Kendal Town Hall dominates the top of Lowther Street, where Stricklandgate and Highgate meet. It can be seen from most parts of the town above the roof tops, with the clock tower being especially visible. The building is an amalgamation of various building periods, and is built on the site of the town’s White Hall, also known as Leaden or Leather Hall, which was once used as the cloth exchange for the cloth trade in Kendal. Cloth was traded with the Americas during this period, with large amounts being shipped out to Virginia.
In 1825, the White Hall was purchased and a new White Hall, designed by well known Kendalian architect Francis Webster was built in its place. The new White Hall contained a billiards room, newsroom and a lecture hall that also doubled as a ballroom.
For quite some time the White Hall was a popular local meeting spot, until in 1859, it was decided that the old Moot Hall (now Thornton’s chocolate shop) needed replacing as the town hall. The decision was made to transfer the town hall functions to the White Hall, and George Webster was employed to prepare the building for its new lease of life. Webster added some lock up cells in the basement of the building, which eventually became the new police station. These cells are still in use today by South Lakeland District Council as store rooms and offices, and the station entrance can still be seen down Lowther Street. He also added a courtroom to the rear of the building. These Webster designed changes represent the Southern portion of today’s building (i.e. the portion now occupied by the TIC office and back down Lowther Street)
The original building had a cupola where the clock tower is today. This was replaced with a clock and tower in 1861, thanks to a hefty financial gift from John Wakefield. Originally the clock faces were lit with gas lamps. In 1893, the building was again extended, this time on the Northern side, a wine merchants being demolished to make way for extra rooms. The new portion of the town hall was funded by large donations from Alderman William Bindloss and his wife Agnes….to the tune of around £7000. Alderman Bindloss died before the extension was finished, but a room in the new portion of the town hall was named after him in his honour. The bells that can be heard everyday were also paid for by Alderman William Bindloss and cost a total of £3000. The eleven bells were first rung in 1897 in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The bell from the old clock was moved to the fire station.
The town hall is home to an extensive gallery of present and past Aldermen and mayors. In the Town Council chamber there is a collection of original and copy paintings, detailing some of the more well known past mayors of the town, whilst in the main corridor on the ground floor, there are a number of photos of mayors of Kendal from the past 30 years or so.
Hidden away in the rear of the town hall is the Mayor’s parlour. This room is home to some of the more valuable and rare antiquities that the town possesses. For example, there is Queen Katherine Parr’s book of devotions. The book is one of the last surviving items owned by the Queen, and was bought by public subscription for the town in 1936. The town’s regalia are also kept safely here, as are the town’s charters.
Outside the town hall, and to the left of the main entrance, there is a curious lump of stone set into the wall. The piece of stone was once part of base of the town’s Market Cross and originally stood in Stricklandgate near the market place. It is called the Ca Steean, or the Cauld Stean, and was used as a place from which important local and national events were announced. The accession of King Edward VIII and George VI and Elizabeth II were announced from this spot, as well as the ill fated Prince Charles, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie. The stone was used as a meeting spot for George Fox, the Quaker preacher, when he addressed the crowds in Kendal in 1652. At this time, it was situated in the market place. However, it was moved when the market place was reduced in size, to where the current war memorial is situated. When the library at the head of the market place was demolished, it was again moved to its present home outside the town hall and underneath the Bindloss’s foundation stone.
These days the town hall is home to the Tourist Information centre, and also a meeting place for clubs and classes. Run by South Lakeland District Council it is an important piece of Kendal’s architectural history.