Warwick Town Hall (Queensland's Southern Downs, Australia)
Officially opened in October 1888, the stone Warwick Town Hall on Palmerin Street is important in demonstrating the consolidation and importance of Warwick as a business and administrative centre for the surrounding district during the late 19th century. It is an excellent example of the work of architect Willoughby Powell, demonstrates the principal characteristics of a 19th century town hall, is a landmark, and has a long association with the Warwick community. The Footballers Memorial, a marble honour board mounted on the front of the Town Hall, is a rare and unusual example of a war memorial that reflects the contemporary parallels drawn between war and sport. The first European pastoralists, Patrick Leslie and his brothers, arrived on the Darling Downs in 1840, and selected the land which became Toolburra and Canning Downs stations. The New South Wales Government opened the Darling Downs Pastoral District on 11 May 1843, and in 1847 the site of Warwick was chosen as the business and administrative centre for the southern Darling Downs. Warwick township, surveyed in 1849, developed slowly during the 1850s and by 1857 the population of the parish of Warwick had reached just over 1300. Under the provisions of the 1858 Municipalities Act (NSW), any centre with a population in excess of 1000 was entitled to petition the colonial government for recognition as a municipality. Brisbane was proclaimed a municipality on 7 September 1859. By 1859, the year in which the colony of Queensland separated from New South Wales, the township of Warwick was recognised as a major urban centre on the Darling Downs, and when Queensland's new electoral districts (settled areas only) were proclaimed on 20 December 1859, the electorate of the Town of Warwick had its own representative in the Legislative Assembly. In February 1861 a petition calling for municipal status for the town of Warwick, with 110 signatures appended, was sent to the Queensland Governor, and on 25 May 1861 Warwick was proclaimed a municipality. The municipal boundary followed the original Warwick Town Reserve of five square miles. Warwick was the fifth corporation created in Queensland outside of Brisbane, being preceded by Ipswich, Toowoomba, Rockhampton and Maryborough. The first Warwick municipal election was conducted on 5 July 1861, and at its first meeting on 15 July 1861, the Warwick Municipal Council elected John James Kingsford as the first mayor of Warwick. At this time the first Warwick Town Hall was established in a slab building at the northern end of Albion Street, which had been constructed in the early 1850s as Warwick's first court house. In 1873 the Council purchased the Masonic Hall, a brick building in Palmerin Street, and this served as the Warwick Town Hall until imposing new premises were constructed in 1887, on a half-acre (2023m2) site in Palmerin Street purchased for £500. During the late 19th century, Palmerin Street gradually replaced Albion Street as the main centre of commercial and public activity in Warwick. A sum of £2000 was borrowed from the Queensland Government, and a competition for the design of the new Town Hall was held in 1885, expenditure not exceeding £3,500. First place in the competition was won by Clark Bros, a partnership formed in Sydney in 1883 between architect brothers John J and George Clark; the design by Clark Bros coming closest to Council's budget. However, although more costly, the design of second placegetter, Willoughby Powell, was eventually chosen for the new Town Hall. Powell had arrived in Queensland c1873, and practiced as an architect until c1913. During Powell's architectural career in which he alternated between employment in the Queensland Department of Public Works and periods of private practice, including working for Richard Gailey, he was responsible for the design of a number of substantial buildings in Toowoomba, Maryborough, and Brisbane including churches, private residences, shops hotels, and the Toowoomba Grammar School. Powell was also responsible for the winning design in a competition for the (third) Toowoomba City Hall, although he subsequently had to give up supervision of its construction to Toowoomba architects James Marks and Son in order to take up an appointment in the Department of Public Works. Powell died in 1920. Tenders for the building were called in 1887. Although tenders were called for either a brick and stone or an all-stone building, Council accepted the tender of Michael O'Brien for a stone building, and the contract with O'Brien, for £4810, was signed in March 1887. Warwick had access to quality building stone from a number of nearby locations. As early as 1861 Warwick boasted 16 stone houses. By 1886, there were 14 stone masons working in Warwick, as opposed to four bricklayers. Warwick’s sandstone buildings indicated prosperity and importance, which reinforced its position as the major town on the southern Darling Downs. Shortly after construction