As we get ever closer to re launching the Town Hall, a few people have been asking questions about the final product again – well, it was a long time ago since the plans were unveiled!
I thought we were overdue a refresher on what that beautiful building has in store for us all!
The Ground Floor
If you were walking in to the Town Hall from the piazza, the way we always did, the entrance will feel quite different. Instead of toilets on both sides, on your right will be a beautiful new staircase with lift. The design for the balustrade is taken from a photo we have found of local lace makers creating a pattern called the paisley pear. This is just one way in which the history and stories of Brackley have been woven through the building…
On your left will be the new Town Council Office, where the ladies’ loos used to be!
As you walk on, there will be an exhibition about Brackley: a group of local people have been researching stories of the building and town and these will go on permanent display.
Ahead of you, is the archway into the Georgian Market Hall. Although the windows have been closed in, the rest of the room will look much like it did when it was first built. All of the 1960s additions (the mezzanine, the kitchen and bar) have all been demolished so that all of the original and Victorian architectural features can be seen again. All 6 of the ‘E’ pillars added by Francis Egerton in 1883 are reunited again, for the first time in 58 years!
A brand new unit or ‘piece of furniture’ is being built in the room, to house the toilets, a store room, and the kitchen and servery for the new commercial let that will be in the Hall. Beyond the unit is the new bistro. Soon, the tender process will begin as we try and find the perfect tenant for the space. It will be exciting that the Town Hall is open and accessible all year round and not just for functions!
The two southern – most windows have been turned into doors to allow access to the building from the south end of town as well as from the piazza at the north.
Work on this floor has been extensive, from digging down 5 levels of flooring and uncovering lots of exciting archaeology, to demolishing walls and uncovering fireplaces. The contractors have taken down the ceiling bit by bit, and replaced it using traditional materials and techniques, the 1960s concrete floor was removed very carefully, before a lime crete slab was laid (and then left to cure for 28 days), services have been laid in the ceiling and the floor. The stone walls have been restored, the ceiling joists strengthened and new steel joists introduced to keep the building secure (the top of the western wall had moved by some 6 inches… meaning a lot of the stones and joists were not stable at all anymore!)
The staircase and lift are also built on top of a huge lime crete base, the office window has been turned into a fire exit, the walls restored and repaired and the staircase introduced… all before we even think about colour schemes and office furniture!
The First Floor
Heading up the new staircase now, you will pass the mayor’s tablets, that list the mayors since 1887, moved from the old office. You will be greeted on the first floor with the first 4 of the stained glass panels. The competition to design new stained glass roundels for the windows in the Town Hall received over 100 entries and choosing the winning 23 was a tough job!
The front window of the building, once hidden away in the Town Council Office, is now on the landing and the best view of the piazza and town will be on view to anyone using the building. There will also be the second part of the exhibition on the first floor landing, so make sure you take a walk upstairs when you visit with a question for the council or for a cup of tea in the bistro! The office wall that once encompassed the landing window has been moved to make a wider stairway to allow space for the lift and now houses a kitchen. This kitchen will be suitable for caterers for weddings or events that will take place in the newly refurbished Civic Hall.
The Civic Hall remains much the same but a lot of work has taken place. Everything from the floor to ceiling has been restored. The oak paneling, that was once church pews at St Peter’s has been lovingly and painstakingly stripped, restored and repaired and will be an incredible focal point of the new hall. A large storage unit is being constructed in the room to house the chairs and tables.
Below are the architects’ drawings of what the final product will look like.
The room will be available for community hire for large, exciting events like weddings and parties. It will also remain a masonic lodge – Waynflete lodge have met at Brackley Town Hall since the 1920s. It will remain the home of the Town Council too, with monthly meetings taking place in the Civic Hall.
Now, instead of taking the tiny spiral staircase up to the attic (which has been carefully removed and stored), you can walk up the new, wide staircase up into the roof space. The lift won’t reach the attic as this would have meant the lift shaft wouldn’t have fitted inside the roof! At the top of the stairs, the access to the front dormer window has been introduced, with a harness rail for anyone reaching the flagpole outside, or perhaps to allow access for a certain St Nicholas at Christmas time!
Passing the plant room on your right, you will walk up a few steps into the proper attic space. A new internal wall has been added to create a doorway to a new self catering holiday let. Once you are through the door, you will see a completely transformed space. The roof has been insulated to a very high degree, to allow for heat retention and to make it a more comfortable space to stay in. The spaces between the joists are being plastered and the flooring now reaches the walls, whereas it used to just be the centre space that you could walk on.
Below is the architects’ impression of what the attic may look like once finished.
The builders’ work has been focused on the roof for the majority of the time since starting work. From completely stripping the tiles and roof down to the skeleton of timbers, to building up insulation and new fire protection. There has been the introduction of new lightening protection and a long process of sorting and salvaging roof tiles. The dormer windows have been completely restored and ventilation has been added to them.
The cupola has been restored thoroughly with all of the new wooden mouldings being made by Lloyd’s Joinery Company on the industrial estate in Brackley. The clock has been restored and refurbished by Smith of Derby and the Bells restored by Taylor’s Bell Foundry in Loughborough. We have had a brand new bell cast which now hangs at the top of our building and is the newest part of the building’s story!
No stone has been left untouched, with every single block and brick having been restored, repaired or replaced by an amazing team of stone conservators. The difference in the stone is astounding!
I hope this refresher course has been useful! Please pop in to the council office for more information!