‘Why go to all the trouble of rebuilding?’
Recently, on local social media history groups, there has been much discussion concerning the fate of Canterbury’s old Guildhall.
Therefore, I thought it a good idea to set out a few facts concerning the last few years of this historic structure.
Concern for the condition of the Guildhall in 1947 prompted city architect Hugh Wilson to examine the fabric of the building on several occasions in the company of officers from the Ministry of Works’ ancient monuments Department.
In July 1948 he submitted a full and frank report to the city council. This detailed the many problems he’d found with the Guildhall structure and also listed the suggested repairs needed to overcome them.
The problems were considerable – a combination of age, combined with the instability of the botched Guildhall Street elevation, which had been ‘restored’ in the Edwardian period.
The Ministry of Works were in favour of repair and listed the Guildhall as a recognised ancient monument. Meanwhile, Hugh Wilson designed new external elevations for the building, whilst carrying out further necessary and even more invasive examinations of the structure.
This involved the shoring up of the troublesome Guildhall Street elevation and also the removal of the medieval roof timbers which were pushing that wall out of alignment. The first of the above pictures shows the old Guildhall in that state, sometime in 1948.
By 1949, Hugh Wilson was reporting that the Guildhall would need to be dismantled to within a few feet of the ground, in order to affect proper repairs and then rebuilt. This was carried out in 1950.
It was then that town clerk, John Boyle, intervened to say that as the proposed rebuilt Guildhall would have little historic fabric left, why go to the trouble and expense of rebuilding it at all? The rest, as they say, is history.
A meeting in the Guildhall in November 1947
The Guildhall, being made safe in 1948