It’s been out of sight for decades but now one of the most historic rooms in Rochdale Town Hall is ready to open to the public after having a complete transformation. The Bright Hall was previously used as offices for council staff with bland walls and lighting covering its most historic features – but that has all changed thanks to the £16 million restoration work taking place in the grade I listed building.
Mezzanine flooring was previously placed halfway up the wall in the Bright Hall to make two separate spaces, but that has been removed to make the area whole again.
During the work to transform the room, a window which was built when the town hall first opened has been restored with new glass to allow visitors in the Bright Hall to look down into the Great Hall in the next room, a larger room with space for hundreds of people to attend events.
Anyone who looks up in the Bright Hall will see the huge timber roof, known as a hammer beam roof, which is a feature of medieval architecture and can also be found in buildings such as Westminster Hall. Small windows below the roof offer a view of the sky and the imposing clock tower which was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the same architect who designed Manchester Town Hall.
The importance of the room can be found in its name which was chosen in honour of John Bright, the Rochdale-born MP who became the borough’s most famous son for his work which included campaigning against slavery.
Work to restore Rochdale Town Hall has been ongoing since 2021 and is being supported through funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Councillor Neil Emmott, leader of Rochdale council, said: “This is a fabulous example of Victorian Gothic revival. During the work we’ve come across so many hidden bits and I can’t wait for it to be open. It’s one of the prime buildings in the North West.
“The completion of this stunning room [The Bright Hall], which will be a really important and well used space when the town hall reopens, is a huge milestone for this project. The experts have carefully stripped back years of damage and unsympathetic additions to reveal the hidden treasures throughout this room, which have been buried for decades. It looks truly spectacular.
“As this is an indicator of the high quality of craftsmanship which is taking place across the whole building, our residents and visitors can look forward to something very special when the building reopens next year.”
Red, green and gold has been used throughout the Bright Hall as part of the transformation, in a nod to the colour palette used in the original drawings by the town hall’s architect William Crossland. Architects working on the room sampled old paint from the time the town hall was built to make sure they were staying true to Crossland’s vision.
Angels which were covered by the former office walls have also been revealed, as well as decorative wooden sculptures, painted in gold leaf, which are known as bosses.
Artwork representing Rochdale’s history and culture was co-created by members of the community such as veterans and schools in partnership with professional artists from May Wild Studio, and has been installed along the walls in the Bright Hall. This includes etchings of the martlet, a mythical bird, without feet, which lives and dies in flight and is a representation of the tenacity of Rochdale and its people.
Caroline Storr, the council’s strategy and operations manager, said: “The great thing in this work is that it has changed the town hall into a place where everyone can see themselves represented.”
Councillor Janet Emsley, cabinet member equity, safety and reform at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “It’s particularly satisfying to see that work on the Bright Hall has now been completed, as this was previously off limits to the wider public and the restoration of this building is all about giving it back to the people of Rochdale and making it more accessible and welcoming than ever before.
“Our fantastic team are already working with a number of local groups who are interested in using this fantastic space. As with the rest of the town hall redevelopment project, our local communities have been involved in the restoration of this room and the results of their work are a credit to the borough.”
The Bright Hall served as the first public library in the Rochdale borough when the town hall opened in 1871, before the books were destroyed in the town hall fire, which took place in the 1880s.
The restoration project is being delivered by Rochdale Development Agency on behalf of Rochdale Borough Council.