Philosophical Hall, Ramsden Street, Huddersfield

The Philosophical Hall on Ramsden Street was used as a public hall and theatre between 1837 and 1866, before being converted into the Theatre Royal which opened in October 1866.

History

According to local historian Stanley Chadwick, Huddersfield had lacked a dedicated meeting hall in the early decades of the 1800s:[1]

It was finally left to the Huddersfield Philosophical Society to undertake the building of a public hall, and the first stone of the "Philosophical Hall" was laid by the president on May 14, 1836. The site selected was adjacent to the new Congregational Chapel in Ramsden Street, or "Back Green" as it was then called. The building was delayed a short time in consequence of the contractor's refusal to complete it at the rate of the original contract. The cost of its erection was raised in shares of ten guineas each, the Philosophical Society itself taking fifty shares.

The Huddersfield Philosophical Hall was opened under the patronage of Princess Victoria, the heir presumptive to the throne, on May 24, 1837, the day on which she reached her legal majority, being then eighteen years old. Nearly 300 persons were present at the dinner held in honour of the Princess. The following day the hall was transformed into a conservatory by the numerous exhibits of the Horticultural Society.

Built in the Grecian style of architecture, the building was 130 feet long by sixty-three feet wide, and comprised a large assembly room which together with the gallery and boxes provided seating accommodation for about 1,280 persons. There was both a news room and reading room, while the library of the Philosophical Society contained upwards of 3,000 volumes.

The front portion of the building was first used as an auction saleroom and art gallery, and, from 1859 until the incorporation of the borough, by the Huddersfield Improvement Commissioners as offices and board room. The inauguration of the Huddersfield Borough Council took place in this room on September 7, 1868, together with the election of Charles H. Jones as first Mayor. Subsequently this part of the Philosophical Hall became the Town Hall, and the meeting place of the Council until the erection of the present Municipal Offices in 1878.

By the early 1850s, the hall was in need of improvements — in particular, it suffered from poor ventilation and damp during the winter months — and an anonymous writer to the Huddersfield Chronicle declared it to be a "disgrace to the town".[2] The building changed ownership in the mid-1850s and architect William Cocking was tasked with modernising the building. The works, which were described in detail by the Huddersfield Examiner, cost around £200 and were completed by October 1856:[3]

