‘The most perfect hall in the world’: the incredible history of St George’s Hall’s Concert Room
4 weeks ago
Liverpool boasts a collection of buildings famed for their architectural beauty and grandeur, but few can have received such incredible praise as the Concert Room in St George’s Hall.
Author Charles Dickens loved it so much, he called it ‘our old friend’ and declared to tour manager George Dolby that it was ‘the most perfect hall in the world’.
And Sean MacGregor wouldn’t disagree.
“The whole building is stunning, but the Concert Room is my favourite room in St George’s Hall,” says the visitor services supervisor for Liverpool City Council. “It’s nowhere near the size or opulence of the Great Hall in the middle, but it’s got a certain beauty, and the acoustics are incredible.
“It’s the perfect space for concerts, weddings, and other events, and it has the most amazing history.
“No matter how many times I go in, whether it’s taking people on a tour, or turning the lights on ready for an event, I can’t help but be blown away by it every time. You never get used to it.”
Sean, 28, who’s been a city tour guide for several years but who, for the last 12 months, has helped organise and conduct different tours for St George’s Hall and the Town Hall, adds: “Sometimes I might be having a bad day or morning, and then I realise how lucky I am to be working in a building like this.”
The history of the Concert Room
The foundation stone of St George’s Hall was laid in 1838, and the building completed between 1841-1854, with the Concert Room, situated at the North End of St George’s Hall on the first floor, finished in 1856.
It is entirely the work of early Victorian architect Charles Cockerell, and is a magnificent circular room, half embedded in the main building and the other half projecting externally as an apse.
The Hall measures 72 ft by 77 ft and was originally designed to hold around 1100 people. The colours of the concert room are white, cream and honey with touches of gilt and blue, and the plasterwork uses only classical patterns and motifs.
Its impressive crystal chandelier was made by one of the leading 18th century glass manufacturers, FC Osler of Birmingham, and is made up of 2,824 individual pieces. It was commissioned in 1856 and originally powered by gas but converted to electricity in 1895.
The Concert Room was first opened as a classical music venue.
Sean explains: “At the time they used to have a classical music festival three times a year and this was one of the reasons why it opened. The festival was held in buildings like churches but they weren’t really big enough and a lot of the music was non-religious.
“The city needed a proper venue to have these concerts in and this music festival, and that was originally why, in the 1830s, the council decided they needed to build something. They didn’t have anything like that in the city at the time and eventually it became St George’s Hall (it wasn’t the plan to have the court rooms or the prison cells in the same building as eventually came to be).
“Originally there would have been a lot of classical concerts and as time’s gone on it’s become a more widely used venue which is nice. When it first opened as a Concert Room it would have been for the rich and powerful people in Liverpool and the upper echelons of society but today there’s an array of events for everyone, one week it might be a stand-up comedian, the next week there might be a wedding and, of course, it was used as a film location for Peaky Blinders.”
Classical composers commemorated
A papier mache frieze contain the names of composers: Mozart, Purcell, Palestrina, Lorelli, Bach, Wilbye, Gluck, Mendelssohn, Spohr, Weber, Arne, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Bishop, Beethoven, Handel, and Haydn.
Either side of the composers is a griffin with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. The caryatid figures (sculptured female figures) that appear to hold up the balcony are each seven feet in height. They depict, alternately, Flore the goddess of Spring and Flowers, and Pomona, the goddess of Fruits and Gardens.
The stage is set
“The stage measures 30 ft by 12 ft and was designed for an orchestra of 60 and a semi-chorus of 70,” says Sean. “Ravenhead glass mirrors situated at the back of the stage help to create stunning reflections.
“The concert room has staged many events including opera, concerts, chess championships, snooker, awards events, and TV programmes such as BBC’s Questions Time and Antiques Roadshow.
“It is an extraordinary venue for any event and has been described by many as an architectural gem.”
What the Dickens?!
Charles Dickens had a particular fondness for St George’s Hall, and in particular the Concert Room, which he said was as ‘the most perfect hall in the world’.
Sean says: “Dickens fell in love with Liverpool – he used to stay round the corner at The Adelphi – and he fell in love with St George’s Hall, and especially the Concert Room, that was his favourite room.”
Dickens gave public readings in the hall known as ‘penny readings’ because the public paid a penny to get in and listen to Dickens, as well as instrumental pieces, songs, and recitals. He made several visits to the beautiful Concert Room.
“The Concert Room used to hold just over 1,000 and when he gave one of his first readings we believe 3,000 people tried to get in. They were popular and became famous events, especially because unlike the classical concerts, these were accessible to everyone.”
On April 10, 1869 Dickens was entertained at a banquet held in St George’s Hall held in his honour and attended by the Lord Mayor and notable people from the city. “It was his final visit as he died just over a year later.”
Find out more on the St. George’s Hall website HERE.