began, O'Brien advised the Council he was insolvent, and arranged for the firm of Stewart, Law and Longwill to take over the work, which they did on 9 July 1887. Work recommenced under the supervision of William Wallace, with sandstone transported from the Mt Sturt quarry for the Palmerin Street elevation, and from the Mt Tate quarry for the back and sides of the building. The stone work was subcontracted to John McCulloch, a Warwick stonemason responsible for the stone work on a number of prominent buildings in the town including Pringle Cottage (McCulloch’s house), the Court House, St Marks Church, St Andrews Church, Central School, the Sisters of Mercy Convent, the Railway Goods Shed and the Albion Street Post Office. The foundation stone of the new Town Hall was laid on 13 August 1887 by Lady Griffith, wife of then Premier of Queensland, Sir Samuel Walker Griffith. A bottle, sealed with the Corporation seal and containing a copy of a commemorative scroll, copies of the local papers and coins, was placed in a cavity in the stone. A clock tower was not part of Powell's original design for the new Town Hall. In late 1887, however, it was suggested that the building would be enhanced by the addition of a clock tower. At a meeting of ratepayers in December 1887, a vote was carried in favour of the addition of a tower which was subsequently incorporated into the building. The final cost of the Town Hall was £6317. The clock itself was not installed until 1891-2. It is understood that the Council acquired a bell from St Mary's Church in Warwick, which was eventually installed on the outside of the tower. Occupied by the Council from September 1888, and hosting its first public performance on 7 September, the new Town Hall was formally opened on 1 October 1888 by the Mayor of Warwick, Ald. Arthur Morgan. The event was marked with a concert given by the local Philharmonic Society. In his remarks, Morgan described the new Town Hall as ‘...a credit to the town… If there was any truth in the saying that the history of a town was known by the character of its buildings, then the Municipal Council of Warwick had no reason to be ashamed of the page they had contributed to the history of their town’. The Town Hall faced west directly onto Palmerin Street. It was reported that the front of the ground floor contained, either side of a 30ft by 9ft (9.1m by 2.7m) corridor, two rooms on the south side, each 20ft by 13ft (6m by 4m); and a front room on the north side, with another office behind. The southern rooms were meant for the aldermen, and the northern rooms for the Town Clerk and the rate collector, but these officials instead chose to occupy the first floor rooms. The first floor included two offices, ‘on the right’, each 14ft by 13ft (4.3m by 4m), with a front room extending the width of the building, for the Municipal Chambers. A narrow staircase ascended from the first floor, to a series of steps and ladders within the tower. The hall, with a panelled and coved ceiling and seven windows to each side, was 70ft (21.3m) long from its entrance to the stage, and 42ft (12.8m) wide, with walls 26ft (7.9m) in height. Doors led to the stage on either side of the arched proscenium – which had a 22ft by 18ft (6.7m by 5.5m) opening – and there were two dressing rooms at the rear of the building. The Town Hall was the venue for a number of celebrations, including a ball for the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Fireworks were discharged from the tower to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking, during the war in South Africa in 1900, and the balcony of the Town Hall was used to proclaim the declaration of the WWI Armistice in November 1914 and of the City of Warwick on 2 April 1936. A reception was held in the hall in 1923 for the Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, when he laid the foundation stone for the war memorial in Leslie Park. It was also used by community groups for balls, festivities suppers, concerts and flower shows. The hall’s acoustics attracted travelling performers, including JC Williamson, Peter Dawson and Gladys Moncrief. As well as hosting functions, the Town Hall was used for picture shows, with references to Cook’s Pictures being shown there as early as 1906. The building has had a number of additions and renovations over the years. Gas lighting was installed in the building in 1889, and was subsequently replaced by electricity c1912-3. In October 1907 Conrad Cobden Dornbusch, architect, called tenders for the addition of a gallery (a tiered balcony for audience seats) and iron escape stairs in the hall. Dornbusch (1867-1949) trained in England, and by 1887 was employed in the Brisbane office of the Architects Oakden, Addison and Kemp. He was practicing as an architect in Warwick by 1891, where he had an office in the Warwick Town Hall during the 1890s. He was elected an Associate of the Queensland Institute of Architects in 1893, and a Fellow in 1913. He was an Alderman of the Warwick Municipal Council