The external improvements have been the addition of a new south-west entrance door, and commodious lobby leading to the saloon. This, at pleasure, cuts off the gallery entrance from that of the stalls, and reserved seats, and thus remedies the inconveniences which formerly resulted from there being no side entrance, the persons going to the gallery and body of the Hall, having to enter by the same door. In the interior of the hall, under the gallery, there has been constructed a raised dais, which greatly facilitates the seeing and hearing the proceedings on the platform, by the parties placed beneath the gallery. Considerable additions have been made to the lighting and ventilation of the hall, with beneficial results. At the end of the room, over the gallery, a new sunlight has been placed, the centre light of eighty-one gas jets has been lowered eighteen inches, and the sunlight over the platform has also been altered. The moulded work round the centre light has been taken away and replaced by a bold and effective centre piece. The style of decoration is the chromatic, while the panels on the ceiling and walls, together with the niches are geometrical designs, and in the panels are copies of statuary (intended to he emblematic) from artists of the present age. The colouring generally is intended to resemble the style used in the Crystal Palace, introduced by Mr. Owen Jones, and though the affect falls far below the chaste, tasteful, light, and airy appearance of the House of Glass, this must be, in a great measure placed to the difference of the structure which had to be decorated. There are three crosses on the ceiling, the three sunlights being each in the centre of a cross. The middle crow it a Maltese one, the ground being bordered with white, red, blue, and yellow stripes, while the end crosses are St. Andrew’s bordered in the same manner, the whole bring enclosed in a large quadrangular panel. The ceiling is grey, bordered with a light red line, then a broad white band, edged again by a wide line of blue, enlivened by narrow stripes of yellow and vermilion. The walls are dove colour, and are divided in panels of various sizes, coloured to correspond with the ceiling. On the left side of the hall, looking towards the platform, are three large panels, the one nearest the gallery contains an emblematic representation of Fidelity. The subject it taken from the 17th book of the Odyssey, where a description is given of the return of Ulysses from the Trojan war after twenty years' absence, and his being recognised by his dog Argus which died from being overjoyed at the return of its master. The sculptor of the group from which this is taken is Mr. McDonald. Mr. Geef's (of Antwerp) statue is the subject in the next panel. It is Innocence emblematically represented by a female figure, upon whose shoulder it perched a dove, nipping out of a goblet, which the figure holds in its right hand. The third panel it empty. On the right side of the hall are also three large panels to correspond with the left side. In the first is a representation of the ancient British prince Caractus being unbound by a Roman soldier, by command of the Emperor Claudius, who was struck by the manly bearing of the captive, after he had been led in chains through Rome. This is intended to be emblematic of Freedom. Mr. Constantine Panorms, F.R.S., Dublin, is the sculptor of the group from which this is painted. Hebe, the cupbearer for Jupiter (according to the Grecian mythology) is represented in the next panel, in the act of holding a cup into which he is about to pour the water of life. This is designed as an emblem of Health. The sculptor, from whose statue this is taken is Canova. The third panel on this side is also empty. On each side of the hall are three small square panels, with designs of ornamental work in red and blue in each corner, and three niches, empty, but bordered with red, white, blue, and yellow stripes. The wainscoting round the hall is a deep chocolate colour relieved by a band of blue and red. At the front of the hall under the gallery, is a large panel coloured and bordered to agree with the rest. The ceiling under the gallery corresponds in general appearance with the ceiling of the hall. The front of the gallery, which now appears to stand upon marble pillars, Is painted in panels of cream colour, bordered with red and blue, and the upper edge of the front has red and yellow stripes for borders, while the lower edge has stripes of vermilion and blue. The orchestra railings are painted red, white, blue, and yellow, and have a very pleasing appearance, the seats are painted to match the rest of the place. At the back of the orchestra on the wall, are five panels, two of them forming doors leading to ante-rooms. The centre panel, which is arched, encloses a colossal group of Britannia armed, with her left arm resting on an antique rudder, and holding in her hand an olive branch. She is surrounded by the usual emblems, the lion, the trident and shield, while on the lower part of the pedestal, are allegorical figures representing Science and Commerce. The panels on each side of this group are arched, and the right one (the left to the gazer) encloses a painting of Mr. Theed's statue of Sappho, the ancient Grecian poetess and songstress, which is intended to emblematise the Genius of music. The left panel contains a representation of Mr. R. Shadow's statue of Filatrice, one of the Fats, spinning the thread of life, which by a stretch of the imagination may be regarded as emblematic of manufactures. at each corner of the platform, is a large bronze candelebrum, eight feet high, with six lights branching out from the centre. The candelabra are of classic design, standing upon tripod feet, resting upon pedestals. These, though tending to intercept, in some measure, the view at the sides of the orchestra, add materially to the effect of the whole, by casting a brilliant light upon the platform and orchestra, and preventing the pendant lights from causing shadows on the ceiling. The platform is in colour the same as the wainscoting, but has a light blue stripe at the top, then a border of Grecian fretwork, and near the floor, the depth of colour is again relieved by lines of red and blue. All the seats in the hall have been coloured to suit the general effect of the decoration, and the changes which have been made are certainly for the better, and though not of the most chaste kind, (for the whole has rather gaudy effect) will cause the hall to be more used and better like than it has been hitherto.

Huddersfield Chronicle (23/Jan/1864)

Following the conversion of the Riding School on Ramsden Street into a drill hall and armoury, the town lacked a theatre. This led to Abraham Mitton, of the Theatre Royal in Halifax, acquiring the lease of the hall and converting it into a theatre in early 1864.

The building was sold at auction on 23 January 1866 and purchased by actor and theatre proprietor Morton Price for £3,000.[4] Price then announced his intention to renovate the hall and it was re-opened as the "Huddersfield Theatre Royal" on Monday 29 October 1866.[5]

Extracts

A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848) edited by Samuel Lewis:

A scientific and mechanics' institute was formed in 1825, but not being well supported by the operative classes, it was discontinued after a few years, and a new institution, under the appellation of the Philosophical Society, was substituted, for which the present Philosophical Hall, a handsome building in the Grecian style, was erected in 1837, at an expense of £3150 ; it is 117 feet in length, and 60 feet in depth, and contains a valuable library, a museum, and a laboratory.

Further Reading

Location

Notes and References

  1. Theatre Royal: The Romance of the Huddersfield Stage (1941) by Stanley Chadwick.
  2. "State of the Philosophical Hall" in Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Dec/1851).
  3. "Huddersfield Musical Festival in Honour of Mrs. Sunderland" in Huddersfield & Holmfirth Examiner (11/Oct/1856).
  4. "Sale of the Philosophical Hall" in Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Jan/1866).
  5. See public notices on page 5 of Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Oct/1866) and also "Theatre Royal" in Huddersfield Chronicle (03/Nov/1866).