Town Halls, Civic Centres and Council Houses – Architecture, history and power

A new book project that tells the story of local government through it’s buildings.

This might be a bit niche but if you’re interested and might be persuaded to write something or send a photo – pls email me


Town halls are the most visible symbol of local democracy in every town and city. Whether they’re grand Victorian edifices or brash 70s redbrick blocks, they occupy a unique position in the fabric of a place. This project will focus on a selection of town halls, Council Houses and civic centres across England and examine what they tell us about the role of councils when they were built, their role now and their future – through the voices of the people who work there or care about local government.

In the past, town halls were grand reminders that our towns and cities were governed by people who, like us, came from the places they represented. Town halls said; “Look at us, we’re important, so we have a building to match our importance.”

Today we still need to say, “This place is important and we’re important,” but we’ll need to say it from places that aren’t so grand and don’t look so imposing. We have to find other ways of showing people we’re important and we matter.


We value and respect local democracy. Today this is particularly important because of three specific challenges: many town halls are under threat due to financial pressures; many people don’t understand what the buildings (and local government) are for; local government is stuck in the grip of dominant negative narratives and can’t get its case across. We’re also reflecting on: What we want our buildings to say about us going forward? What is our future story and how might we use our buildings to say something more, different…or tell it better?

We will produce a beautiful coffee table book (and ebook):

–  fantastic photos (both architectural and people focused that form a social documentary), intriguing stories (first person narratives, opinion pieces and flash-fiction, folklore and creative interpretations of history) available digitally, as videos etc

What’s the aim/result/outcome we are after?

We hope the project will help people to see local government and its town halls in a new light, to value the heritage and their local democracy, to think openly, question what’s in the media and get engaged in decisions that affect their area/their own area.

What will be in the book?

We aim to illustrate the different tiers/types of council – a county council, a district, a big city hall, a combined authority, a local parish, to show the distinctiveness /beauty of the buildings and some of the achievements and to show the importance/significance for the town /place. It won’t be a typology, wouldn’t attempt to make it exhaustive but will be illustrative, starting with the Victorian era and the beginning of civic society in England. We’re aiming to include the main phases of town hall buildings and link it explicitly to the role of local government then, what it was there to do.

i) Victorian grandeur 1850s-1890s – post industrial revolution

ii) the first half of the 20th century and earlier post-war era – 1920s/50s

iii) post-local government re-organisation 1970s

iv)- 2000s onwards – where we are now including refurbishments, split functions, one public estate, the trend towards universality e.g. universal credit, the opportunities, links to housing, the combined authorities and devolution, and the tensions between bespoke services and places and costs in benefits and services

v) and where we could be going/the future, some principles we have discerned through doing the project.

vi) Might also have a small section with photos of what we’ve lost, the town halls that are now Wetherspoons etc

What are looking for:

200 words on why this town hall/civic centre is significant and 400 words on what it tells us.  For each town hall featured we might include:

Two pages of lovely photos and include some beautiful artefacts. A story by someone from that place – could be a councillor/ member of public/someone who works there. If possible a story that says something about the history/context. A story or piece from one of us as the steering group on what this town hall tells us, why we’ve included it – the context and questions

Get in touch – Thanks again…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.