Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Celebrating their 75th year, the 3000 capacity Civic Hall and its smaller 1134 capacity sister venue the Wulfrun Hall are the major hub for live entertainment in Wolverhampton and the Black Country.
Expect to see the biggest names in pop and rock, TV's top comedians, plus established and emerging stars from all genres of music and comedy. Throw in world-renown circuses, the biggest names in world darts and championship boxing plus the UK's most popular psychic mediums ? it's all happening here!
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Below is a Full Virtual Tour of the Civic Hall.
Use the Virtual Viewpoint from the drop down menu if you have your ticket locations.
The hall was built in 1938 following a design competition in 1934 won by Lyons and Israel to build a large concert hall and the smaller Wulfrun Hall, for theatre and chamber performances. Construction commenced in April 1936 and the Halls were officially opened on 12 May 1938.
The hall has hosted a variety of events since its opening, although they are now mostly popular music based. In recent years the venue has been in competition for many of the bigger acts with Birmingham's o2 Academy, among others.
Despite this, the venue has attracted many mid-sized acts that have stopped at the venue on UK tours.
It which has also staged some sports events. Throughout much of the 1980s professional wrestling was broadcast live from the venue on Saturday afternoons. This became a noted part of English culture until American wrestling became more popular in the 1990s. British Wrestling returned to the venue in the 2000s. On Thursday March 16, 2006 it hosted Week 4 of the 2006 Premier League Darts and since 2007, the venue has staged the Grand Slam of Darts.
Two long running club nights, 'Cheeky Monkey' and 'Blast Off' were held on Friday and Saturday respectively. Promoters decided to no longer run the indie-rock themed Blast Off in March 2014, citing low attendance numbers.
Friday afternoons see one of the largest ballroom and sequence dances in the UK. The hall has hosted dances since 1938, originally on Saturday evenings, when many top dance bands and orchestras have played to capacity audiences.
The Wolverhampton Youth Orchestra/Youth Wind Orchestra play their annual pre-tour concert here.
Morrissey played his first solo performance at the Civic Hall on 22 December 1988. Admission was said to be free to anyone wearing a The Smiths T shirt. Nearly 20,000 fans were reported to attempt to gain entry to the show many of which had queued for days.
Slipknot's performance at the Civic Hall in 2000 was noted for turntablist Sid Wilson stagediving from the 20 ft high balcony onto the crowd, as per his trademark. This injured a young woman breaking her leg, she later recovered.
Nirvana performed All Apologies for the first time before a live audience at the Civic Hall on November 6, 1991.
Planning a new public hall
For many years people talked about the possibility of building a civic hall, but nothing happened until 1920 when Councillor Clement Jenks raised the matter at a council meeting. It took another two years for the council to seriously consider the project.
In August 1922 the General Purposes Committee was asked to recommend seven of its members to form a Civic Hall Committee to consider, and report on the desirability of building a hall out of the rates, and if so, what form it should take, and where it would be built.
Word of the formation of the committee soon got around and great public interest was shown in the project. It was aided by the Express & Star which published articles and letters about the project, and also ran a competition to decide on the most desirable facilities that a public hall should have.
The competition was won by two people who shared the prize. Thanks to the newspaper’s influence, most of their suggestions were eventually incorporated into the new building. The competition and the articles in the newspaper greatly increased public interest in the project, and stirred the council into action.
The building,built of local multi-coloured brick with Portland stone dressings, took around two years to complete. It was built by a local firm, Henry Willcock and Company Limited.
The entrance leads into a large vestibule extending across the full width of the building, with an open gallery on three sides, and large doors leading into the Civic hall.
Councillor Bertram Kidson, J.P. Chairman of the Civic Hall Committee.
In July 1924 the council decided to adopt the committee’s recommendations after a debate that lasted three hours, and a vote which was won by 19 to 16 votes. It was estimated that the hall would cost around £80,000 which equated to a two penny rate. On the following day the Express & Star wrote:
The civic life of the town will unquestionably be enhanced when a suitable hall has been completed. Those who today are possibly feeling somewhat timid will, we are sure, eventually realise the necessity for a forward step and the wisdom of the decision, though this was reached by a small majority of the council.
Although it seemed that the project would soon get underway, there were still many delays which lasted over ten years. In August 1925 the council launched an improvement scheme to clear a site in readiness for the building of the hall, but little else happened until February 1934 when the Civic Hall Committee asked the council to proceed as soon as possible with the scheme, and organise an open architectural competition for the design.
The council agreed to the recommendation, and two months later the committee produced a second report which suggested that the hall should be used for banquets, concerts, dances, meetings, and receptions. It should cost no more than £100,000 plus an allowance of £10,000 for contingencies, and fluctuations in the price of materials and labour. Prizes of £350, £250, and £150 were offered for designs.
There were still further difficulties. By 1935 the estimated cost of the hall had increased to £150,000. The council made an application to borrow the money which was considered at an inquiry run by the Ministry of Health. The Wolverhampton Property Owners’ Defence League opposed the plan, and suggested that it should be postponed for five years, but the Minister approved the plan and building work began in April 1936.
