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Penrith Town Hall

A Grade II Listed Building in Penrith, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.6667 / 54°39'59"N

Longitude: -2.7544 / 2°45'15"W

OS Eastings: 351438

OS Northings: 530437

OS Grid: NY514304

Mapcode National: GBR 9G6G.GX

Mapcode Global: WH814.NYLV

Entry Name: Penrith Town Hall

Listing Date: 25 July 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1420806

Location: Eden, Cumbria, CA11

County: Cumbria

District: Eden

Civil Parish: Penrith

Built-Up Area: Penrith

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Penrith St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle

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Town hall, 1905-6 to the design of J. J. Knewstubb, adapted from two Classical town houses of 1791. Italian Renaissance style.


Town hall, 1905-6 to the design of J. J. Knewstubb, adapted from two Classical town houses of 1791. Italian Renaissance style.

MATERIALS: Lazonby red sandstone ashlar with extensive Stanton Moor buff sandstone ashlar dressings to main elevations; Lakeland slate roof coverings and timber cupola with lead roof. Roughly coursed red sandstone to rear extensions.

PLAN: the building is oriented north-west to south-east on a corner site bounded by Strictlandgate to the south west and Portland Place to the north west. It is a rectangular building with a projecting rear range to the north east corner. Internally the building retains a bipartite plan created by its conversion from a pair of town houses.

EXTERIOR: two storeys plus partial attic and partial basement, beneath a hipped roof; chimney stacks to the south-east gable and to the rear with an ornate cupola to the left side surmounted by a decorative finial. All window openings are heavily and ornately moulded and there are prominent quoins. A sandstone band separates the ground and first floors and a stone balustrade forms a parapet to the south-west and north-west elevations.

South-west elevation: this has six bays with the town hall entrance in bay four, reached by a set of stone steps; the entrance has a richly decorated multiple Corinthian porch and frontispiece, bearing an entablature inscribed ‘Town Hall’ surmounted by a balustrade. A large round-headed opening is fitted with double eight-panelled wooden doors and a decorative glazed and wrought iron fanlight with egg and dart detailing below. To the right is a three-light mullion and transom window and right again is a cross window; to the left of the entrance is an identical three-light mullioned window. Bay two contains a bay window comprising paired round-headed windows with projecting keystones alternating with Corinthian pilasters to the front with round-headed and keyed windows and single round-headed window to the sides; the bay window carries an entablature and is surmounted by a balustrade. The left end bay has triple-light window. The elaborate treatment given to bays two and four is continued to the first floors. Bay four is framed by clustered Corinthian pilasters and has a pair of round-headed windows with projecting keystones alternating with Corinthian pilasters; the latter merge into a stone bracketed cornice. Above the stone balustrade rises a full dormer, heavily moulded with Corinthian pilasters and a pair of arch-headed and moulded windows; above is a broken pediment flanked by decorative stone urns above a frieze. Heavily moulded round-headed three-light and two-light windows occupy the bays to the right and a similar three-light window lies to the left. The first floor of bay two is similarly treated to bay four and also has a full roof dormer in the form of a stone panel with a pediment, consoles and Corinthian pilasters marking the council chamber; a facsimile of the town seal consisting of a St Andrew's Cross and the inscription ‘Sigillum Commune Ville de Penreth’ (The Common Seal of the Town of Penrith). is carried on the pediment. The left end bay has a three-light round-headed window to the first floor.

Left return: forming the Free Library, this has thee bays with quoins; the central bay has paired round-headed and keyed openings alternating with marble ionic engaged columns, carrying an entablature inscribed with ‘Public Library’ and floral motifs. The openings are fitted with double wooden and glazed doors with glazed fanlights. The elaboration to the entrance bay continues to the first floor with Corinthian pilasters framing a pair of Venetian windows with marble ionic columns and a stepped parapet above with a scrolled motif decorative finial. To either side there are two full height segmental arched windows to the ground floor and two round-arched and keyed full height windows to the first floor.

Right return: left part is rendered with scattered fenestration comprising five two-pane sash windows and two round-arched openings; the latter are fitted with stained glass. The right part forming the early to mid-C19 rear extension to the town house is of red sandstone with a pitched roof and an axial ridge stack and five plain window openings to each floor; these are fitted with a variety of sliding sash windows including five eight-over-eight to the ground floor.

Rear elevation: the visible first floor of the rear elevation has a three light stair window with stained glass, a cross window to the left and two-light window to the right. The ground floor of the rear elevation is obscured by a C20 flat-roofed single storey extension with C20 fenestration and doors. To the right is the rear of the two-storey early C20 library extension with a hipped roof of roughly coursed red sandstone with three windows to each floor with plain ashlar surrounds and six-over-six sash windows. To the left is a slightly lower two-storey early to mid C19 extension with three blocked openings in ashlar surrounds and one entrance fitted with a C20 boarded door.

INTERIOR: The conversion of the pair of town houses to create the town hall retained the party wall between the two houses, and the interior plan is therefore in two parts linked by new openings through the party wall.

