Book launches and reviews, Summer 2004

Cover of The Council House and Old Market Square

The Council House and Old Market Square

The 75th Anniversary of the official opening of the Council House saw the launch of this richly-illustrated publication, co-written by John Beckett and Ken Brand. The book documents the history of the New Exchange Hall, a modest red brick building erected at the eastern end of the market place in 1724-26, and redesigned 1814-15. However a new age of town hall building from the 1830s, when such towns as Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds built on a previously unknown grand scale, the Exchange was considered outdated, and there was an overwhelming preference in Nottingham for a building in the classical style.

There followed over seventy years of behind-the-scenes wrangling, before the ‘new’ Council House was completed, along with the contentious laying out of the Old Market Square. The prime mover of the project was Alderman Herbert Bowles, Chairman of the Estates Committee, who allegedly dreamed up the whole scheme in one evening with the Housing Surveyor, T. Cecil Howitt.  Not long after the opening Howitt’s design was criticized, not only by local ratepayers when the Council House was closed to the public, but also by the architectural establishment and by the modernist movement, including Pevsner, who thought the design old-fashioned and provincial. Howitt went on to design further major buildings in and outside Nottingham, and after his death in 1968 The Times reported the Council House was ‘probably still the finest municipal building outside of London’. This splendid book gives a fascinating insight into the internal politics leading up to the building of the ‘new’ Council House, describes its official opening, and takes the reader on a guided tour. Currently available from the Information Bureau and local bookshops, it will be on sale at Thoroton lectures at a reduced rate to members.

Janice Avery