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History

Baldock Town Hall was opened in November 1897 after a long campaign to provide a public building in the town. This campaign had begun in 1869 but had been beset by difficulties over cost and site. In 1892 a site presented itself with the destruction by fire of a shop on Bell Row right in the centre of the town. A committee was set up to canvas the town for subscriptions which produced promises amounting to two thirds of the sum needed, but in the course of the process it was decided instead to petition Baldock Urban District Council to borrow the money on the security of the rates. The council declined to take up the matter on the grounds that the site was too expensive.

At this point Thomas Pryor Esquire broke the impasse by purchasing the site in October 1895 and presenting it as a gift to the town under certain conditions of use. The council had little choice but to accept the gift with its conditions on behalf of the town because a recent election had returned candidates who were in favour of the public building scheme with "triumphed majorities".

 

According to one contemporary, Mr Pryor had 

 "....long desired to do something for the town, which the town desired, found this opportunity of accomplishing his purpose and of thus rendering a lasting service to Baldock and making possible a scheme which, but for his generosity, would probably have remained a dead letter."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Pryor was the last of his family left in Baldock and perhaps had some sense of this being the end of an era, a grand finale after two centuries of involvement in its affairs.

At the opening ceremony the chairman of the council and other speakers made it clear that they understood that Mr Pryor's gift was made to the town and this was confirmed by a plaque on the North wall:

"The ground upon which these buildings are erected was given to the town of Baldock by Thomas Pryor Esquire."

The new public buildings provided space for a public hall, a fire station for Baldock Fire Brigade and council offices. The hall was frequently used by townspeople for shows, concerts, weddings and celebration of local and national occasions. The hall was closed to public use in the 1990s (apparently because of a misunderstanding over the fire regulations), but in 1996 the decision was reversed and a public appeal raised funds and volunteers to re-decorate the hall in time for its centenary which was marked by a Victorian Parlour Evening. In 1999 part of the ground floor was provided for a Baldock Museum and is still occupied for this purpose.

 

In 2004 reports circulated that NHDC was considering selling the Town Hall and in March 2005 the Baldock Town Hall independent stakeholder group (now the Town Hall Group) was formed by representatives of interested groups and societies. The new group canvassed opinion throughout the town and received an overwhelming response in favour of retaining the Town Hall in public use (results presented to Baldock Area Committee in 2006).

Nevertheless, despite much political pressure, the Council refused to allocate any of the Town Centre Enhancement funds to renovating the building in 2006/8.

 

In 2008 the independent stakeholder group joined with Baldock Arts to present a business case to NHDC proposing an arts/heritage use for the building with a local theatre festival later that year. The Baldock Area Committee agreed to provide funds to bring the hall and offices to a sufficient standard for public use. The hall had been closed to public use at this time because of health and safety concerns.

 

The Baldock Arts Festival took place in October/November 2008 but its success could not be built upon, partly because of a lack of appropriate business skills at that time and for other personal reasons. Again, the Town Hall was closed to public use (excepting the Museum) for reasons unknown; neglect and inadequate maintenance have since ensured that it is no longer usable unless necessary work is carried out.

Baldock Town Hall is back in action as an Arts and Heritage Centre.  As of August 2013, the members secured a 99 year lease and formally exchanged contracts with North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC).  They have also successfully achieved charity status.

 The interior of the Town Hall has been refurbished with new floors, fresh decor, new furniture etc. The new charity is using the building for the benefit of the Baldock community and its neighbouring towns and villages.  The following documents detail the Business Plan and appendix as submitted to North Hertfordshire District Council (NHDC) in advance of the Baldock and District Committee meeting on 5 March 2012. This was considered and welcomed by NHDC Cabinet on 20 March 2012.