The old town hall
Many residents are unaware that the large Victorian building on the town’s main street, The Parade, is the second town hall to be built in Leamington Spa. The original town hall, a classical building of modest proportions was built in 1830 in High Street, then known as London Road on land owned by the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Aylesford and by the Wise family. The architect of this building was Mr John Russell. The builder was a local man John Toone who completed the project for £1,900. The old town hall is still standing in High Street. For many years it was the town’s Police Station and the fire appliances of the joint Police/Fire Brigade were housed under the brick railway arches at the rear. The building has for many years been owned by the local Polish community.
When this ‘new’ town hall was built, the town was still called Leamington Priors. It had grown from a small village and in 1831 was home to about six thousand people. The local newspaper (The Courier, June 24th 1830), reported that ‘the unsightly straw-thatched buildings which now only serve to show what Leamington once was, are to be demolished.’ This town hall continued in use for over fifty years. As the town grew in size the town hall was no longer large enough and it was replaced by the present town hall in 1884.
The present town hall (The Parade)
By 1881 the population of the town, now called Royal Leamington Spa, had risen to about twenty three thousand. It was four times the size it had been when the original town hall was built in 1830 and a much larger building was required.
It was suggested that a new town hall could be built in the gardens next to the Pump Rooms and a competition was organised for suitable designs. Forty six sets of plans were submitted but it was decided that the new town hall should be built on The Parade, the town’s main street.
Next to the Regent Hotel was a house called Denby Villa which had a large garden and this was where the new town hall would be built. The house and the Regent Hotel were both owned by Mr Lyas Bishop who sold Denby Villa and its garden to Mr John Fell a local builder and property developer for £10,000. An architect named John Cundall designed the building and Mr Fell built it at a cost of £14,000. Fell, a borough councillor, had already built a theatre, The Theatre Royal on land he owned that adjoined the site.
The foundation stone was layed in October 1882 and the building was opened two years later on 18th September 1884. The original drawings for the complex show a library and art school to the right of the clock tower but these were never built. That apart, the rather eclectic building is pretty much as envisaged by John Cundall.
Alan Griffin, 2013