MEMORY LANE: New Mills can be proud of its Victorian town hall

New Mills Public Hall shortly before it opened in 1871. There have been three major additions: the tower, clock and chimes (1875); the reading room, now the council chamber (1899); and the caretaker's house (1912). Courtesy: New Mills Local History Society image website: www.picturenewmills.org.uk.
New Mills Public Hall shortly before it opened in 1871. There have been three major additions: the tower, clock and chimes (1875); the reading room, now the council chamber (1899); and the caretaker's house (1912). Courtesy: New Mills Local History Society image website: www.picturenewmills.org.uk.

The idea of building a Public Hall by subscription was first suggested in a public meeting held in 1859 when the Mechanics’ Institute (which occupied a rented house on Market Street) needed more space particularly for its education work concentrating on chemistry for young men in calico printing and dyeing.

But it was 12 years before enough money was raised to start work on the land which had been donated.

New Mills Town Hall

New Mills Town Hall

The hall was opened by the Duke of Devonshire on September 9, 1871, and cost £2,568 16s 10d.

Mrs Mary Mackie had laid the foundation stone which can be seen today just outside the caretaker’s cottage.

It was announced that beside being a home for the Mechanics’ Institute, it was to be used for “public and private balls, dinners, concerts, entertainments, exhibitions, religious, social and political meetings, county and sessional courts, library and reading rooms used by the Mechanics’ Institute, Savings Bank (opened on Saturdays only), and branch offices of the clerk to the magistrates and registrar of the county court”.

In 1875 the tower was added and the clock and chimes presented by Mrs Ingham, of Watford Lodge. Hand-wound clocks of this type are now rare, most having been converted to electric.

In 1876 the first municipal authority (the New Mills Urban Sanitary Authority, known as the Local Board) was formed and held its meetings here.

In 1895 the hall was transferred to the recently formed New Mills Urban District Council and first described as the Town Hall in the council minutes of October 5, 1898.

In 1899 a free library was opened in an extension, which now is the Council Chamber.

Until recently the words ‘Reading Room’ could still be seen in the glass of the entrance door.

The reading room soon proved too small and the present Carnegie Library was built in 1909-10. In 1912 the caretaker’s house was added. The chimes were replaced in 1939 by a new set, the gift of Councillor Broome-Coope.

Throughout its life, besides carrying out the administrative functions of the town council, the town hall has served the purposes its subscribers intended.

Recent uses include dances, quizzes, flower shows, public meetings, blood transfusions, concerts, society meetings, celebrations, exhibitions, receptions, bazaars, school fairs, and more recently weddings.

Since the building belongs to the town council these events bring in a welcome income.

Today, besides the council chamber and town clerk’s offices, rooms are used periodically for the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Some of the archives of the town hall, heritage centre and local history society are stored here.

In 1991, as part of the New Mills 600 anniversary celebrations, floodlighting was installed and in 1994, following extensive roof repairs, the main hall was redecorated and the seating recovered, adding to its attractiveness as a venue.

Victorian town halls are of great interest in all our towns and cities, symbolising the growth of strong and independent local municipal control, and many of the services which we enjoy today had their origins within their walls.

New Mills can be proud of its town hall which epitomises over 100 years of municipal service to the town.