Hidden features at Leeds' historic Victoria Hall to be restored as heritage funding in the North tops £1.9bn

Decorative features at Leeds’s historic Victoria Hall, serving as a symbol of the city’s cultural heritage, have long since fallen into a state of disrepair.

Thursday, 30th September 2021, 6:00 am
Leeds Victoria Hall. Image Natalia_Maciejuk
Leeds Victoria Hall. Image Natalia_Maciejuk

Now, with news of a grant funding pledge towards their illustrious restoration, it brings heritage investment in the North to a total of £1.9bn since 1994.

There is a great deal more potential to unlock in the region, Heritage Fund trustees have said, as they met in Leeds for the first board meeting since the start of the pandemic.

As they toured the region’s past projects, from investment in the Hyde Park Picture House to Leeds’ Left Bank, directors spoke of the power of collaboration in uniting communities.

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Leeds Victoria Hall, once the grand auditorium of Leeds Town Hall, opened in 1858. Image supplied Leeds City Council.

“Heritage is an incredibly powerful force for good, but it doesn’t work if we let it live in the past,” said David Renwick, north of England director for The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

And as he spoke of the North’s heritage diversity, from its cities to the people who bring them to life, he added: “This variety is matched only by the diversity of our communities and the potential we see in Northern heritage is enormous.

“The Leeds Town Hall project to restore the Victoria Hall and open it up to communities is a great example that we are proud to support.”

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The grand organ at Leeds Victoria Hall. Image Natalia_Maciejuk

Leeds’ Victoria Hall is the main auditorium of the Grade l listed Town Hall, built between 1853 and 1858 and once voted the city’s favourite building.

Originally the Great Hall, it is lined with marble-effect columns and painted mottoes such as ‘Good Will towards Men’, and today hosts a vast programme of concerts and events.

The renovation is aimed at revealing these unique details of the hall’s walls, columns and doors, hidden from view since the mid-19th century and now faded from years of grime.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £249,810 toward the scheme will see specialists strip back layers of dirt and dust to reveal an earlier artistic vision.

Leeds Victoria Hall. Image Natalia_Maciejuk

Work will also focus on restoring the decorative scheme on the grand organ, including intricate hand painted stencil designs on façade pipes which have been hidden for decades.

There will also be a community programme with talks and presentations and the commission of a new artwork.

Glory

Coun Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader, said it was “fantastic” to see the setting receive the recognition it deserves in restoring it to its former glory.

“Leeds Town Hall is one of Leeds’s most recognisable buildings and an absolutely integral part of the city’s story and identity so it’s hugely important that we protect and preserve this beautiful example of Victorian architecture for future generations,” he said.

“The town hall is also a focal point for an extensive and diverse programme of events which not only generate income for the city but also help put Leeds on the map as a world class cultural destination.”

Trustees from the National Lottery Heritage Fund toured projects in the region from heritage cinemas to Leeds City Museum and a scheme to revive the rare Willow Tit.

Chief executive Ros Kerslake said the message she had heard was one of collaboration: “I have seen the power of heritage as a driver for positive social and economic change, supporting communities who have so much to gain from engaging in it.”

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