Stockton Town Hall
Stockton Town Hall, or the Town House to give it its original title, was erected on its current site in 1735. It assumed the role of the old Toll Booth building, which, as well as being the administrative centre for the town, was also the Mayor’s residence at one time.
While it isn’t known when the construction was completed, it is on record that work was started in 1744 to extend the building. The extensive changes made involved the demolition of the adjacent Toll Booth and the addition of a single roof with a clock and bell tower. The town jail was also moved to a place beneath the stairway. During the early 1800s concern was expressed at the continuing use of the Town House as a jail where the cells were only five feet tall and offenders were passed into the cells sometimes through what was then a hatchway in the pavement outside. As a result, a Police Station was erected in West Row in 1851 and subsequently transferred to a new building in Church Road in 1871.
The original structure had an inn (the Castle and Anchor appropriately enough) with entrances on both the east and west sides of the building and four bow–windowed shops on the ground floor. By the middle of the 19th century these shops had been been vacated and the windows removed and bricked in to provide more space for the Borough Treasurer’s offices. The name of the inn survives with the Castle and Anchor that now stands on the corner of the High Street and Church Road.
The north face of the building had a piazza added in 1768, this was to be covered by an ornate cast iron canopy in 1890, which was in its turn sacrificed to the war-effort in 1940 when iron was needed.
The ‘great doors’ on the south side of the building can still be seen today. Between the great doors and the shops was the ‘Serjeant at Mace’s’ quarters. He was responsible for superintending the police and also collected rents from the market traders. The upper floor of the building was also the quarters for the gloriously titled ‘Inspector of Nuisances’ although in 1880 his office was moved downstairs to provide more rooms for committee meetings.
Until 1862 the site of the Town House was rented from the Bishop of Durham for the princely sum of 4d a year – at this time the freehold was transferred to ‘the Aldermen,burgess and commonalty of the Borough of Stockton on Tees’ – the Town House could now be called the Town Hall.
The clock and bell tower have their own place in the history of the building. The clock wasn’t always the good time keeper it is today. In 1935 concerns were raised about the erratic nature of the bus services that ran from the High Street when the two clock faces were showing different times for a while.
The bell in the clock tower was used to mark the opening and closing of the trading day for the Wednesday and Saturday markets. Traders were not allowed to display or sell their goods until the bell sounded in the morning and had to cease trading when the bell sounded at 10 pm. Failure to comply with these rules would incur a fine of five shillings.
At one time the clock bell was also used to summon the town Fire Brigade, but as it also summoned everyone who wished to enjoy this free entertainment – invariably getting in the way of the Firemen trying to get to the fire – the practice was soon abandoned.
With the creation of the County Borough of Teesside in 1968, the Town Hall lost some of it prominence but it came into its own again with the formation of the new Borough of Stockton in 1974. The building was given a makeover and the council chamber was adapted to contain a new crescent shaped chamber to accommodate the additional council members. Further enhancements were done in 1985 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the building.
Renovations during the 1990s found that some parts of the building are even older than 1735, including some of the main structural walls in the centre of the building, which probably date from an earlier lock-up on the same site. The current thinking is that a Town House of some sort has existed on the site perhaps as far back as 1100, although today’s structure has no connection with the original building.