- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Dale Street, Liverpool, L1 6DQ
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- Statutory Address:
- Dale Street, Liverpool, L1 6DQ
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Liverpool (Metropolitan Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Former council office building, 1862-68, designed by John Weightman, with the design modified and completed by ER Robson. Mannerist style with a Northern Renaissance tower.
Reasons for Designation
Municipal Buildings, constructed in 1862-68 and originally designed by John Weightman, but with the design modified and completed by ER Robson, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Its vast scale and high-quality eclectic design with Gothic, classical and French influences has produced a building with a commanding street presence, suitably reflecting the importance of the port city;
* Its principal elevations are elaborately detailed, incorporating giant engaged columns and pilasters, statues of allegorical figures, French-style corner pavilions and a landmark clock tower with Renaissance detailing that is visible from many places within the city centre;
* The high-quality interior retains a wealth of features reflecting the wealth and status of Liverpool Corporation, including decorative vaulted and coffered ceilings, friezes and marble fireplaces depicting reliefs of Liver birds and Queen Victoria, glazed-tile dados resembling polished parquetry, strong rooms, a former muniments room with metal window shutters, and a striking basilica-like main hall (originally the Treasurer's Public Office);
* The building is little altered overall and its internal arrangements remain clearly readable.
* It is an excellent example of a mid-C19 corporation offices consolidating and integrating council departments under one roof;
* Its design involves the contributions of two notable architects and corporation surveyors who both have numerous listed buildings to their name.
Municipal Buildings (originally known as Municipal Offices) was initially designed in 1862 by the Corporation Surveyor, John Weightman. Following Weightman's retirement the design was modified and completed by his successor ER Robson and the building opened in early 1868, although the spire was still being completed at that time. The intention was to unite the Corporation's offices, which had previously been scattered around the city, in one single building. The cost of the building without land or furniture was £100,000. The project had taken a number of years to complete due to the inability to obtain the particular stone required.
The brickwork was carried out by Messrs Holme & Nicol, the stonework by Messrs Parker & Son, the carpentry and joinery by Messrs Haigh & Co, and the heating and ventilation system supplied by Messrs H Price & Co. The bells in the tower were provided by Messrs John Warner & Sons, and the clock by Messrs Penlington & Hutton of Liverpool.
The north-eastern half of the building was originally occupied by the departments of the Borough Engineer, the Treasurer, and the Medical Officer of Health, whilst the south-western half of the building was originally occupied by the departments of the Town Clerk, Deputy Town Clerk and the Water Engineer, along with five committee rooms on the ground floor and a second-floor muniment room. The offices of the Borough Architect and Surveyor occupied the first floor of the entire north-west wing facing Dale Street.
The building remained in council use until March 2017 when the majority of the employees were moved out to different offices. At the time of writing, a One Stop Shop remains in the large former tax office on the ground floor, but the rest of the building is largely empty.
Former council office building, 1862-68, designed by John Weightman, with the design modified and completed by ER Robson. Mainly three-storeys plus basement and corner attic pavilions. Mannerist style with a Northern Renaissance tower.
MATERIALS: sandstone with a granite plinth, slate and lead roofs, substantial sandstone chimneystacks.
PLAN: Municipal Buildings is an extremely large building that occupies the entire block between Sir Thomas Street and Crosshall Street, with its principal elevation facing north-west onto Dale Street. It has a quadrangular plan with a north-east wing facing Crosshall Street, north-west wing facing Dale Street, south-west wing facing Sir Thomas Street, and a south-east wing facing a rear yard area and a development site that is currently being turned into a multi-storey car park. Lower top-lit sections of the building occupy the central area of the quadrangle.
EXTERIOR: externally the building has an eclectic design with Gothic, classical and French influences and is constructed of sandstone with a rock-faced granite plinth. The building's quadrangular plan incorporates projecting three-bay pavilions to each of the four corners and a clock tower to the centre of the Dale Street elevation. The two pavilions to the rear of the building are smaller than those to the front facing Dale Street and are rectangular in plan. The land slopes downwards from the north-west to the south-east, thus the basement level appears as a ground floor on the side and rear elevations, albeit hidden by balustrading on the two side elevations. The building's windows decrease in height from the ground floor upwards, with casements to the basement, ground and first floors, and plate-glass sashes to the second floor on the north-west, north-east and south-west elevations; those to the first and second floors have carved surrounds incorporating raised heads with floral reliefs. Substantial stone chimneystacks survive, some with moulded caps.