in 1901. In 1910 he entered into a partnership with Daniel Connolly, with their offices located opposite the Town Hall. Dornbusch and Connolly worked on a number of prominent Warwick buildings, including the Christian Brothers’ School; the Mitchner shelter shed at the Warwick General Cemetery; the Johnsons Building adjacent to the Town Hall; the Langham and Criterion hotels on Palmerin Street; and St Mary’s Church. The partnership also designed the rest house at the Stanthorpe Soldiers Memorial. The new town hall gallery designed by Dornbusch was 42 feet (12.8m) by 13 feet 6 inches (4.1m) with five tiers for seating. The balcony fascia was panelled with pressed metal. On the southern side of the gallery was a fire escape door leading to an external iron stair to the alley running down the side of the building. The plans included substantial swing doors leading into the hall from the ground floor foyer, which were built under a separate contract. The contract for the gallery was awarded to HD Miller, who commenced work on 9 December 1907 and promised to have the gallery ready by Boxing Day, for the Caledonian Society’s 35th annual gathering in the Town Hall – a feat which was just achieved. The contract for the swing doors was let in September 1908 to JD Connellan and R Elloyes. Steel girders were installed on the front of the balcony to support these doors which hung between the vestibule and the auditorium. The Town Hall was also extended at the rear in 1911. Efforts to extend the Town Hall date from about 1907, when new supper rooms at the back of the hall were recommended by the Town Hall Committee. By 1908 the committee also hoped to enlarge the hall. Loans were obtained from the Queensland Government, and in 1910 Dornbusch and Connolly were commissioned to design the additions. The work was undertaken in 1911 by contractors Connolly and Bell (for a tender of £1297), and when the Town Hall Committee inspected the additions in August 1911, it stated that 200 more chairs were required, due to the extension of the hall, and that the area underneath the ‘new dressing rooms’ should be enclosed with corrugated iron. The Town Hall was also a place for a prominent memorial to remember the war dead. In early 1917 a movement was initiated by James Brown, Patron of the Warwick and District Amateur Rugby Football League, to erect ‘a memorial to honour the Warwick league football heroes, who have given their lives for their King and country (and those who may yet fall)’. A committee was formed, subscriptions collected and a tablet unveiled at a ceremony on 12 May 1917. Inscribed with nine names (later 19) and placed to the right of the entrance to the Town Hall, the tablet was the work of Warwick masons Troyahn, Coulter and Thompson. In unveiling the tablet, the then Mayor of Warwick Ald. Gilham drew contemporary parallels between war and sport, suggesting that ‘There were worse places for young fellows to be than on the football field and places that were not such good training grounds to fit the young fellows for service to the Empire. It was said that Waterloo was won on the cricket fields of England. Probably some of the glories of the war had been contributed to, and to some extent made possible by, the previous practice the boys had received on the football fields of sunny Queensland’. A tablet/plaque to the memory of Colonel William James Foster CB, CMG, DSO, Australian Staff Corps, was also mounted to the right of the entrance to the Town Hall in 1930. Colonel Foster was born in Warwick in 1881 and died in England in 1927. The memorial was erected by Colonel Foster's brother officers, of the Australian Staff Corps and Australian Light Horse. Further changes occurred in the Town Hall in the 1920s. Undated plans by Dornbusch and Connolly show that a strong room, 3ft 9 inches by 8ft (1.1m by 2.4m) with a concrete floor, was added to the upper floor adjacent to the gallery, and this occurred between 1925 and 1929. In 1925 there were also plans to turn the Town Clerk and accountant’s rooms into the Council Chamber, and vice versa. Minor alterations to the vestibule were made in April 1926, to plans by Dornbusch and Connolly, and the nosing of the step at the entrance was modified. Tiles were added to the entrance vestibule c1929. On 6 August 1930 a contract was signed with James Straddock to build a ticket office in the vestibule in accordance with plans drawn by Dornbusch. The Town Hall was again extended to the rear, including the construction of a separate lavatory block, in 1929-30. In 1928 the Town Hall Committee recommended renovations and further additions, including extending the dressing rooms and the back of the Town Hall, and erecting four brick lavatories. The lack of ‘public conveniences’ had been an issue for Warwick for some time. There was only one latrine, in Leslie Park, in 1911, and more public lavatories for Warwick had become part of the local Labor Party’s policy by 1927. The tender of P Thornton for £2877, for improvements to the Town Hall