St George’s Hall and the wrecking ball

March 30, 2019
Posted in Bradford
March 30, 2019 Bradford Civic Society

St George’s Hall and the wrecking ball

How Bradford Civic Society played a pivotal role in saving the landmark St George’s Hall from demolition. 

In a smoky back room of Bradford’s Great Northern Hotel (now the Great Victoria), Bradford Civic Society’s executive committee is hearing about a bold new vision for the city.

The year is 1946, and Bradford’s newly-appointed city engineer, Stanley Wardley, is offering a glimpse into the future, where the roads are wide and the buildings are tall. He tells assembled members that it may be necessary for St George’s Hall to be demolished. “I cannot see it coming down at first stage, but as a second, in a few years, when the town will be able to afford the luxury of a first class new concert hall near the site.”

This extract from the Civic Society’s extensive archive paints a vivid picture of how, for a time, Bradford’s Victorian landmarks had fallen out of favour with the city’s post-war planners. While many elements of Wardley’s infamous Central Area Plan did come to fruition, St George’s Hall was thankfully spared the wrecking ball following an eventual intervention by Bradford Civic Society and the then Bradford Corporation.

Archive papers from 1948 tell us how the Civic Society negotiated to buy the building, which was being used as a cinema at the time, from the Rank Organisation for the sum of £35,000. The intention was to restore the hall to its former glory to be once again used as a municipal venue for the people of Bradford and, as such, the Corporation was brought into the negotiations as the prospective operator of the building. The Corporation then agreed to complete the sale, with the strict proviso that the building wouldn’t fall foul of any road widening plans, and would never be used for film or television entertainment.

By the 1950s, Bradford’s oldest public building was relatively safe, and once again serving the district’s citizens as a municipal concert hall. 2019’s refurbishment marks the latest display of civic pride and love for a building that survived one of Bradford’s most significant eras of redevelopment.

-This article is an extract taken from the special commemorative booklet produced for the St George’s plaque unveiling event.