The Civic Hall - A Brief History

Manning Stainton

Leeds Civic Hall is an unmissable, grand and imposing building found in the very heart of Leeds City Centre. It stands proud as one of the iconic buildings which define the city for not only its appearance, but what it represents in terms of Leeds’ development from the relatively humble riverside town of Leodis, into one of the most economically significant cities in the UK. 

The hall was designed in the late 1920s by Devonport born architect, Vincent Harris OBE, who was a celebrated architect credited with the design of many public buildings across the UK from the late 1800s well up until the mid-1900s. Complete with a plethora of intricate details, one of the most unusual features are the 6ft 6in tall Owls which stand atop of each of the Civics Halls two towers, overlooking Millennium Square. Although a relatively unusual feature for tourists and visitors, most Leeds residents recognise this as a reference to the Leeds coat-of-arms, where Owls have featured since as far back as 1626. 

Work on the building itself began in 1931 – it’s interesting to consider that this was at the height of the great depression and the vast majority of the people employed in its construction would have been otherwise unemployed. The building cost around £360,000, which is roughly £17,000,000 in today’s money – in contrast to the building of the Town Hall, which was built around 80 years prior, where there was substantial uproar at the lavish expense taken from tax payer’s money at a time when many Leeds residents were living in slum like conditions. This stands as a further illustration at how the City of Leeds had developed in such a short period of time. 

As well as the impressive appearance of the Civic Hall, its opening day was an enormous day of celebration. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets around the new landmark to watch King George V declare the building open, he used a golden key which up until roughly 20 years ago was a lost relic of the era. It was rediscovered on the other side of the globe, in New Zealand.

Since its opening, Millennium Square has changed beyond recognition, once there would have been fantastic gardens outside the hall. 

The Civic Hall serves a number of purposes, including housing various public offices, including the Lord Mayor’s Room, Council Chambers as well as a banqueting hall.

So next time that you’re in Millenium Square, be sure to take a moment to have a closer look at the building, and appreciate the various details as well as its significance for Leeds as a city.


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