The History of King George’s Hall

The idea for the Public Halls goes back to the mayoralty of Eli Heyworth, in 1885 to 1899, when there was a proposal to build a large public hall near to the Town Hall, and a police station and courthouse on a site in Blakey Moor and Northgate, which was covered with houses of very poor character, some of which had been classed as uninhabitable as long ago as 1875. 

In 1901 the idea of town planning was very much to the fore. The census showed a population of 126,630 and the Town Hall assembly room was not large enough to house all the people who wanted to attend balls, concerts and public functions. Several of the town’s leading figures put forward ideas on how to improve the town, but the one that materialised was the Corporations plan, powers for which were included in the Blackburn Corporation Act, 1901. This included the purchase of 14,700 square yards of land between Blakey Moor and Northgate, and, once this area had been cleared to build on it a police station, courtroom and fire station, a new assembly hall was planned between the Town Hall and Victoria St. 

Purchase of the land was completed by 1905, by which time Blakey Moor was thought to be the most suitable site for Public Halls. The cost of the purchase of the land was stated to have been £80,244. The building scheme was considered by the town council on 24th August, 1908, when the seating capacity of the main hall was fixed at 3,500, and the two subsidiary rooms at 1,000 to 1,500 and 500 to 750. The architects were chosen by open competition judged from preliminary sketches, and Messrs. Briggs, Wolstenholme and Thornley and Messrs. Stones and Stones were jointly awarded the contract. The Blakey Moor Plan received the final approval of the town council on April, 5th 1909, at an estimated cost of £113,000. As the Public Halls were to be built in a different location to that proposed in the Blackburn Corporation Act, the Corporation applied for the powers to build at Blakey Moor, and to borrow an additional £80,000. A fresh site was sought for the fire station and the third building at Blakey Moor was a combined school and swimming bath. 

Powers to erect the public hall at Blakey Moor were confirmed by the Blackburn Order of 1910, and the period allowed for its completion was increased to twenty years. Work on the Sessions House and the school started, but the property along Northgate was not finally demolished until 1912, and the foundation stone of the new Public Hall was laid by King George V during his visit to Blackburn on July 10th, 1913. 

Meanwhile the cost of the scheme had risen, and an extra £40,000 was borrowed in the same year. The delay had allowed time for second thoughts by the architects, so that the original design with a colonnade along Northgate and Blakey Moor was altered to one with a three-arched entrance on Blakey Moor. 

Work on the two smaller halls had been completed when the outbreak of war in August, 1914, brought construction work to an end. The building, which was used as a Red Cross Hospital during the First World War, was rapidly completed once hostilities ceased. Lord Derby performed the opening ceremony on October 21st, 1921. The 3,500-seat concert hall, with its war memorial organ, was known as King George’s Hall. Built in the classical style of stone from Butler’s Delph in Pleasington, the Blakey Moor front has Corinthian columns at first floor level over a three-arched entrance which leads into a spacious entrance hall, with a staircase on each side made from Huddersfield stone. There are carved figures representing War and Peace above the two side entrances too one of the smaller halls. (Windsor Suite formerly known as Assembly Hall). 

The Northgate frontage was plainer, the main decorative feature being the carved stonework around the three bulls-eye windows. 

The building was one of the first in Blackburn to have air conditioning (ozone air system), was electrically lit from the start, and of fireproof construction throughout. The overall dimensions of King George’s Hall were 150ft by 104ft, a height of 50ft, and seating for 3,500 on a flat auditorium floor and a raked U-shaped balcony. 

King George’s Hall was built in the classical style from stone quarried at Butler’s Delph in Pleasington. The distinctive look of the hall is the result of designs by two firms of architects, Messrs. Briggs & Wolstenholme, responsible for the pre-war lower portion, and Messrs. Stones & Stones, commissioned after the war. The history of the hall is clearly reflected in its exterior appearance, with the horizontal divide between the pre- and post-war sections clearly visible. The carved figures on the Blakey Moor side of the hall, which represent war and peace, also result from the hall’s wartime construction. 

Inside King George’s many original features have been retained, including much of the original feature plaster work. In the main auditorium not only has all the original plaster work been retained, but also the magnificent Art Deco house lights. All these original features have been retained thanks to the sympathetic renovation programme carried out in 1994, and today King George’s Hall tastefully combines the grandeur of its theatre tradition, with the modern technology and facilities that today’s productions require.