Sydney Town Hall

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The Sydney Town Hall is one of Sydneys best-loved icons.

For more than a century it has been the citys major public and civic building, its clock a popular landmark and the marble steps leading up to the entrance, one of Sydneys favourite meeting places.

Located at the corner of George and Druitt Streets, the Sydney Town Hall is the seat of the city government and the venue for meetings of the City of Sydney Council.

The foundation stone of the first section of the Town Hall was laid on 4 April 1868 by Prince Albert, Duke of Edinburgh and comprised the current vestibule (the original Town Hall) and civic offices. Designed by architects Wilson, Bell & Bond, this was completed in 1869.

In 1879 the City Architect Thomas Sapsford prepared plans for the completion of the building, including the Centennial Hall, all of which was opened on 27 November 1889.

Just to the north of the main entrance is a stone lion that has been carved with one eye shut. It is believed to have been a parody by one of the stonemasons of his supervisor who always checked the work with one eye shut.

Sydney Town Hall sits on the site of Sydneys oldest official burial ground, which by 1820 housed approximately 2,000 dead. Even though most of the bodies were exhumed and moved elsewhere, on several occasions since, excavations in the area have turned up early settlers.

The Sydney Town Hall is an impressive centre for civic and cultural events and its state-of-the-art facilities make it one of Sydneys most exciting venues.

The Main Hall is also a major performance space presenting free lunch time organ recitals and concerts by leading companies such as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

One of the finest examples of high Victorian architecture and decoration in Australia, it features a magnificent concert hall, an 8,000 pipe grand organ and exquisitely crafted stained glass windows.

The Town Hall Grand Organ

Sydney Town Hall Organ

During the 19th century in England, it was customary for civic halls in England and the colonies to be provided with grand organs, imposing symbols of a citys pride and its aspirations. It is therefore not surprising that plans for Sydney Town Hall included an organ of very grand dimensions.

Built in London by William Hill and Son, the Sydney Town Hall Grand Organ was shipped to Australia and installed in 1890. It was then the largest organ in the world and is still the largest ever built with tubular-pneumatic action. Its 126 speaking stops and 14 couplers are spread over five manuals (Choir, Great, Swell, Solo, Echo) and pedals. There are approximately 8,700 pipes.

The organ case was also designed by William Hill and Son to complement the architectural character of the Town Hall, despite opposition from the City Architect who believed that the case should be modern in design. Hills design howe'ver ensured that Sydney would have an organ which in splendour, beauty and tone, could be compared with the greatest organs in the world.

The opening of the Grand Organ was held in Sydney Town Hall on Saturday August 9, 1890 before an audience of 4,000 prominent guests. Mr W.T. Best, the City Organist of Liverpool, considered to be the finest concert organist in the world, was invited to play at the opening. Best stayed on to play at eleven further public recitals, thrilling his audiences with classical and operatic pieces, selections from Bachs organ works and his own compositions.

The concerts were a resounding success and the organ hailed by the Sydney Morning Herald as "the special attraction of the city right now". A City Organist, Auguste Wiegand, from Belgium was appointed. His successor, Arthur Mason, was appointed in 1901, beginning a long tradition of Australian organists to hold the post. The current City Organist, Mr Robert Ampt has held the position since 1978.

In 1973, the Council undertook a major restoration program to restore the Grand Organ which had begun to experience mechanical problems. The firm of R H Pogson Pty Ltd was appointed to manage the project and their craftsmen worked tirelessly for almost a decade to return the organ to its former splendour and tone.

Today, free organ recitals are held throughout the year for visitors to Sydney Town Hall to enjoy. Information about performance times can be obtained by calling Sydney Info on 02 9265 9007.

The Sydney Town Hall Clock Tower

Town Hall Clock TowerThe clock tower had earlier been completed in 1881 and the clock and chimes installed in 1884-1885. Built in sandstone in an Italian Renaissance style, the building incorporates a wealth of carved detail, mosaic pavements, elaborate plasterwork, stencilling, joinery, and etched and stained glass.

The whole complex has, in recent years, been carefully restored under the direction of heritage architect Howard Tanner, and the building was re-opened on 20 February 1992 by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. This massive undertaking involved the reinstatement of the splendid original decorative schemes, as well as reproductions of the wrought iron electroliers, that once graced the interior.

The Town Hall Collection

Encompassing more than 2,000 items that have been acquired by gift, purchase and bequest, the Sydney Town Hall Collection is a rich and varied resource of historical and cultural significance to the City of Sydney.

Many of the items in the Collection decorate the public spaces of Sydney Town Hall and are available for public inspection. Regular changing exhibitions of items from the Collection increase public access to those items that cannot always be displayed, and provide an opportunity to celebrate significant events and anniversaries.

The collection comprises:

The Sydney Town Hall Collection is significant because it documents many aspects of the civic history of Sydney and preserves images and objects with important associational value to the City of Sydney.

The Collection is therefore an important tool for historians, students and those undertaking research and publication in areas relating to civic history.

Through the initiative of the City of Sydney, the Sydney Town Hall Collection continues to document the civic history of Sydney through the acquisition of works of art and historical items. This on-going development will ensure that todays events are preserved and will become tomorrows history for future generations to enjoy.

For more pictures of Sydney Town Hall, visit Sydney Architecture.

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