FRONT ELEVATION: the principal north-west front elevation is of a long 15-bays with the bays separated by giant engaged columns and pilasters reaching up to second-floor height with Corinthian capitals carved by Earp of London. Although the capitals are Corinthian in style they depict English ferns rather than acanthus leaves and each one is different (a Gothic rather than classical feature). A guilloche band exists above the ground-floor windows, and a richly carved entablature above the columns has floral reliefs, egg and dart moulding and carved modillions. The second-floor windows are flanked by pilasters and statues of allegorical figures surmounting the entablature below that represent Industry, Commerce, Navigation, and different branches of art and science. A further entablature to the top of the elevation has a plain fascia with a moulded band to the top, a frieze with carved floriated roundels, and a dentil band, egg and dart moulding, and small lion's head reliefs to the parapet. Both entablatures continue around and across the north-east and south-west elevations.
The three-bay pavilions at each end of the elevation have curved French-style roofs, balustraded parapets surmounted by urns, small dormer windows, and iron cresting enclosing roof lanterns that cannot be observed from ground level. The bays project forward, as does a wide centre bay that incorporates the main entrance, which consists of a tall doorway with a pendant lantern, polished pink-granite surround and panelled double doors with modern glazed inner doors behind, flanked by giant columns and pilasters in the style of the rest of the elevation that support a projecting entablature, with the whole forming a shallow porch. Set behind the columns and flanking the entrance doorway are slender sash windows and above the entrance are two-light round-arched windows with a Corinthian colonette acting as a dividing mullion, flanked by slender single round-arched windows. Below the central first-floor window is a carved hood supported by three sculptural brackets depicting two eagles flanking a Liver bird and below are carved panels depicting foliage and shell reliefs.
Above the entrance the bay rises to form a clock tower, which is approximately 200ft high and was designed in 1867 by Robson, replacing an earlier design of 1862 produced by Weightman. The tower's lower stage has elaborate Renaissance detail to each side with pilasters and tall two-light openings with louvres, balustraded balconies and lunettes above. The second floor stage is balustraded with crocketed obelisk finials and has a large clock face to each side set within surrounds with segmental pediments. An entablature above is surmounted by winged lions at each corner of the tower that project outwards in the style of gargoyles. The tower is topped by a crocketed pyramidal spire with an ornamental balcony incorporating decorative cast-iron railings and a cast-iron finial in the style of a corona.
SIDE ELEVATIONS: the north-east and south-west side elevations are also of 15-bays and both have projecting pavilions at each end and light wells in front of the basement of the recessed central section that are enclosed by stone balustrading incorporating square piers surmounted by cast-iron lamp standards with dragon sculptures to the bases. Similarly styled balustrading and identical lamp standards also exist in front of the bays flanking the main entrance on the north-west elevation. The recessed centre bays to the south-west elevation facing Sir Thomas Street are divided by giant pilasters in the same style as those to the front elevation and corner pavilions, but the same bays to the north-east elevation facing Crosshall Street only have two pilasters. Both elevations incorporate two secondary entrances, all with polished pink-granite surrounds, partly-glazed panelled double-doors, and modern roller shutters* (the roller shutters are not of special interest); one of the entrances on Crosshall Street has paired doorways separated by an engaged hybrid-Doric column with an echinus incorporating egg and dart moulding instead of the usual plain moulding.
REAR ELEVATION: the south-east rear elevation is in mellow red brick apart from the sandstone corner pavilions, which have single windows to the first and second floors on this side. The elevation's windows are plainer with flat-arched heads and sandstone sills, and consist of two-over-two, two-over-four and four-over-four sashes to each floor. Projecting out from the centre of the elevation at basement and ground-floor levels is a shallow late-C19/early-C20 two-storey extension in engineering brick. Attached to the elevation to the right is a later full-height metal extractor flue.
QUADRANGLE ELEVATIONS: the quadrangle elevations are also in mellow red brick with windows with flat-arched heads and round heads, and stair towers top-lit by roof lanterns set to three inner corners; the stair to the east corner is lit by a mono-pitch section of glazing. The central section of the quadrangle is filled by a two-storey main hall (former Treasurer's Public Office) with a continuous pitched glazed roof and lower flanking side aisles with roof lanterns over glazed domes. Originally the north-western end of the hall had a narrower roof lantern and four pyramidal roof lanterns, but this was later altered to the present arrangement, probably in the late C19/early C20 when the hall was extended to the rear and internal alterations made. Three single-storey former committee rooms on the south-west side have large roof lanterns; those over the two outer rooms have possibly been enlarged.
INTERIOR: internally the building's design and layout is tailored for corporation use with suites of rooms that would have originally been occupied by various departments. The principal offices were located on the ground floor with the clerks for the various departments located on the upper floors; thus the ground and first floors have a higher level of decoration. The ground floor is raised and due to the sloping site the four secondary side entrances lead to short stone stairs and cast-iron balustrading leading up to the ground floor; that to the north corner contains the widest stairs, whilst that to the south corner entrance has stone rather than cast-iron balustrading. The stair to the west corner entrance has a stone tablet dating to 1873 affixed to one wall commemorating the life of Sir Thomas Johnson, a former Mayor of Liverpool, who erected buildings previously on the site of Municipal Buildings.
