noticeable result of the refurb has been the appearance of this green glass excrescence and a matching one on the other side. If you compare this with the top picture you will see how the original concept of clean geometric blocks, articulating what is within, has been entirely lost.

How anyone managed to do this to a listed building is beyond us.  In this photo you can also make out some examples of re-pointing, which has been done in a way that leaves no doubt that it is new work, and which looks awful.

What you get in exchange for this drastic change to the building's appearance is this.
These rooms appear to be extensions to the bars but are probably adaptable to other uses as well.

You also get some new lavatories. Whether any of that was needed is not really clear, leaving the distinct impression that the gain, whatever it is, is far outweighed by the loss to the external appearance of the building.

Moving inside the building,  the council's efforts have been more successful.  This is the foyer where, as in many parts of the interior,  the most noticeable changes are to the colour scheme and the signing.

The chevron pattern is original - it seems to be part of the ventilation system.

The main hall (and we have not yet seen the Wulfrun Hall) and its side corridors are not much changed (though the improvements to the lavatories are considerable).  But some parts look radically different.

Presumably the council felt a need to set off in hot pursuit of the modern clubber and this is the result.  It retains aspects of the original style.

On the left is the old style of sign.  On the right is the new style.  The lettering in both cases is some sort of Frank Pick style and the new preserves the feel of the old and is not out of keeping the original style of the building.  But the old three-dimensional chrome letters were a very characteristic feature of the time of the building and ought to have been kept.

Here the signs above the doors are new but whether or not the door furniture is new or merely cleaned up we cannot quite work out - which may well say something about how well it has been done.

The portholes and half moon shapes are a trade mark of the original building.

The door handle and plate on the left is one of the originals.  The door on the right is one of the new ones, which maintains the style well, without being a copy.
The new carpet reflects the chevron pattern which appeared throughout the original building.

These stairs and railings, like many others, have been cleaned up but otherwise left. 

Note the new door with porthole and half moons; and the radiator cover, which is one of the originals, all of which seem to have been retained - but would probably have benefited from a bit of restoration work.

These windows have benefited from a clean up but otherwise being left alone.

Our feeling is that the changes to the exterior should never have happened;  but the work on the interior is quite a commendable effort: the appearance has been up-dated without totally destroying the style of the original.

One might now add that it has transpired that the refurb did not make provision, other than the minimal, for selling tickets. 

This seems to be a basic omission which the city council is trying to deal with by expanding the information centre in Queen Square by building sideways over Woolpack Alley. 

So that part of the city's historic street pattern, one of its few remaining links to the medieval town, is to be sacrificed because of the inadequacies of this scheme.