Mechanics Institute and Dispensary 1845-6, By J & B Green, with Music Hall to the rear, 1860, architect unknown and later attached linking corridor.
Reasons for Designation
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION
Witham Testimonial Hall, by J and B Green, 1845, and attached Music Hall, 1860, are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural: the Testimonial Hall has a strong and coherent composition in a reassuring classical design, which remains largely unaltered
* Interior: the buildings retain their original plan and many original fixtures and fittings including plasterwork and carpentry, and the Music Hall retains its original decorative scheme, stage and proscenium arch
* Rarity: the later Music Hall is a good example of an increasingly rare form of theatrical building, which compares favourably with other listed examples
* Historical: the buildings demonstrate the cultural aspirations of Barnard Castle and are associated with the prominent Victorian geologist and philanthropist Henry Witham
* Architects: the Testimonial Hall it was designed by prominent regional architects John and Benjamin Green who have many listed buildings to their name
The Witham Testimonial Hall was built in 1845-6 to the designs of John and Benjamin Green; it was raised by public subscription to the memory of local philanthropist Henry T M Witham of Lartington Hall, who died in 1844. Its opening on 27th April 1846 was marked by a bazaar and an exhibition of paintings. With time, a larger building was required and in 1860, a second hall, functioning as a music room, was constructed to the rear at a cost of £807; its opening day was marked by a daylong event and a concert in the evening. It is considered that the new building was originally accessed from the rear of the Testimonial Hall via an uncovered footpath. This building variously held concerts, dances, operas, magic lantern shows and latterly films. Originally known as ‘The New Hall’ this building was later referred to as ‘The Music Hall’. Recent survey work on the date of the linking corridor concludes that it is probably C20 in date, incorporating parts of an earlier structure.
During both World Wars, the buildings supported the community but after the construction of St Mary's Parish Hall in the 1950s, activities at Witham Hall declined. In the 1970s, the Music Hall was leased as a showroom and subsequently it and other parts of the Testimonial Hall were leased to Barnard Castle Town Council; at this time, the halls underwent a period of refurbishment and became a communal social and sporting centre.
Henry Witham was a geologist and founder member of the Royal Geological Society; he did much to help the people of Barnard Castle including supporting the foundation of a Dispensary Society and the establishment of a mechanics institute within the town. The construction of the Witham Testimonial Hall after his death to house the mechanic's institute and the dispensary was testimony to his local reputation. John and Benjamin Green were respected regional architects who now have many listed buildings to their name; several, including the Literary and Philosophical Society and Greys Monument in Newcastle upon Tyne, are listed in the higher grades. Witham Testimonial Hall was also the location of the 1903 Parliamentary by-election at which Arthur Henderson became the first Labour MP to be elected to Parliament; he went on to be a key member of the first Labour Government and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in the 1930s. Henry Witham, John and Benjamin Green and Arthur Henderson are all nationally significant figures with entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
MATERIALS: the Testimonial Hall is of ashlar sandstone with dressed stone to the rear elevation and the Music Hall is of random sandstone. The linking corridor is of white/buff brick and timber; all roofs have slate coverings.
PLAN: Witham Testimonial Hall is a rectangular building of three bays, situated on Horse Market at the point where the latter meets Market Place on a gentle curve; to the rear, a covered way links the building to the Music Hall, which is also rectangular in plan with a small box office projection at the south-east.
EXTERIOR: The main west elevation of the Testimonial Hall fronting Horse Market is classical in style and comprises two storeys and three bays. The central bay is slightly projecting under a pediment and the ground floor has channelled rustication. A stone ramp gives access to a central pedimented entrance with a stone doorcase of slender Ionic attached columns with double four-panel doors and overlight with lamp above. The flanking windows in each of the end bays are plain round-headed sashes under rusticated voussoirs; an early photograph shows that to the left with a lower pane inscribed with the words ‘Subscription Library – Reading Room’. A wide corniced band continues around the central projecting bay and supports first-floor columns and pilasters. The first floor has central Ionic attached columns flanking a tripartite window with pilaster stone mullions; the outer bays have end pilasters and tall windows; all first-floor windows have sashes with glazing bars, which are partial replacements. The top entablature has a dentilled frieze, with a pedimented central projection and a high roof parapet behind the pediment has flat coping. The word WITHAM is present in relief letters on the central frieze. The rear of the Testimonial Hall has round-headed windows fitted with six-paned frames to the ground floor and a pair of tall windows with eight-over-eight original sash frames to the first floor and a centrally placed round-headed stair window, partially infilled. A single storey brick-built range with a coloured glazed clerestory, bays separated by brick pilasters and a slate pitched roof joins the Testimonial Hall to the Music Hall at the rear. The latter is a tall single-storey building of three bays with tall round-headed windows separated by narrow buttresses. Wrought iron gates give access to the side and there is a small roof-top shed attached to the west gable, which formerly housed projection equipment. The former box office is attached to its south east corner.
INTERIOR: the ground floor of the Witham Testimonial Hall has an entrance vestibule from which replacement double doors give access to a central corridor with plaster coving, high skirting boards, two small ceiling roses and a chamfered arch at the end. The former Dispensary on the right is entered through a replacement door; the room is plain and retains a Frosterley marble chimneypiece, simple coving, ceiling rose and an air vent. Behind this room there is a smaller room now serving as a kitchen but formerly also used by the Dispensary Society. The library to the left of the hall is entered through an ornate plaster arch with floral stops, fitted with a 1920s sliding partition. The former positions of two sets of bookcases are set into the north wall, only the lower cupboards remain and may be original and there is a plain plaster ceiling rose. A small anteroom to the rear has been altered by the insertion of a partition to create a short corridor. A staircase placed centrally against the rear wall has floral and foliage metal balusters, a mahogany handrail and newel post and terrazzo treads. This leads to a first-floor landing with an ornate ceiling rose. The Witham Room runs the full width of the front of the building and has stucco cornice and ceiling decorations, the latter partially altered, a Frosterley marble chimney-piece and paired wall niches on each end wall. The window openings and reveals are panelled. A modern entrance vestibule has been constructed. Small rooms to the rear, either side of the staircase and landing are plain but retain their original four-panel doors and simple stone fire surrounds. The attic was not inspected but the roof structure is believed to consist of King Post trusses and to have undergone repair and replacement.
The linking range has an open scissor truss roof, its walls have brick pilasters, and round headed doors reflecting those of the Music Hall. The Music Hall, entered from the linking corridor through a large arched entrance with heavy double doors, is classically decorated with plaster pilasters and cornices; the lower parts of most walls are plain, and are thought to have been covered with wall hangings. There is a raised stage at the east end with a semi-circular proscenium arch with decorative mouldings springing from cornice level. The roof is barrel-vaulted and the present boarded ceiling obscures original green glass panels, which remain in situ above. There is a pair of large ornate ceiling roses and the floor is a later C20 replacement. The attic was not inspected but the roof is of King Post trusses, some of which bear the remains of C19 and C20 graffiti.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 17/11/2011