A Look Inside: Behind-the-scenes of Rochdale Town Hall's multi-million pound restoration

Video report and article by correspondent Mel Barham

Rochdale Town Hall is widely regarded as one of the finest Victorian buildings of its kind in the country.

For 150 years, the Grade 1 listed building has stood as a masterpiece of gothic architecture and a building of national importance.

Such is its calibre, it has been likened to Manchester Town Hall, the Royal Courts of Justice and St Pancras Railway Station.

But since January 2021, it has been closed as it undergoes a complete restoration.

Phase 2 is all about conservation, and bringing the building back to its former glory Credit: ITV News

Mark Taylor, Senior Site Manager for the contractor HH Smith said "The architecture of this building is just amazing. You just literally don't make them like this anymore.

"It was a much-needed project. I don't think it could have lasted much longer without this intervention, this restoration, and many areas on site were in dire need of a bit of TLC, we're bringing it back to how it formerly was."

The project is costing circa £16 million, with funding from Rochdale Borough Council, and £8.9m from The National Lottery Heritage fund.

The building has been completely closed whilst restoration work is underway, but Granada Reports was invited inside to take a look at how work is progressing.

Some of the stone work has already been brought back to life in the ground floor area known as the Exchange and stained glass windows have been cleaned and restored.

Mark continues, "Its a laborious task, cleaning a grade one listed building to restore it back to its former glory."

"Hand painted elements and beams and ornate carvings and timber work have to be cleaned and quite a lot of volunteer engagement has been happening to assist us with that cleaning and restoration.

"We've been using cotton balls and to carefully clean it. And it's painstaking work but the results are clearly visible to see. And, yeah, it looks amazing. Colours, which have previously thought were green, are coming out with a light blue."

Conservators are painstakingly cleaning the ornate plasterwork Credit: ITV News

Rochdale town hall was opened back in 1871 as a symbol of the town's industrial might.

It was designed by William Crossland as part of a competition to design a town hall.

No expense was spared, at the time it cost £160,000, that's the equivalent of £20 million in today's money.

The original wooden spire was destroyed by fire in 1883 and a new clock tower and spire in the style of Manchester Town Hall was erected in 1888.

It is said that Hitler admired the building so much he wanted to ship the building brick-by-brick back to Germany. Thankfully he never got the opportunity. Rochdale was broadly avoided by bombers during the Second World War.

The restoration of Rochdale Town Hall is due to be completed by late summer 2023 Credit: ITV News

Karen Heverin from Historic England, say "They used the top craftsman and they used the top materials as well. So everything was at the best specification and that shows in the quality.

"The fact that it's been grade one listed shows the level (of quality) and the fact that there's so few buildings to be grade one listed shows the building's exceptional significance. You can compare it to the Houses of Parliament or Manchester Town Hall."

Caroline Storr, Heritage Engagement Manager for Rochdale Town Hall says "It's a unique building, there is nothing like it in the country."

For many years, the building has been largely inaccessible to the public. That is something this restoration is hoping to address, with an emphasis on returning the building back to public use.

New spaces are being created for community events as part of a wider regeneration of the town centre, including a new public town hall square space.

A new community space that will be called the Bright Hall is also being created as part of the restoration work.

Storr continues: "It has had many guises over the last 150 years; it has been council offices, a canteen, a magistrates and even a nightclub, but from 2023 it will be opening as a visitor attraction so all the ceremonial rooms will be fully open to the public in a way they never have been before."

The stained glass windows are regarded as some of the finest modern examples of their kind Credit: ITV News

One of the jewels of the crown of the building are the stained glass windows, described as some of the finest modern examples of their kind.

The job to restore these works of art is no mean feat.

A team from York Glaziers Trust have been entrusted to take on the painstaking work.

Nick Teed who is the conservation Manager for York Glaziers Trust explains "We're doing quite a few structural repairs at the moment to the windows, and we've got two teams working on this project.

"We're carrying out some structural repairs to make sure that the windows are really sound, really stable for the next 100, 200 plus years.

"We are re-pointing the windows to make them absolutely weatherproof because that's the problem at the moment. The pointing is breaking down and that's bringing them really back to this fantastic sparkling quality through the cleaning. And it's wonderful to see that."

Work has also taken place to remove the impressive Cromwell window in the Great Hall so that necessary restoration work can take place in York.

The stained glass window which depicts Oliver Cromwell centrally between Charles I and Charles II, is to be conserved by York Glaziers Trust under the direction of Professor Sarah Brown.

The portraits date back to when the town hall was built in 1871. They now need protective glazing to be added before it is returned to the town hall in September.

The windows were made by Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London and form part of a continuous depiction of the line of rule in the hall.

The work is due to be completed by late summer 2023.