Rochdale Town Hall

Over the weekend we visited friends who live up in the hills, near Rochdale, and we took a detour to admire Rochdale Town Hall. I must admit that we have driven and walked past the Town Hall many, many times, and whilst we have admired the building, I didn't appreciate its historical and cultural significance, until I read C J Carey's Widowland. 

Widowland is a dystopian feminist novel set in an alternative 1950s UK. In the alternative history of this period, the UK and Nazi Germany have entered into an uneasy, but successful, alliance. The novel is entirely convincing and deeply chilling. I couldn't put it down and have now moved onto the second book in the series: Queen High. C J Carey, the pseudonym of Jane Thynne, is amazing storyteller and her attention to historical detail is excellent. One of the details that really struck me, and hence the detour to Rochdale, was Carey's description of the removal of Rochdale Town Hall to Berlin! I thought this was pure fiction, until I did a bit of research and found that the building did indeed come to the attention of Adolf Hitler, who was said to have admired it so much that he wished to ship the building, brick-by-brick, to Nazi Germany had the United Kingdom been defeated in the Second World War.

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the building as possessing a "rare picturesque beauty". Its stained-glass windows are credited as "the finest modern examples of their kind". In Pevsner's words "Rochdale Town Hall has a splendidly craggy exterior of blackened stone". The building has a roughly symmetrical E-shaped plan, and is broken down into three self-contained segments: a central Great Hall and transverse wings at each end. The south-east wing used to house the magistrates' courts, and the north-west wing the mayor's rooms. In the north-east is a tower. Access to the main entrance is through a central porte cochere.The fa├žade extends across 14 bays, of which the Great Hall accounts for seven. On both sides, the outermost bays rise to three storeys. They flank asymmetric round-headed arcades—two to the left and three to the right, all of single-storey height—which sit below plain mullioned windows, balconies and ornately decorated gables.

 A stunning building, which I have now seen through new eyes, with a fascinating history.