The newly opened City Hall (Town Hall). Notice the wooden handrail of the bridge crossing the canal

The City Hall Dilemma

(by Bert Carter and Berkeley Wickham)

An aborted attempt was made to erect a Town Hall in front of Stabroek Market in 1871. There were, however, differences of opinion, some favoring the vacant spot at the corner of Church and Main Streets. This location had been cleared of shanties in 1861, when Prince Alfred was expected on a visit.

In December of that year, tenders were requested for the building in front of the market, but the project collapsed. At last, Mr. G. L. Forshaw managed to secure the site of the present Town Hall, on which once stood an old coffee logie (modest wooden living quarters for slaves or indentured servants) used for dances. He transferred his purchase to the Town Council in 1887, and on the July 1, 1889, the present handsome building was opened by Governor Gormanston.

The architect was the late Father Ignatius Scoles, and everyone will agree that the building is a credit to him as well as to those who carried out his plans.

The cost of the erection, including the site, was $54,826.62. (Taken from The Story of Georgetown by James Rodway – Reprint Edition 1997).

On December 23, 1887 Governor Sir Henry Turner Irving laid the foundation stone at the north-easterly corner of the building. This was the fiftieth year of the reign of her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria. It is said that a glass jar containing the original documents of the building, copies of the Royal Gazette of the day, the Argosy, the Chronicle, and a portrait of the Queen were also interred.

Under the supervision of the architect, the Rev. Ignatius Scoles, and Luke M. Hill, the Town Superintendent, the Town Hall was completed. The contractor was Messrs. Sprostons Ltd.

Architectural design

Georgetown City Hall is an example of Gothic Revival Architecture. It is built in timber, possesses three floors and has a rectangular shape.

The tower – one of the building’s most notable features – is topped by a square, pyramidal, flat-topped spire with wrought-iron crenellations around the perimeter of the spire’s apex. The spire is surrounded by conical pillars.

The building has a hammer-beam roof which is a late Gothic form of roof without a direct tie. A hammer-beam is a short projecting beam that does not meet its opposite and corresponding member which receives a hammer-post and, usually, an arched brace.

An elaborate mahogany staircase joins the first and second floors of the building. The building is 27.1 metres (89 ft)  long, 17.4 metres (57 ft) wide and 29.3 metres (96 ft) high.

Observations

The original roof cladding material, which was entirely of slate, was replaced sometime in the late 60s with a combination of both asphalt shingles and corrugated zinc sheets. Some leaks emanating from the vicinity of the corrugated sheets were observed, especially toward the Northern side, along the ridge line.

The water stemming from these leaks has entered the “crawl space” between the ceiling and the roof. Some damage has been sustained but this can be remedied by the removal and replacement of the entire metal cladding with material of an improved quality, and yet be kept in harmony with the aesthetic intent. Noticeable leaks can be observed where the dormer windows intersected the roof especially in the vicinity of the tower.

Tower

Most of the fenestration (window placement and design) on all four sides of the tower has deteriorated to the point where the super-structure of the tower is now being weakened by this state of affairs. A careful study of the design of the tower would reveal that its maintenance is crucial to the structural stability of the building. We would argue that the building is still in some state of good repair because of the strength of the tower.

The windows and the wooden louvre panels which enhance the aesthetics of the Gothic tower need to be replaced in their entirety.

The apertures in the walls and jalousie windows should be corrected and bird-proofed to keep the avian population at bay. Evidence of their presence is manifest on the stairs, handrails, ledges and elsewhere.

The window sills in this area, which were originally sheathed in lead, have all deteriorated to the point where they no longer bear any loads. The same can be said of sills in other parts of the building. As a result, most of the decorative cast-iron columns on the northern side of the tower at the concert hall level have fallen off but remained intact. They are all currently stored behind the stage of the concert hall.

city hall slides

The Concert Hall

The roof/ceiling in the area above the concert hall can be described as a mansard type external roof in conjunction with a hammer-beam “framed” ceiling.

It is tied in a few locations with metal tie-rods that are intended to maintain the geometry and integrity of its shape.

However, because of some leaks, there has been deterioration of some parts of the ceiling. The predominant materials used here seem to be purpleheart and greenheart – both of which are hardwoods that have been spatially and alternately displaced to give the contrasting appearance of a light/dark arrangement.

The eastern wall of the hall is definitely out of plumb or alignment. It has, for the most part, rotated about one to two degrees to the east. Like the windows in other areas, the windows in this location all need to be replaced. A thorough inspection of the lap-edged boards that clad the external wall needs to be carried out to determine, if so and, how much needs to be replaced.

The internal columns that support the roof/ ceiling are all of cast-iron. As can be expected, there has been no deterioration of these columns. However, differential settlement in several areas of the floor seems indicative of subsidence at the foundation level. More likely, though, ‘plastic’ deformation of the wooden structural floor joist has occurred over the years.

None of the remedial works required in this and other areas are insurmountable. However, joiners, carpenters and other skilled and experienced craftsmen, versed in the use of modern day tools, would be assets to have in any restoration project of this nature.

Ancillary and Supplementary Services

When the structure was completed and opened to the public in 1889 there was no electricity available in the town. It was only in 1891 that the service became available. As such, the wiring leaves much to be desired as some of it is very old, and most of it is not in conduit. The premises would have great difficulty passing any coded electrical inspection.  It is not only a fire hazard but the present state of affairs would militate against getting the best possible insurance rate, presuming the building is insured.

The sanitary facilities provided may have been adequate at the time of commissioning. However, as the water-borne sewage system was not available until 1928, that is 39 years later, the additions to the sewage and waste water plumbing have been rather ad hoc.

A lack of adequate water pressure has left the building unprotected with respect to fire mitigation, even though a fire hydrant with appropriate fittings was installed in the concert hall area. The absence of hoses and other fire -fighting accoutrement is very noticeable.

Should the building be restored and made more accessible to the public a revision of the layout of the sanitary facilities would have to be undertaken.

Recommendation

It is our view that apart from the deliberate and systematic physical restoration process and the investigation that enables this, the key to achieving success on a project of this nature would involve a clear description of the goals to be achieved and a streamlined decision process.

To this end we recommend that a broad based (but numerically limited) action committee be established that is ceded with decision making authority to move the process forward. This body would have the mandate to set the project goals, appoint required consultants, coordinate and seek required funding and manage the implementation process. It is envisaged that this body would include members of the private sector, central government, Georgetown City Council, National Trust and civic society.

The authors both worked for the Georgetown Municipality between 1969 and 1973.

 

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