Town Hall Newport 1937

Photo reference number: 24

(Text and Image from Newport Encyclopaedia 1937)

By Johnson Blackett, A.R.I.B.A., Deputy Borough Architect.

NEWPORT'S Municipal history is closely interwoven with the growth of its multifarious activities. From time to time it has been necessary for the City Fathers to provide suitable accommodation for the conduct of Municipal business.
It can be stated that the first real attempt to provide the Municipality with large and adequate Civic Offices took place when the Town Hall was rebuilt on its present site in the year 1885. Just as its prototype, the new Civic Centre, which is to be built at Clytha Park, was the outcome of the architectural competitive system, so the design of the present Town Hall was selected in a similar manner. At that time the Council decided to accept the design of Messrs. T. M. Lockwood and E. A. Landsdowne, Architects, and the buildings were erected by Mr. John Linton, the founder of what was once one of Newport's most prosperous firms of Building Contractors. The Town Hall was opened by the Mayor, Col. C. Lyne, J.P., on the 24th August, 1885. The cost was approximately 35,000, which, judged by to-day's prices, was extremely moderate.
The ground floor accommodation includes two Committee Rooms; Members' Retiring Room, which is situated on the left-hand side of the Main Corridor, this room being comfortably furnished with easy armchairs and provided with various periodicals and newspapers for the Members; also on this floor are contained the Police Court, Magistrates' Retiring Room, Law Library, and Ladies' Retiring Room. At right angles to the Main Corridor and leading to the Council Chamber is the Mayor's Suite; this includes the Mayor's and Mayoress's Parlours and the Mayor's Secretary's Room interposed between these apartments. The Council Chamber is a finely proportioned and dignified room with a public gallery which is entered from Austin Friars. Below this are situated the Police Headquarters and Central Police Station, entered from Dock Street. In the basement and running the whole length of the building is cell accommodation for twelve men and six women delinquents. Also on the ground floor are situated the Town Hall Keeper's apartments, near the Mayor's Suite. The present Town Hall custodian succeeded Mr. James Collins who held the position for a period of 47 years. "Jim," as he was affectionately known, had the honour of robing forty-seven Mayors.
On the first floor, which is approached from the Main Staircase, is a large Committee Room and the Town Clerk's Suite of Offices. At the back is situated the Assembly Hall complete with stage, with seating accommodation for 250. Some years ago a handsome three-manual concert organ worked by electricity, was presented to the Mayor and Corporation by Mr. Bertie Pardoe Thomas, J.P. The Assembly Hall is used frequently for Meetings, Concerts, and Lectures, etc.

The original furniture, provided when the Town Hall was erected is still in use and is in excellent condition.
Generally, the principal elevation, including the Clock Tower in Commercial Street, is in the English Renaissance style, and the Clock Tower is elegant and well proportioned.
If there should be any doubt in the minds of the Newport burgesses as to whether a new Civic Centre is required a casual walk around these premises would be sufficient to convince them of the inadequacy of the present building for the functions it is called upon to deal with.
For many years certain Departments of the Corporation were housed in the attics on either side of the Clock Tower, notably the Borough Engineer and his staff. This position became intolerable, and what is now the Town Hall Annexe, bounded by Dock Street, Corn Street and Austin Friars, was converted into offices in 1926 to provide suitable accommodation for the Borough Engineer and Borough Architect's Departments and the Borough Treasurer's, Housing and Motor Taxation Sections. A further encroachment has had to be made for the accommodation of the Town Clerk's Department.
Departments of the Corporation which will be housed in the new Civic Centre, but for which it is impossible to provide accommodation in the present one are the Borough Treasurer's Department, which is now situated in Municipal Chambers, Corn Street, the Electricity and Tramways Department, situated over a block of shops in Market Buildings, Dock Street, and the Water and Health Departments, for which it has been found necessary to provide accommodation in the new building in High Street Royal Chambers. The Director of Education is at present housed in Charles Street in a building which was formerly used as a training school for pupil teachers.