500 hundred years of Civic Pride and Beverley’s best kept secret
the early C12th, the Archbishop of York who was Lord of the Manor of
Beverley granted the town a charter allowing it the right to have its
own Guild Hall. By the C15th they were using four converted shops in
Saturday Market for their meetings.
In 1501, the twelve locally elected Town Keepers purchased a C15th open hall house, a large two storey timber framed building to use as their guild hall for their meetings and to conduct their business.
By the C18th the building was in a very poor state of repair and a new Courtroom was built in 1762, with a Council Chamber above it, which is now the Magistrates’ Room. The imposing classical facade was added in 1832 as the front of the building was in a ruinous condition.
At the time, two additional rooms were added which are now display areas. One of the rooms has a programme of changing exhibitions. The other has contains information about the history of Beverley and the Medieval Waits or town musicians. They attended the mayor in the performance of his public duties and welcomed noble visitors to the town. They also acted as public alarm clocks at the doors of important townsfolk. They had a livery and chains of office with shield shaped badges. Two of these chains are on display.
The Courtroom on the ground floor is in the original part of the building and was originally the meeting room for the Guilds. It later became the Council Chamber and was also used as the courtroom for the Quarter Sessions until 1810 and continued the Magistrates Court until 1991. Hearings included charges of Assault, breaches of the peace, drunk and disorderly behaviour, poaching, vagrancy or infringement of by-laws.
This is an impressive room with pale blue walls and white paintwork. At the top of the room is the mayoral dais with the Royal Coat of Arms of King George on the wall above. The rectangular projections on the walls are ‘Tobin Tubes’ installed in 1875 to help ventilate the chamber. The bottom of the tubes are connected to a source of fresh air which is drawn up through the tube and out through the open top. The paintings on the walls are by renowned Beverley painters, Fred and Mary Elwell,
The impressive stucco ceiling is the work of Guiseppe Cortese, a notable stuccoist from Switzerland who had settled in Yorkshire. In the centre is the figure of Justice which is unusual as she is not shown as blindfold.
At the end of the C19th the courtroom was extended to allow a public viewing area at the back and was also used the Council Chamber. The timber framework on the back wall is part of the original building which was rediscovered during restoration work carried out in the 1980s.
Stairs lead to the Magistrate’s Room on the first floor above the Courtroom. This was originally the Council Chamber but was later used as a retiring room for the magistrates. It is an elegant Georgian room with white and yellow plasterwork and large windows. The wooden display cases contain part of a pewter dinner service used when ever the mayor entertained. Each piece is stamped with the Beverley beaver
The Aldermens benches, the three seater mayoral bench and the treasurers table are all part of the original council furniture. The mayor sat in the central raised seat with the deputy mayor and Clerk of the Chamber on either side. The table had five hinged lids which conceal large storage areas which were probably used to hold documents as well as rents and money.
A short flight of stairs leads to a corridor and the Mayor’s Parlour. This was added in 1832 when the classical facade was built. This was used as a Council Chamber where Members of the Corporation met on the first Monday of the month to discuss the administration of the town. In 1896 a public viewing area was added to the Courtroom, which then became the Council Chamber. The room was then used by the mayor to entertain important visitors and is still used for civic receptions. The room is Regency rather than Georgian and is lit by two large fanlights set in the ceiling. It is a very elegant room with fireplaces at either end and display units containing silverware that has been given to the town. There are more pictures by the Elwells as well as ‘Tobin Tubes’ on the walls.
The heavy oak dresser is a C19th replica and has a display of pewter plates.
Another stairway leads back down to the ground floor and has a list of the Mayors of Beverley from 15773 to the present day.
This is a fascinating building and is often described as Beverley’s hidden secret. It is open Wednesdays 10-4 (10-1 November to April ) and Fridays 10-4. Entry is free and there are knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers to answer question.
There is no parking by the Guildhall. The nearest post code is HU17 9XX and the grid reference is TA 034395.
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