CHESTER’S magnificent Town Hall has launched its 21st century revival as a culture and entertainment centre providing a dream setting to rival Downton Abbey and Brideshead.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has spent more than £3.2m converting the Grade II* Gothic masterpiece to a top quality destination at the heart of the historic city.
“It’s a splendid Gothic revival building with tremendous character and a level of opulence only matched in the High Victorian era,” said Cllr Stuart Parker, culture and leisure executive member.
“As a wedding venue – it’s probably unique – a fairytale come true. We have already staged ceremonies and receptions for couples from Australia, Singapore and Ireland in addition to those from the Chester area and further afield.
“As a centre for concerts, dinner dances, corporate entertaining, conferences and civic events it is quite simply outstanding.”
And already the prospect of tying the knot at a venue which down the years has hosted a cavalcade of Royal and aristocratic guests, has prompted 32 couples to book their big day at the ‘hall’.
Many of the civil marriage ceremonies will take place in the specially licensed council chamber – once the imposing scene of well over a century of decision making affecting the future of the ancient city.
The original Assembly Room – venue for Chester’s internationally reputed music festival –is now served by a international standard kitchen and equipped with a remodelled stage, improved dressing rooms and seating and acoustic curtains to minimise echo off the oak-panelled walls.
And the former Quarter Sessions courtroom has been restored to its former glory and offers a reception or lecture room with a real difference – including the original dock.
Granted under a Great Charter of 1506, the Quarter Sessions made way for the City Magistrates in November 1971, until that court moved to a purpose-built courthouse more than 20 years later.
The Town Hall will, of course, continue to be the base of the Lord Mayor of Chester and, said Councillor Parker: “We will strive to maintain a sympathetic balance between the building’s civic, cultural and commercial uses.”
Opened in 1869, by Edward, Prince of Wales, this was the first of many royal visitors to the Town Hall down the years including Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip; Prince George, later George V; Prince Edward, later Edward VII; Prince Charles and Lady Diana and Princess Anne.
Even then, ever rising building costs doubled the original estimates of the four-year project to £40,000-plus, which didn’t stop the city from celebrating in style with a day of pageantry marked by the visit of the Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester.
About £2m has been spent on repairs to the Victorian roof and stonework, installation of a new lift, toilets and refurbishment of the visitor centre.