Anyone visiting the Town Council Office in the Town Hall for the last few years won’t have failed to notice the three huge marble tablets on the wall with the names of the Mayors dating back to 1887 engraved in them. These cool stones hold lots of stories and over a century of mayoral history.
Our stone mason, Les Finn, was very nervous about removing the stones as no one could tell how they were attached, how solid or otherwise they were or what it would take to remove them in one piece. Les brought along two more builders, Keith and Paul, and quickly got to work building the scaffold that would allow them access to the tablets. They decided to start with the most recent tablet, which holds the names of mayors since 2010. The builders discovered that this stone was held on with three dowels, or posts, and cement. As it came off, it pulled a lot of the plaster off the wall and it uncovered the stone walls built by the Victorians in the 1883 extension.
The next tablet to tackle was the eldest one, the one that the builders were most nervous about. They started chiseling, carefully, at the edges of the tablet to discover that the marble tablet was double the thickness that they imagined it would be, with a step all the way round between the frontage of the stone to the layer that was embedded in the wall. So it took extra chiseling to get loose. They eventually got it moving and discovered that apart from two short rods at the top and it’s little marble feet, it was barely attached to the wall at all. As this one came off, it revealed the brickwork underneath, which confusingly has a row of timbers running through the middle. They also discovered the name of the stone mason engraved on the underside of the tablet ‘J Coles’.
The middle stone was not double depth, and was attached with rods and also stood on two marble feet. As it was removed, it pulled none of the plaster off and revealed a paint finish which pre-dates the silver wallpaper that is in there now.
The hardest job was getting the marble feet out of the wall, all were buried into the wall and had cement holding them in. It took a masonry drill, a chisel and hammer and lots of elbow grease to get them moving and eventually out. The first foot on the eldest stone was already cracked but apart from a chip out of the front, it remained solid.
There is an area of Brackley where all the roads are named after Mayors and these come from that first Tablet. Those living on or near Cartwright Crescent probably have these early mayors to thank for their street name! Cartwright was an extremely interesting character. She was Mayor 3 times between 1922 and 1941 for a total of 8 years. She received a CBE for her services to local government. She opened Brackley Girls School (now Southfields) to ensure girls had the same level of education as the boys of the town. She opened the WI and Girl Guiding hall and was the first WI president. She was a fantastic woman and her name inscribed on these stones reminds us of these characters throughout history. More recently, Caryl Billingham, now the Chair of South Northants Council, has her name engraved 5 times between 1979 and 2009 and , like Cartwright before her, has done a lot for the town and remains a key character even though she no longer sits on the Town Council.
The stones hold many more stories, a few of which, we will research during the project, but for now, they are being stored ready to be re-displayed when the Town Hall reopens in all its glory in 2018. Watch this space!