Sunday, May 08, 2005

Fine civic buildings

We went to someone's 40th last night in Rochdale Town Hall. The event was appropriate in its setting, as it was to be a night of 19th Century amusements, namely reels, jigs and stripping the willow.

The Town hall is magnificent, was completed in 1871 and is in a gothic revival style. The ceremonial entrance is light, spacious and brightly lit, with a delightful vaulted ceiling. An imposing staircase leads up and then splits back on itself to deposit visitors into the imposing Great Hall.

And what a hall! probably 100' long and 60' wide, it is dominated by huge hammer beam roof trusses holding up a steeply pitched roof, supported by feral creatures and topped with larger than life size carved wooden angels. It is a riot of stained glass, with two rosary windows opposite each other in the gable ends and Kings and Queens of england featured in the lower arched window panels. Opposite the stage, a huge mural of the signing of the Magna Carta can be admired. The stage itself is backed by a pipe Organ and there are padded carved wood benches all around the three other walls. The benches are divided into bays with elaborate wood carving, which the clueless were using to hang coats on!

Despite the elegant setting, I personally found it a bit bleak. The hall is curiously lit, with pendant lanterns in a byzantine style, fitted with rather unflattering discharge lamps (with a range of tints) that make it look gloomy even though it isn't. There is a lot of indirect uplighting to pick out the ceiling detail (not all of it working) and the hall looked much more elegant once most of the pendants had been doused post-food, pre-dancing.

Despite the stunning setting, the building is looked after in a way that Civic authorities excel at, what a friend of mine calls the "Coffee Stain" presentation style.

The trip to the toilets (in the basement) is marred slightly by the items found en-route: Bits of portable bar, old seating plans, flip charts, wheelchairs & general tat obscuring the beautiful tiled floors. They are either very short of storage space or they just don't care to have all of their dirty washing on view.

In the toilets themselves, splendid wooden cublicles with leaded panels, but toilet rolls just standing on the cisterns because the holders don't have middles, some fittings unsympathetic, 134 years of unfilled screw holes on the woodwork, encouragement to always use the sanitiser to clean the toilet seat but then all of the units being empty...

Back up to the foyer, have they really just plonked a photocopier in plain view opposite the reception desk without any forethought, when it possibly could have gone in a corridor somewhere?

It was also interesting to see a framed UN universal declaration of human rights in the foyer, just a pity that the celebration of the Magna Carta upstairs is now so diluted by authorative police and government powers as to be beyond a joke in Blair's Britain...

I nipped out to go to a cash machine and on the way back noticed the official Election count results for Rochdale, a very close gain by the Lib Dems over the Labour party. That must have been an electric moment in the Great Hall two nights previously!

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