Major step is taken in effort to revive historic town hall

Ian Robb outside the empty Town Hall in Lowestoft. Picture: James Bass

Ian Robb outside the empty Town Hall in Lowestoft. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

The green light has been given to apply for funding that would allow a historic town hall to undergo crucial repairs.

Lowestoft Town Council are set to approach Historic England for a grant in the region of £42,000, money which would be directly invested in Lowestoft Town Hall.

With the 19th century building having been unoccupied and unused since 2015, it is now in dire need of maintenance with a view to it being revitalised for future use. The possibility of the town council offices being relocated to the hall has also been discussed.

Speaking at their monthly meeting, town councillor Alice Taylor said: 'Historic England have recommended we apply for an emergency grant amounting to £42,000 and that is what they will agree to.

'£25,000 is needed for emergency repairs and the rest is broken down into other things such as a surveyor coming out to have a look at the hall.

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'This will set us up for other grants and work on the town hall. I ask that we simply be allowed to go through the grant application process and getting the money they (Historic England) want us to have.'

The subsequent approval from the council - combined with Historic England's go-ahead - has paved the way for the first major funding application focussed on the hall's repair since it was passed into the hands of Lowestoft Town Council.

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Historic England will issue a full report on the town hall in due course, arising from Lowestoft's medieval High Street and Scores being designated as one of eight new Heritage Action Zones in England.

The public body's initial assessment included recognition that the town hall is 'clearly a landmark building of considerable visual and historical importance in the conservation area'.

Lowestoft Town Council parish clerk, Shona Bendix, added: 'Like the town council, Historic England's prime concern at present is the condition of the building.

'They've suggested some areas on which to focus our application and have indicated they are potentially in a position to assist us because the hall is Grade II listed, in a conservation area, and might also be viewed as being 'at risk'.

'We're envisaging the funds will be made available very soon, allowing us to take steps forward and make plans for the future.'

A hallow hall: The building's history

Standing on the historic Lowestoft High Street, the town hall in its current form was designed by Suffolk architect JL Clemence and first opened in 1857.

But its history of housing local governance goes back as far as 1570, when a town house and chapel were first established, and the original facility remained in place until a new town house was built in 1698.

The 19th century revamp features an array of stunning stained glass windows made by glass artist James Ballantine. Among them is a depiction of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, famed for hosting an historic meeting between Henry VIII and King Francis I of France in the early-1500s. The design had originally been intended for the nearby Somerleyton Hall which was, at the time, home to the man whose engineering genius turned Lowestoft into a coastal epicentre - Samuel Morton Peto. Two smaller stained glass windows commemorate Peto's extensive contribution to the town.

Exploring the options

Now 161-years-old, the town hall has been vacant since 2015 when previous occupants Waveney District Council (WDC) relocated to the multi-million pound Riverside building.

But it wasn't until May last year that building ownership was officially transferred to the newly-formed Lowestoft Town Council when it was elected for the first time.

The hall's future use therefore falls under the town council's responsibility and, since its inception, councillors have been exploring a host of options including a community hall, arts venue, wedding venue and performance area.

Heritage England recently assigning North Lowestoft with Heritage Action Zone status served as a welcome boost, with the public body and council in agreement that the town hall is pivotal to the recovery and preservation of the area.

Although the hall has seldom been used since it was vacated, the Heritage Open Days festival in September provided a rare opportunity to soak up its majestic interior and see the inside of the clock tower.

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