St George's Hall
St George's Hall in 1895
The concept of St George's Hall was proposed in February 1849 during a meeting with subscribers to the Bradford Infirmary and Alderman Samuel Smith. Through £10 shares more than £16,000 in capital was generated before the foundation stone was laid on 22nd September 1851. So great was the occasion, the residents of Bradford were awarded a public holiday!
More than 22 designs were submitted and more than 15 sites were considered throughout the city. The final location of the Hall was confirmed, principally through the mediation and financial support of Titus Salt.
The winning design for the Hall was won by architects Lockwood and Mawson. (Now famous for the design of Bradford City Hall, Wool Exchange and the UNESCO World Heritage Village Saltaire).
The Hall was officially opened on 29th August 1853 by HRH Queen Victoria and HRH Prince Albert, and the president Earl of Harewood. The total cost of the building works was £35,000.
The original seating capacity was for 3,500, though the hall on some occasions held nearly 5,000! (The current capacity is over 1500 Seated and 1872 Seated and Standing).
In December 1854 Charles Dickens appeared at the Hall and gave his first ever reading of "Bleak House" which he received a fee of £100 for two nights in Bradford. Writing of his visit he said "The hall is enormous and they expect to seat 3,700 people tonight. Notwithstanding which, it seems to me a tolerably easy place - except that the width of the platform is so very great to the eye at first" In calling it an "easy place" he was referring to the acoustics.
In 1856 the organ was installed. It has 51 stops and 2783 pipes.
In 1861 the Hall became adaptable for stage plays.
The Halle Orchestra was a regular at the Hall since 1865 and in October 1895 those attending the concert will never forget the performance. On the day of the concert Sir Charles Halle had died unexpectedly and few of those attending knew. When the concert was due to commence the rostrum remained empty, but from his place as orchestra leader, Brodsky conducted the "Dead March" and then after a slight interval he conducted the concert.
In 1898 St George's Hall showed its first film. In 1901 the hall became used for regular film shows. By 1905 the shows were presented in colour and in 1906 disc-synchronised talking films were shown.
In 1903 to celebrate the 50th Birthday of St George's Hall a special concert took place alongside the unveiling of a tessellated mosaic floor in the entrance vestibule which had been laid by Venetian artists. (Parts of the flooring are still in existence under the fixed seating in the ground floor Rendezvous Bar).
"For positively one week only" the world famous Harry Houdini appeared at St George's Hall from Monday 13th February 1905.
In November 1910 Winston Churchill held a political rally at the hall and during the rally it was interrupted by a group of suffragettes who had hid under the stage the day before and upon Churchill's speech leapt from the trap door onto stage.
In 1926 the Hall officially became a cinema and was initially operated by New Century Pictures.
On the 25th March 1949 Bradford Council purchased the hall and started to modernise the venue so that it would be suitable for concerts, entertainments and public meetings. New tip-up seats were introduced, a flexible stage was installed to cater for full choirs, orchestras, public meetings and celebrity concerts. The organ was also completely rebuilt at the cost of £8000. The Dressing Rooms were also improved to accommodate "continental ensuite facilities".
St George's Hall was officially re-opened on Wednesday 30th September 1953.
In 1982 £100.000 worth of damaged was caused after a fire ravaged the roof of the 129 year old hall. Following the fire the council's architects department were asked to consider modest schemes to improve the public areas of the concert hall.
A refurbishment begins in 1983 and the hall re-opens in 1984 after a £2m refurbishment. Improvements include a ramped terrace along Bridge Street, the relocation of the main entrance from Hall Ings to Bridge Street. The ornate stone staircase was also removed from the Hall Ings entrance and a new floor was added to increase public space. In the mid 1980's another fire caused extensive damage to the concert halls organ. This was caused by water damage and was so severe that the organ was sadly unrepairable.
In Autumn 2003 St George's Hall closed for three months due to the discovery of small cracks found in the halls ceiling. In January 2004 the Hall re-opened with the Halle Orchestra and to date is offering an increasingly exciting and diverse programme.
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