to be completed in 18 weeks, was accepted in June 1929. The improvements included a new supper room, measuring 42ft by 30ft (12.8m by 9.1m), which was almost finished in September 1929. By that time widening of the Council Chamber – from 13ft to 20ft (4m to 6m) – was about to commence. The new supper room appears to have been added to the rear (east) of the existing 1911 timber extension. The lavatories were completed by August 1930, when Dornbusch (as architect) and Thornton (as contractor) were in a disagreement about Thornton’s adherence to the building specifications: the joists in the supper room were in many cases over 5 inches (12.7cm) wider apart than specified, while the rafters in the lavatory block were more than double the width apart that was specified. The lavatories were attached to a septic system, as Warwick’s sewerage scheme was not implemented until World War II. The Town Hall lavatory block was seen as ‘out of date’ by 1948, and new public toilets were built on Grafton Street by June 1954 (since replaced). Warwick was one of the first municipalities in Queensland to have a lethal chamber for exterminating stray cats and dogs with coal gas, and one was added ‘at the rear of the Town Hall yard’ by March 1935. It was said to have been built of concrete, with a removable door and two pipes; one for pumping in the gas, and one for releasing displaced air. Death was supposed to occur within 3-4 minutes, and was seen as an improvement on the previous method of death by hanging. However, no written evidence has been found confirming its exact location. In October 1935 Warwick celebrated (prematurely) 75 years of municipal government, and at this time the local press popularised the idea of the town being proclaimed a city. The Queensland Cabinet approved the granting of city status to Warwick on 2 April 1936, and this was celebrated in Warwick on 29 June. By the 1950s there was pressure to extended the Town Hall once more, and £7500 was borrowed, although the City Engineer claimed that £14,000 would be required to ensure adequate seating, stage space and dressing rooms, while completely replacing the supper room and building a new kitchen. This work did not eventuate. A Council employee, Tom Bryant, recalled that in the 1950s the room on the ground floor to the southern side of the entrance was used by a clerk and two typists, while immediately inside the office was a large public counter. In the 1960s the position of Health Surveyor was created and the room was divided to provide a separate office space. On the northern side of the entry was the committee room which was connected to the Shire Clerk’s Office. Upstairs, office space was provided for the Works Foreman and the Sewerage Foreman, while the Mayor had a private office and retiring room. The room on the southern side was used for Council meetings. A raised podium was provided for the Mayor and part of the room was separated by a rail to form a public gallery which had a separate doorway. In 1965 the supper room was modernised in accordance with plans prepared by Warwick Consulting Engineer HA Leonard. Between 1962 and 1972 a kitchen extension was added at the rear of the hall, onto the other extensions. By the late 1960s, the Town Hall was considered generally inadequate for the purposes of the City Council. A new administration centre was erected at the corner of Fitzroy and Albion Streets, and the last meeting of the Council was held in the Town Hall in August 1975. The Town Hall, after being listed with the National Trust in 1973, was re-roofed in 1975 with a National Estate Grant, and a damp proof course was inserted into the main building in 1976. Further refurbishments occurred in 1984, when the ceiling and walls were repainted and new incandescent chandeliers replaced the former fluorescent lights. Stage lighting was renewed and improved and a bio box was installed behind the gallery to provide required lighting effects. Carpet was laid on the floor, which was provided with heating, and concrete was poured on the foyer floor. In the 1990s there was a problem with rising damp in the front, northern room, which did damage to the plasterwork, and repairs were made c1998. The rear office on the northern side of the ground floor has also been converted to a men’s toilet at some point. In July 1994 the Queensland Government amalgamated the City of Warwick and the surrounding Shires of Allora, Glengallan and Rosenthal to form the Shire of Warwick; which was later amalgamated with Stanthorpe Shire in 2008 to form the Southern Downs Regional Council. The Warwick Town Hall remains in use as a venue for community functions including flower shows, school plays and other entertainment. In 2017 its ground floor offices were used for a tourism office and craft shop, while the upstairs rooms were used by the Southern Downs Regional Council’s Economic Development Unit. The building remains a prominent local landmark in the otherwise low-rise centre of the town. Source: Queensland Heritage Register.