The Minstrels Gallery
The Town Council has an important role to play as the custodians of the town’s fine Victorian Gothic Town Hall, built in 1854. The current Town Hall is actually Banbury’s fourth, and has also doubled as the Police Station, with a number of former cells still in evidence.
Since the Council was formed in 2000 it has undertaken a rolling programme of repairs and refurbishment, including external works to the roof and clocktower and the installation of new toilet facilities.
The Town Council received a challenge from the Lord Lieutenant, Hugo Brunner, during the Mayor's Civic Dinner in May 2007 to reopen and reinstate the Town Hall’s Minstrels’ Gallery in time for the next Mayor’s dinner in 2008. The Gallery is accessed by a narrow spiral stone staircase, and was used to allow musicians to play from the balcony to the assembled throng below. The original Gallery opening had been sealed some 30 years ago, for structural reasons, to support the load from the Clocktower. Banbury Councillors, both since they became a Town Council and even before this, when they acted as the Charter Trustees, had wanted to restore this lovely feature.
Given that this year the Council is celebrating 400 years of being granted a Royal Charter by King James I, and with the historical connection between Minstrels and the Jacobean theme, the Town Council decided to make this its flagship project for the anniversary year.
GBS Architects of Oxford were commissioned to oversee the scheme, as they had recent experience of working on St Mary’s Church, Banbury’s only Grade I Listed Building. The timeframe was very tight as the works had to be done during January and February, when the Town Hall was not in such regular use. The Mayor also decided to add a little extra pressure by bringing the 2008 Civic Dinner forward from May to March!
Local builders, Imley Construction were awarded the contract and work started in January. The work was structurally very complex, as the huge weight of the Clocktower bore down upon this arch, and a way had to be found to get the bricks out and a new arched steel joist into position without the roof falling in during the process! The solution involved working with a specialist tunneling contractor to provide temporary underpinning whilst the brickwork was removed bit by bit and the new steel inserted.
It was very much touch and go for completing the building works in time for the Mayor’s dinner on 28 March 2008. But with the builders leaving on Good Friday and the cleaners and painters working over the Easter weekend, we were ready for the Grand Opening at the Civic dinner. It was wonderful for guests to once again enjoy the sight and sound of musicians playing from the Gallery, as they had always been meant to do.