Specialists have completed a full restoration of this incredible room, with hidden treasures being discovered and exposed, ready for it to be used by the public when the town hall reopens in early 2024.
In recent years, the Bright Hall had primarily been used as office space for council staff, with many of its spectacular historic features being obscured by partition walls and strip lighting.
The creation of the new Bright Hall, which will be used by community groups and for events, is part of the wider restoration of the grade I listed Rochdale Town Hall, which is being supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project is being delivered by Rochdale Development Agency on behalf of Rochdale Borough Council.
The mezzanine floor has been completely removed to reveal the double-height hammer-beam ceiling and a stunning original window has been uncovered in the room, from which people will have views directly down into the Great Hall.
Red, green and gold have been used throughout the room, as this was the colour palette used in the original drawings by the town hall’s architect, William Crossland. In addition, the architects sampled the old paint from the time the town hall was built to ensure they were staying true to Crossland’s vision. Angels which were covered by the partition walls have also been revealed, alongside decorative wooden sculptures, painted in gold leaf, which are known as bosses.
Intricate artwork, which has been co-created by members of the local community over the last 18 months, in partnership with professional artists from May Wild Studio, has also been installed along the walls. This imagery speaks to Rochdale’s heritage and culture, with illustrations representing the hills, rivers and nature of the borough, along with etchings of the martlet, a mythical bird, without feet, which lives and dies in flight. The martlet represents the tenacity of Rochdale and its people.
The newly restored room is named after the late Rochdale-born MP and social reformer, John Bright, who helped bring about the repeal of the corn laws and campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade to reduce food prices. He was friends with and a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln.
Councillor Neil Emmott, leader of the council, said:
“The completion of this stunning room, 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.”
Councillor Janet Emsley, cabinet member for equity, safety and reform, 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.”
Helen Featherstone, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:
“We’re delighted that, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the restoration of the magnificent Rochdale Town Hall has reached another pivotal milestone. It is fantastic to see the Bright Hall returned to its historic splendour and it is great news that the communities of Rochdale will now have access to this beautiful space.
“We know that heritage has a huge role to play in furthering a sense of pride in place, and our investment in the restoration of Bright Hall will not only contribute towards the strong sense of place that the community already feel for Rochdale it will also have a tremendously positive wider impact on the regeneration of the town.”
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. More recently, it was used as an office by council staff and as a base for the Rochdale Music Service.