Why Jarrow Town Hall is something to be proud of - and you should take a closer look next time you're passing

Jarrow Town Hall is one of the finest civic buildings in the borough of South Tyneside.

Sunday, 25th October 2020, 6:00 am

Well over a century after it was completed, it is as eye-catching today as when it was first built. This wonderful three-storey building is something that Jarrovians should rightly be proud of. Indeed they are.

Jarrow Town Hall is as eye-catching today as when it was first built. If you do it right – brick is beautiful.

It was designed by local architect Fred Rennoldson and built on the corner of Grange Road and Wylam Street.

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Brick is beautiful. The magnificent Jarrow Town Hall.

The red bricks are glazed terracotta. The roof is Welsh slate. A range of architectural and engineering jargon is used to describe it. Baroque style ... rusticated ground floor ... semi-circular hood corbelled out from pilasters … and so on.

Whatever all that means. Yes, even architecture as transfixing as this can be made to sound extremely dull. So the best way to appreciate the town hall is to sit in one of the lovely little coffee shops across Grange Road, then simply gaze at it.

It’s worth a peek inside for the staircase alone.

Shipbuilding magnate and Jarrow MP Sir Charles Palmer's statue stands opposite the town hall, which he officially opened in 1904.

History of the town hall

Jarrow Town Hall replaced the old corporation offices, an unremarkable building which had been built in, we understand, 1860 at a cost of around £600. That whopping price tag was not enough to save it.

In November 1899 Jarrow Borough Council agreed to build new municipal buildings. The foundation stone was laid on October 9, 1902 by Lady Gertrude Palmer, wife of Sir Charles Palmer who was the Liberal MP for Jarrow at the time.

But he is better remembered as the founder of Palmer’s shipyard, the town’s major employer. Today the great man’s statue stands opposite the hall after being relocated from Jarrow Riverside Park in 2007.

The Jarrow March sets off from the town hall on October 5, 1936.

It was Charles Palmer himself who officially opened the hall on Wednesday, June 15, 1904.

The magnificent Edwardian building and its furnishings within cost about £12,000, or approximately £1.5 million in today’s money. The public were entitled to demand value for money Naturally, it has been Grade II-listed since 1985.

The only obvious change to the building’s exterior since 1904 was the addition of the three-faced clock above the main entrance in 1951.

As well as fulfilling all the usual purposes of a town hall, it also housed a court. The splendid but redundant “County Court” sign will be seen above the Wylam Street entrance for as long as the hall stands. A few ageing scallywags might still be familiar with the court from when it was in use on the first floor.

The town hall has been the venue for countless civic events. One of the most memorable came in 1954 when Queen Elizabeth II visited as part of her coronation tour of the UK.

The Jarrow March, 1936

The town hall’s place in history was most strongly guaranteed when on October 5, 1936 it became the starting point for something we are all familiar with; the Jarrow March.

Jarrow was suffering particularly badly economically – even for the 1930s. This was due in no small part to the collapse of the Palmer’s shipyard in 1933, a victim of the global downturn.

Quite what the march achieved is a debate that could fill an entire book. But what it represented has never been in doubt – and this hugely significant piece of British social history began at Jarrow Town Hall.

Jarrow Town Hall today

The role of the hall changed when in 1974 Jarrow was suddenly yanked out of County Durham and into something called Tyne and Wear.

Today it is part of the borough of South Tyneside, and South Shields Town Hall is the hub of local government. But Jarrow Town Hall still serves a number of important functions including offering housing advice, council tax and dealing with payments. Some council meetings are still held there too.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound terribly exciting but, more importantly, the building is being looked after.

How does it compare?

So it isn’t just a beautiful thing to look at. But how does this red brick marvel compare with other civic buildings?

Well these things are always in the eye of the beholder. It is smaller than South Shields’ town hall and completely different in look; Shields is ashlar rather than red brick. But it’s older – the Shields building wasn’t completed until 1910.

Further afield, Sunderland had a lovely town hall too. But it can never again compete with Jarrow’s – not since it was controversially demolished in 1971.

As for comparisons with the modern civic centres in Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle; well, let’s be generous and not even bother to compare them to Jarrow’s smaller but clearly aesthetically superior architectural gem.

It’s very easy to take something this good for granted; especially if it’s been on your doorstep for your entire life.

But next time you pass the town hall, or pop in to conduct a bit of business. Give it a longer gander than usual – then be grateful that it belongs to Jarrow.

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