Leeds Civic Hall has stood proud in the city centre for many decades. It was constructed between 1930 and 33, remaining as significant today as it did back then.
Emanuel Vincent Harris was tasked with designing the hall after winning a competition for the honour. Born in Devonport, Harris is also renowned for his work on several other key projects throughout the UK, including Nottingham County Hall at West Bridgford and Braintree Town Hall.
Harris decided that 90 per cent of the workers who would build the structure would be on the unemployment register. This brought some much needed jobs to the city at the time and ensured the project stayed on track.
One of the most fascinating features of Leeds Civic Hall is its triangular shape. Builders also faced the added challenge of constructing the hall on a sloping site, which the designer successfully used to his advantage by maximising both light and air.
Leeds Civic Hall is renowned for its four golden owl sculptures, which are found at the front and rear of the structure. Two gilded owls measuring at 2.5 metres tall were installed at the site when the building was first constructed back in 1933.
With these hefty sculptures to support, it is not surprising that the roof at Leeds Civic Hall is so important. The roof is made from slate, and regular assessments are carried out to ensure it remains structurally sound, as well as in- keeping with the rest of the building.
These existing owls were joined by four more in 2000, this time standing 1.2 metres tall. They were designed by Leeds architect John Thorp, with each bronze casted owl standing on its own Portland stone obelisk around the hall.
The opening of Leeds Civic Hall was considered one of the grandest events the city has ever seen. King George V was on hand to officially declare the building open on August 23 1933, with Queen Mary by his side. At the time, a statue of Queen Victoria could be found outside the hall, but it has since been relocated to Woodhouse Moor.
King George V opened the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Civic Hall using a special golden key. Interestingly, this key went missing shortly afterwards for more than 60 years, before being returned to the city from New Zealand. The key had been found by a couple among their late father’s belongings, who had been an executor to a former lord mayor. It is now displayed in the reception hall.
In the present day, Leeds Civic Hall is home to council offices, a council chamber and committee rooms. It has been given Grade II listed status, protecting the building from any extensive changes that might detract from its historical significance.
Located in what is now known as Millennium Square, the building is as imposing and impressive as ever, offering a focal point for the city of Leeds. The surroundings may have changed, but Leeds Civic Hall is one structure that has truly withstood the test of time.