There are two main assembly halls, the larger Civic Hall and the smaller Wulfrun Hall, each forming an independent unit with separate entrances and cloakrooms, but for important functions they can be used as a suite of rooms with a centrally-placed refreshment room and crush room.
The official opening took place on Thursday 12th May, 1938.
The proceedings began at 11.30 when Mr. G. D. Cunningham the city organist of Birmingham gave a recital on the Compton Organ while the audience arrived. He was the first musician to play in the new building. At 12.10 the official procession arrived.
The procession proceeded through the hall to the platform where speeches were given, prayers were said, hymns were sung, and Lord Dartmouth declared the building open for public use. This was followed by a short recital given by the Wolverhampton Musical Society, conducted by Harold Gray and accompanied by G. D. Cunningham on the organ. Afterwards the civic party departed and the audience left the building. In the evening, a ball attended by all of the civic dignitaries was held to celebrate the opening. The guests were entertained by Jack Hylton and his orchestra.
The following people took part in the official procession:
|The Chief Constable||The Mayor, Councillor R. E. Probert|
|The Town Clerk, J. Brock Allon||The Chairman of the Civic Hall Committee, Councillor Bertram Kidson|
|The Earl of Dartmouth||The Deputy Mayor, Alderman Charles A. Mander|
|The Mayor’s Chaplain, Canon J. Brierley||The High Sheriff, Major S. J. Thompson|
|The Bishop of Lichfield||Sir Robert Bird, M.P.|
|Geoffrey le M. Mander, M.P.||Ian Hannah, M.P.|
|The Borough Coroner, C. O. Langley||The Stipediary Magistrate, Bertram Grimley|
|The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor E. R. Canning||The Chairman of Staffordshire County Council, Alderman R. G. Patterson|
|The Mayors and Town Clerks of Walsall, Dudley, West Bromwich, Smethwick, Stafford, Wednesbury, Bilston, and Rowley Regis||The Civic Hall Committee|
|The Architects, E.D. Lyons and L. Israel||The Builders, H. B. Wilcock, and F. Stephens
The hall seats 1,283 people on the ground floor, and 497 in the gallery. A lower platform has space for an 80 piece orchestra, with tiers behind, for a choir of up to 200.
The hall is completely encircled by promenades at both ground and balcony levels. The colour scheme is grey, primrose and fawn, with striped decorations, and oyster coloured glass in the ceiling through which light filters. The platform is flanked by silvered walls, and the upholstery and carpets are a rich dark brown.
The first concert in the hall took place four days later. It was given by the Old Royals Association (old pupils of the Royal Wolverhampton School) and featured Webster Booth and Ann Ziegler as soloists. The first orchestral concert in the Civic Hall was appropriately given by the Wolverhampton Philharmonic, conducted by John Matthews. They gave three concerts in the hall in 1938 and two in 1939, but sadly to small audiences, which resulted in the disbanding of the orchestra. In the 1940s the hall became well known in the concert world because many of the country’s leading orchestras played there, mainly to get away from the London blitz. As a result, audiences grew larger, and the venue became greatly appreciated and successful.
In the 1950s and 1960s the halls became a fashionable place for all kinds of entertainment and are now a well known and popular venue. All kinds of events featuring well known artists have been held, including classical music concerts, opera, popular music, comedy, sporting events such as boxing and wrestling, and televised darts tournaments. There are also club nights, ballroom dancing, and the annual Wolverhampton Beer Festival.
A view of the Civic Hall from a 1950s postcard.
The Cultural and Entertainments Committee regularly sponsored symphony concerts, plays, dances, and the civic choir. The committee also organised a competitive music festival, a festival of contemporary music, and a drama festival. The Arts Society and a film society regularly met at the Wulfrun Hall.
By the late 1960s many famous variety stars had appeared at the Civic Hall including Danny Kaye, Gracie Fields, Tommy Steele, Diana Dors, Johnny Ray, and Nat King Cole. Every leading British dance band appeared there, and many of the events were regularly broadcast on radio and television.
A few years ago the building was refurbished to increase the seating capacity to 3,000, and expand the stage area. Work began on the three million pound project in April 2000 and included the building of two new gallery bars with frameless glazed facades, new toilets and cloakrooms, new fire escapes and dressing rooms, bars on the ground floor, a gallery promenade to provide easy access to seating, and improved servicing facilities with direct access to Corporation Street. The architects were Penoyre & Prasad, of London.
A view from the early 1970s.
While the work was underway a new music venue opened in 2001 in North Street at the Little Civic, which was previously called the Town Hall Tavern. It opened to provide a box office facility while the renovation work was underway, and soon became an extremely popular venue for lovers of pop music. It closed in 2009, much to the disappointment of many people, and later reopened as the Slade Rooms in Broad Street.
After the renovation, the Civic and Wulfrun Halls have continued to be an extremely popular venue for all kinds of concerts and events. The building received a Civic Trust Award in 2004.