Exploring Leeds Town Hall

Benjamin Bissett & Izzy Smith – Year 8 members of 2008 Society

Year 8 members of 2008 Society explore the design of Leeds Town Hall

Curiosity – Investigation – Reflection

The first offsite meeting of the 2008 Society was held at the Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 20th November.

Having split into small groups, our brief was to put ourselves into the shoes of one of the original constructors of the building i.e. architect, structural engineer, stonemason, glazier, interior designer, painter and decorator, and furniture and fittings contractor.

Each group then walked around the Town Hall in their adopted role, taking photographs, measurements and generally acquiring as much information as possible about their particular aspect of the building in order to justify the proportion of the original £50 000 budget (£4-5 million today) that they needed to be paid.

An 1858 artist’s rendition of the new Leeds Town Hall.
Leeds Town Hall today.

The groups then had two weeks to prepare and refine their presentations, prior to a further meeting to be held at GSAL when the allocation of funds would be considered.

Each presentation was made in the presence of the other groups, a sixth form architectural student and teachers. All groups fought hard to get what they thought was an appropriate payment for their work and a final decision was announced at a further meeting one week later.

Whilst some groups were not as successful as they had hoped to be, others seemed satisfied with their payment.

Whilst the system of payment used in 1858 ( quantum meruit – Latin for “as much as is deserved”) is hardly likely to be acceptable today, it was an interesting approach to ensure that contractors were rewarded properly for the skills, labour and materials provided.

Everyone in the group really enjoyed the Town Hall visit and the competition for payment. Benjamin Bissett (Year 8)


The 2008 Society went “back to 1858” as we visited Leeds Town Hall as part of the design and build team that helped construct the building. Subsequently we made Dragon’s Den-style pitches in order to be reimbursed fairly for our contributions.

Following a tour of the grand historic building on 20th November, society members were split into groups and assigned different professions from the original 1850’s construction team, such as architects, stone masons, and furniture and fittings. 

The grand Organ at Leeds Town Hall, ‘highly decorative with gold leaf’ as declared by the furniture and fittings team.

Each group was tasked with outlining the benefits of their profession’s work towards the construction, as they tried to secure a share of the £50,000 (£6million in today’s money) budget. Contractors were to be paid on the basis of ‘quantum merit’ (as much as deserved!).

The presentations, on 4th December, were given to “Leeds councillors from the 1850s” but it felt more like being in the 21st Century’s Dragon’s Den for those taking part, with teams working hard to provide solid justifications for their share of the budget.

The “councillors” who helped transport the intrepid members back to 1858, when the hall was originally constructed, were Mrs Purcell, Mr Yates and an aspiring young architect from our Sixth Form.

The councillors’ role was to review the merits of the work presented by each group, provide feedback and their rationale for allocating all or only part of their budget requests.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the task, learning about the history as well as the design and construction of Leeds Town Hall. In addition, we experienced great team work and developed our presentation skills as we attempted to seek reimbursement for our contributions towards the construction of Leeds Town Hall. Izzy Smith (Year 8)

For more information about the 2008 Society, please speak to Mr Yates or Mr Dodd in school.

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