St Mary’s Hill was originally the route for the Great North Road between London and York and crossed the River Welland at Town Bridge. The original Town Hall was in a room above the gateway guarding entry to the town from the south.
With the arrival of turnpike trusts and increased road traffic, the gateway caused increasing traffic congestion. The Turnpike Trustees wanted to demolish the gateway and widen the road. A new Town Hall was built a bit further along the road, partially funded by the Cecil family of Burghley House.
Completed in 1770, this is an elegant Georgian building constructed of local stone. The goal was directly below the Courtroom until the C19th when it was no longer used.
Originally the Town Hall had a central flight of stairs but these caused traffic problems as well as being a danger to pedestrians and were later replaced by two side flights. At the top is the Coat of Arms of Stamford.The three lions on the left indicate that Stamford was a Royal Burgh.The gold and blue squares are the arms of the de Warre family, who were Lords of the Manor in the C13th.
The entrance hall is impressive with stone flagged floor, double staircase and doric pillars. A display case contains the bronze weights and measures dating from 1826. Another has artefacts from nearby RAF Witering who were conferred the Freedom of the Borough. There is also a model of Daniel Lambert who was famous as the fattest man in England weighing over 52 stones. He died in 1809 when visiting Stamford and is buried in St Martin’ Churchyard.
Upstairs is the Courtroom which was used for the Quarterly Assizes as well as the Magistrates’ court. No longer used as a courthouse, the room is used for civic receptions, function and also for contentious meetings of the town council that are likely to attract a lot of public interest.
Above the Magistrates’ bench are the Royal Coat of Arms of George III, with a portrait of Charles II below them. Round the walls are lists of all the Aldermen and later Mayors of Stamford from 1442 to the present day. Important events are interspersed in red. The cupboards contain the minute books from George II to the present.
The Council Chamber is on the ground floor at the back of the building and was added in the early C20th on the site of the Gaol, which closed in 1878. Before then, council meetings were held in the entrance hall.
At the head is the mayor’s chair and there are portraits of previous mayors on the walls. The C18th carved wood settles around the walls are used by the general public when they attend council meetings.
The Mayor’s Parlour is an opulent room at the front of the building. This is still the working office as well as being used to entertain visitors. The furniture is Georgian . The clock in C17th and was made by a Stamford clockmaker.
On the wall is a picture of the Stamford Bull Run which was held every November for almost 700 years until it ended in 1739. This has recently been resurrected in the biennial Stamford Georgian Festival.
The Civic Regallia is kept behind a curtain screen and displayed behind armoured glass, It reflects the importance and wealth of Stamford.
The silver Wand of Office is the highlight of the collection and was given to the town by Edward IV.
Behind it is the small mace made of solid silver and then gilded. This dates from 1660 and was purchased by the Borough to replace an older mace melted down by the troops of Oliver Cromwell.The large mace, again gilded solid silver was given to the town in 1678 by one of its two Members of Parliament . This is the mace carried in civic processions and is placed in front of the mayor at all council meetings.
The C17th solid silver punch bowl has a mulberry on the lid and end of the ladle, representing the silk trade that flourished in the town for a short time during the Middle Ages.
Stamford had a mint from Saxon times until the end of the C12th and there is a display of coins minted in Stamford. Next to them are examples of Wait’s badges with the town coat of arms. The waits were minstrels but also doubled up as law enforces.
The Hall Book records minutes of council meetings and this is the oldest surviving book dating from 1465
The drawers below contain the town charters. Fourteen survive dating from 1462 until 1714 and is one of the largest collections in the country. They were written on vellum and many still have their seal attached.
One of the committee rooms is now the Malcolm Sargent room who lived in Stamford until he was 18, was made an Hononary Freeman of Stamford and is buried in Stamford Cemetery.
Tours of the town hall are run, free of charge, on Fridays. They last about an hour. I was the only person on the tour and the guide was informative and friendly. There was loads of information to take in – much more than in the guide book I bought.