Right half: the porch with a cornice, black and white tiled floor and a wooden and glazed screen with stained glass to its upper parts opens into a reception hall. This has ornate plaster work to the ceiling and walls including cornices, ceiling roses and Corinthian pilasters; paired marble columns at the end of each side wall are set upon stone bases and have plaster Corinthian capitals. A later C18 fireplace is retained to the left wall which formed the party wall with the attached house. To the right, a wall has been removed to create an open-plan space with elaborate cornice and modified chimney breast. The main imperial staircase lies to the rear with early C20 ornate metal balusters; it is considered that the pair of cantilevered upper flights with shaped tread-ends were salvaged from the original C18 town house and remodelled to form the new stair, though with new cast-iron balustrades and a decorative grille beneath. The stair is lit by triple windows with stained glass, the centre example incorporating the town seal. Rooms to the right of the stair at ground and first floor level retain moulded architraves, six-panel doors, cornices and two further late C18 fireplaces. The early to mid-C19 rear range now forms office accommodation with a spinal corridor and has few features with the exception of a wooden back stair remaining from its town house phase and a number of four-panel doors.

Left half: the first floor comprises the council suite, the centrepiece of which is the council chamber; this is entered from a first floor hall which is similarly detailed to the ground floor hall with plaster work and marble columns. The entrance to the chamber is ornate and fitted with heavy, double panelled doors. The chamber is elaborately adorned with applied plaster Ionic pilasters to all four walls: on the north-east and south-west sides, paired floral, plaster bands decorated with paired floral bosses rise from the cornice above the pilasters to cross the coved ceiling. On the south west and north west walls these pilasters are alternated with groups of windows all with heavily moulded surrounds, and on the south-east wall they frame the main entrance and a round-headed alcove; between the latter a C18 fireplace from the former town house is retained. On the north east wall, the pilasters frame a central round-headed alcove with a pedimented Corinthian aedicule with two pairs of fluted columns, possibly original to the later C18 buildings but re-sited. This feature is flanked by large wooden, pedimented door cases with double eight-panelled doors. That to the left leads into a second room with plaster cornice and ceiling features, and a later C18 fireplace. Other rooms to the rear also retain later C18 fireplaces. An inserted staircase leads down to the ground floor formerly the Free Library; while individual rooms have been knocked through to provide larger spaces, plaster cornices indicate the original configuration of rooms and the original cambered openings with upper leaded lights remain. No fireplaces were seen in these areas but may survive behind furnishings.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: low stone walls (railings removed) front the south-west and north-west sides of the building with simple gate piers and piers.


In 1792 a pair of identical semi-detached town houses occupied the site of the present Penrith Town Hall. The houses were designed by Isaac Parker and William Wilson in Classical style; each house had two storeys and three bays and a central entrance with a round headed stair window above flanked by Venetian windows to both floors. It is known that a Dr Livingstone occupied the left hand house and John Wordsworth, cousin of the poet William Wordsworth, occupied the right hand house until his death in 1819; the pair of houses became known jointly as Wordsworth Buildings. The houses are depicted on the First Edition 1:10560 OS map published in 1867 at which time the right hand house already had its projecting rear range (extant today) and a rectangular outbuilding to the rear interpreted as a coach house. The left hand house also has an L-shaped projecting rear range, later demolished.
In 1904 Penrith Urban District Council purchased the pair of houses with the intention of converting them into a new town hall and Free Library to designs of J. J. Knewstubb, Surveyor and Engineer to the Council. Work on the conversion began early in 1905 but was temporarily halted amid controversy that became of national interest when it was claimed that the houses were in a good Classical style probably from the designs of Robert Adam (the latter now known to be untrue) and it would be desecration to alter the front in any way. With the support of Canon Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, it was agreed to retain the staircase and original doors and windows. Work resumed in March 1905, and although existing doors and windows were apparently not retained, many interior features were. At about the same time support for the Free Library element of the building came from Andrew Carnegie who donated £1200 towards its cost to ‘provide library accommodation of a superior character’. The new town hall building was constructed at a cost of £7000. The third edition 1925 1:2500 OS map depicts the new town hall and illustrates that although the rear range of the former right hand house had been incorporated into the town hall, the rear range of the former left hand house had been demolished and replaced with a new extension to accommodate partly the new library. By the time of the 1968 1:2500 OS map a single-storey, flat-roofed rear extension had been constructed to infill the space between the two rear extensions.

Reasons for Listing

Penrith Town Hall, 1905-6 by municipal surveyor J J Knewstub, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a handsome Edwardian civic building, with considerable street presence due to its external detailing, use of local contrasting pink and buff sandstone and the quality of craftsmanship;
* Decorative treatment: for the character and quality of the interior decoration, notably the bold plaster enrichment of the council chamber and reception hall, the Imperial staircase and the number of later C18 chimney pieces retained from the previous buildings;
* Planning: its evolution from a pair of C18 town houses has resulted in an unusual but coherent bipartite plan with reception hall and council offices in one half and the council suite and library in the other half;
* Historic interest: the intervention of Canon Rawnsley, a significant national figure and early conservationist, ensured that elements of the later-C18 were retained including a large number of chimney pieces, the upper flights of both original stairs and a quality plaster piece in the council chamber.

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