LAYOUT & ACCESS: the internal layout consists of a wide central corridor running around the building with rooms off to each side on the basement and ground floors (the corridor is interrupted by the main central hall on the south-east side of the ground floor), and rooms off mainly to the outside on the two upper floors due to the central part of the quadrangle being occupied by the lower main hall and former committee rooms. The corridors on the ground and first floors have sandstone floors laid in a diamond pattern, with other floorings and modern carpet coverings elsewhere on each upper floor. The walls of the corridors on the ground and first floors are also lined with a glazed-tile dado in various shades of brown that resembles polished parquetry and has a border incorporating Greek key-style decoration; the dado is replicated to the secondary entrance stairs and four main stairwells. Modern service pipes* that are not of special interest run along some of the walls of the second-floor corridors.
Four stairwells exist to the inner corners of the building. Three are top-lit by roof lanterns with friezes incorporating medallion reliefs of Liver birds and carved brackets depicting the head of Queen Victoria, whilst the fourth to the east corner is plainer and top-lit by a monopitch section of glazing. The stairwells contain open-well sandstone stairs with decorative cast-iron balusters, mahogany handrails, and glazed-tile dados; that to the north corner of the building is the largest with a late-C20/early-C21 glazed lift shaft* that is not of special interest inserted into the open well, whilst the stairwell to the west corner has an Edwardian lift with a balustraded platform and a timber and metal car containing an operator's seat. The east stairwell contains a sweeping stair and does not have a glazed-tile dado. Adjacent to the stairwells are toilets* (the modern sanitary ware and fittings are not of special interest), which have been modernised, although original entrance doors survive. Each stair has large arched and lunette openings on each landing (some with cast iron and stone balustrading), but some have been blocked up and some have later doorways* inserted that are not of special interest. A mid-late C20 goods lift* that is not of special interest lies off to the south-west side of the north-east wing.
Throughout the interior all of the spaces on the ground, first and second floors have very high ceilings, deep skirtings, plain moulded cornicing and some simple moulded cornicing, panelled doors (some partly glazed) with original brass door furniture, and door architraves with raised heads containing patterned ventilators. Some later doorways* have been inserted, walls knocked through and later partitioning inserted* that are not of special interest. The corridors mainly have groined and ribbed tunnel/barrel-vaulted ceilings to the ground and first floor, and flat ceilings to the second floor, whilst the rooms to each floor have a mixture of flat, coffered, and jack-arched ceilings. A small number of suspended ceilings* have been inserted, which are not of special interest. Fireplaces with marble surrounds survive to many rooms, some of which have been painted and many of which have cast-iron inserts with laurel wreath roundels depicting the heads of Queen Victoria, her eldest son Albert Edward (later Edward VII) and his wife Alexandra of Denmark. Some glazed and panelled screens also survive. Numerous strong rooms can be found throughout the building, particularly to the ground floor. Most have barrel-vaulted ceilings and some retain shelving and ladders, and some original doors, whilst others have been converted into kitchenettes* (he kitchenette units are not of special interest). On the second floor corridor is an original concealed Jacob's ladder providing access to the roofspace above (now via a replaced hatch).
The majority of the rooms on each floor are similarly styled, but two rooms on the north-west side and south-east side of the ground floor have marquetry-panel dados and marble fireplaces with roundels depicting a Liver bird in relief; the room to the south-east side (originally two rooms) also has an elaborate ceiling. A large room to the north corner of the ground floor (former Borough Treasurer's public office) has cast-iron columns, a vaulted and coffered ceiling, and later partitioning, whilst a room to the north corner of the first floor has a later mezzanine with an altered front supported by slender octagonal columns with carved detail.
On the first floor of the north-west wing towards the western end is a large room with late-C20/early-C21 partitioning* (the partitioning is not of special interest) inserted to create an entrance lobby area. The room has a dividing wall incorporating a large wide arched opening and a mezzanine level* with an access stair. A plan of 1868 confirms that this is an original arrangement and the dividing wall hasn't been knocked through later. The mezzanine*, which has been heavily altered and now houses late C20/early C21 meeting rooms is not of special interest.
On the first floor of the south-west wing a former muniments room has metal shutters to the lower parts of the windows and a bell and string pull at the entrance door for attracting attention. A late-C20 mezzanine level*, which is not of special interest, has been inserted into the room. One of the rooms on the first floor of the south-east wing contains a later stair flight up to a mezzanine-level strong room; the top of the stair leading to a room above has been blocked up.
