The Most Perfect Hall in the World

In 1836, the ‘corporation’ (Parrott, 2005, Pg. 95) decided that Liverpool required two new buildings, the first would be used to hold a variety of meetings, dinners, concerts, and festivals, and the second, would become home to a larger, more suitable assize courts. However, after some thought, it seemed sensible to consider the idea of creating one building, which could provide space for both a courthouse, and a hall for social gatherings. After a variety design ideas were submitted, it was decided that Harvey Lonsdale Elmes’s were the most successful, and the building of St George’s Hall began, on the site of Liverpool’s first infirmary’ (BBC, 2014), in 1841. Three years later, on the 18th September 1854, St George’s Hall opened, and celebrated with a ‘series of concerts’ (Parrott, 2005, Pg. 95).

On the 27th January 1862, Charles Dickens performed his public readings at St George’s Hall for the first time, and even ‘gave the world premiere reading of A Christmas Carol (1843) at the hall’ (Cosset, 2014). His tours were so popular, even the vast hall struggled to deal with the huge crowds which Dickens attracted, and his manager, George Dolby, provided a brief explanation of this in his book, Charles Dickens as I Knew Him (1912):

Long before the time for opening arrived the crowd outside was so enormous that a large staff of police was unequal to the occasion and the entrance hall (a large circular vestibule with staircases and galleries, and capable of holding some 3000 or 4000 people) was soon filled. The staircases leading to the hall were carefully guarded, and those with the tickets passed in comfortably, leaving those who were anxious to purchase no alternative but to get into the ‘scrimmage’ at the pay-box (Dolby, 1912, Pg. 14).

The author continued to perform his readings in the hall until 1868, and having clearly formed a soft spot for it, he later went on to describe it as ‘the most perfect hall in the world’ (Dolby, 1912, Pg. 14). In 1869, Dickens returned to St George’s Hall when the city held a farewell banquet to honour Dickens and his work, and during his speech (below) he commended the many achievements of the city.

I propose to you a toast, inseparable from the public enterprise of Liverpool, the public honour and public spirit of Liverpool, inseparable even from this great hall, equally inseparable from the stately streets and buildings around us, and from the hospitals, schools, libraries, all those great monuments of consideration for the many, which have made this place an example of England (Bowes, 1905, Pg. 19).

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The farewell banquet, held inside the Great Hall in 1869 (The Illustrated Times, 1869)
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The Great Hall inside St George’s Hall
St Georges Hall, Liverpool, 1855, Dickens
St Georges Hall 1855 (Parrott, 2005, Pg. 95)

References:

Bowes, C.C. The Associations of Liverpool with Charles Dickens. Liverpool: The Lyceum Press, 1905.

BBC. ‘History of the Hall.’ BBC.co.uk. September 2014. Web. Accessed 26 February 2019.

Coslett, Paul. ‘St George’s Hall.’ BBC.co.uk. September 2014. Accessed 26 February 2019.

Dolby, George. D. Charles Dickens as I Knew Him. The Story of the Reading Tours in Great Britain and America (1866-1870). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912.

Parrott, Kay. Pectoral Liverpool  The Art of WG & William Herdman. Liverpool: The Bluecoat Press, 2005.