History of the Town Hall

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History of the Town Hall

In 1900 a competition was held for the design of the Town Hall to be built on the reclamation reserve at the foot of Cuba Street. The design of Joshua Charlesworth, under the nom de plume ‘Commonwealth’, was selected as the winning entry for its strongly drawn and well organised design in the classical Renaissance manner.

The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) on 18 June 1901. Construction began in May 1902.

On Wednesday 7 December 1904 Mayor Aitken opened the Town Hall with a gold and greenstone key. A programme of events to celebrate the occasion was spread over four days. It involved the chorus and orchestra of the Wellington Musical union, various soloists, a choir of seven hundred children and a juvenile orchestra of 30 players.

The Wellington Town Hall has had strong ties with Wellington residents and their local body of power. As well as holding many events as part of the Wellington Convention Centre the Town Hall is still the office of the Mayor and city councillors, effectively becoming the centre from which the city is run. The auditorium’s acoustics are internationally renowned, and it has housed thousands of concerts and events over the years, attracting significant visitors and entertainers.

Victorian Municipal Architecture

The Wellington Town Hall is a fine example of late Victorian municipal architecture, and is a historically important building for the city of Wellington. The building is a landmark civic building, of which there are few comparable buildings in New Zealand.

The Town Hall was originally fronted by a Roman styled portico topped by a clock tower some 150 ft tall. The clock was donated to the city by John Blundell in 1922, but the clock and its tower were removed in 1934 as a precaution after the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake. Also at this time the main portico, pediment, balustrade, parapet and bold cornice were stripped from the building, diminishing its scale and presence. In 1943, after the 1942 earthquake the building was strengthened. The Town Hall was fully refurbished in 1991-1992 and was reopened in February 1992.

The main auditorium in the Town Hall possesses acoustic qualities exemplary for symphony, choral, and soloist works. Acoustic expert Rod Satory rates it in the top ten auditoriums in the world and Erich Bergel ranks it along with Carnegie Hall, Concertegebuon and Musikvareinsaal.

Architect – Joshua Charlesworth

Charlesworth was born in Yorkshire and the first record of his practice in Wellington was in the New Zealand Post Office Directory of 1885-97. He won a competition for the design of the Home for the Aged and Needy in June 1887, and in the same year won another for the design of the Nelson Town Hall.

Charlesworth set up practice in Wellington in his early twenties, designing many institutional buildings and showing command of the revival styles of architecture.

His work includes the Wellington Town Hall (1901), Brancepeth Station Homestead additions, Wairarapa (1905), Te Aro Post Office (1908), St Hilda’s Church, Upper Hutt (1909), and seventeen branch banks for the Bank of New Zealand, situated throughout the country (1907-17).

Charlesworth was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1905, and became a life member of the Institute. He was its vice president in 1909-10, and was the first chairman of a society of architects which was formed in 1912. Charlesworth also belonged to the Yorkshire Society in Wellington as president for many years.


Town Hall EntranceClick here for more photos


Wellington Convention Centre
Tel: +64-04-801 4231 / Fax: +64-04-801 4310
Freephone: 0800 20 23 24
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Wellington 6011, New Zealand

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