MAIN ENTRANCE & HALL: the main entrance off Dale Street has a coffered ceiling and late-C20/early-C21 partitioning* (the partitioning is not of special interest) has been inserted to create a reception area and meeting rooms. The north-east wall has been knocked through to incorporate a neighbouring room and create a disabled access route. The entrance leads through to an entrance hall in the main corridor, which has paired wall pilasters with a marble paint effect and three oval-shaped lobbies on the south-east side with large oval skylights with plaster moulding; those to either side access toilets, whilst that to the centre leads through to a very large double-height top-lit hall with lower flanking side aisles, which is located to the centre of the building and was originally the Treasurer's Public Office (tax office). The space, which was altered and extended in the late C19/early C20 to incorporate rooms at the north-western end, is approximately 40ft by 60 ft with a basilica-type form incorporating a tall central space with lower side aisles. Four tall Doric columns to each side support a clerestory, with two shorter columns at the south-east end supporting the first-floor corridor of the south-east wing. The roof of the central space is supported by brackets with carved pendants and incorporates five large square, segmented skylights set underneath an extended glazed pitched roof and flanked by coffered panels, with paired sets of three-light windows to each bay of the clerestorey. The lower side aisles have coffered ceilings with carved paired brackets and shallow glazed domes to each bay. A panelled oak dado runs around most of the walls, along with cast-iron radiators, including two encircling the columns, and the hall has modern tile floor coverings. Low-level late-C20/early-C21 meeting room/office pods* that are not of special interest have been inserted to the north-west end and south-west side. The hall's south-west wall has a series of large inserted openings* and inserted doorways* that are not of special interest. Behind are three former committee rooms with coffered ceilings incorporating large square and rectangular skylights. The committee rooms, which have lost their fireplaces, were originally accessed off the south-west arm of the main corridor arm, but the tall arched entrance has been blocked up, although the top-lit entrance lobby survives (now partitioned* - the modern partitioning is not of special interest) with a glazed-tile dado in the same style as that to the main corridor. Modern arched openings* have been inserted into the rooms' central dividing walls and are not of special interest. At the south-east rear of the hall is a probable late-C19/early-C20 oak colonnade with piers incorporating paired Ionic pilasters to each face that leads through into a large room with a jack-arched ceiling and fireplaces at each end (one of the fireplaces is now contained within a late-C20/early-C21 pod office* that is not of special interest). The room's rear wall has been removed to incorporate a small late-C19/early-C20 extension that includes an altered vault in the south corner.
TOWER: a narrow stair flight off to the side of a second-floor room located in the main entrance bay overlooking Dale Street provides access up to the clock tower's belfry, which contains five bells provided by John Warner & Sons (a large central bell surrounded by four smaller bells). Two steep stair flights lead up from the belfry to the clock mechanism chamber above and the tower's spire.
ATTIC PAVILIONS: internal stair access to the attic pavilions, which are located to the four corners of the building, is only possible to three of them and not to that to the south corner alongside Sir Thomas Street, which does not have an access stair. The two pavilions to the front of the building at each end of the Dale Street elevation are larger; that to the north corner is accessed via a timber stair flight with a slender octagonal newel post, stick and turned balusters and a decorative cut string, whilst that to the west corner is accessed via a cast-iron spiral stair. The smaller pavilion to the east corner is also accessed via a cast-iron spiral stair. Fire surrounds and fireplace openings exist to the west pavilion, suggesting that it was used as office space, whilst the others appear to have been used for storage. All three pavilions have timber floors and floor hatches, timber-boarded stair lobbies and walls (some of the boarding is missing in places) and modern metal stairs leading up onto the roofs. The north pavilion also has two separate rooms with four-panel doors and large four-pane overlights, which bring light into the rooms from the roof lantern.
BASEMENT: the basement has been modernised in places, particularly on the north-west and south-east sides where rooms have been converted for office, kitchenette and computer systems use* (modern additions, including partitions, fixed desks, kitchenette units, roller shutters etc are not of special interest), and some suspended ceilings* have been inserted, including in the corridor. The rooms have a mixture of painted-brick and plastered walls, and mainly stone and brick floors, whilst the encircling corridor has modern vinyl coverings* that are not of special interest. A further corridor cuts through the centre of the basement with rooms off to each side. Vaulted and jack-arched ceilings are present in many of the rooms, and both panelled and plank and batten doors survive, although some have been replaced by modern fire doors* that are not of special interest. Patterned ventilators survive above the doorways (some hidden by later suspended ceilings). A shutter in one of the rooms that could be raised or lowered to alter air flow probably originally formed part of Price & Co's hot-air apparatus for the building's heating and ventilation system.
* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.
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Books and journals
Pollard, R, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England. Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West, (2006), 291
Sharples, J , Pevsner Architectural Guides. Liverpool, (2004), 22, 134, 142, 147, 148
'The Municipal Offices of Liverpool' in The Builder, (March 28 1868), 227-229
'The New Public Offices for Liverpool' in The Builder, (November 9 1867), 819
Various archival material, including plan drawings and historic photographs available at Liverpool Central Library
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing