St George’s Hall is a unique Victorian neoclassical building that houses not only a huge music hall—containing what was once the largest concert organ in the world—but also courtrooms, prison cells, and a fantastic concert room that Charles Dickens once described as “the most perfect room in the world.”
St George’s Hall was built in Liverpool between 1841 and 1851. It was originally designed to be just a music hall, but plans were changed for financial reasons to include a Civil Court, Law Court, and holding cells. Many famous cases were tried in these rooms, including that of Florence Maybrick, who was accused of poisoning her husband, James Maybrick, who has since been put forward as a possible candidate to be “Jack the Ripper.”
The claims to fame don’t stop there. The Great Hall is covered by what was once the world’s largest barrel-vaulted ceiling. Below is the world’s largest Minton floor, which contains over 30,000 individual handmade Minton encaustic tiles. And it still houses what was, at the time, the world’s largest concert pipe organ. What’s more, the building was outfitted with the world’s first air-conditioning system, a revolutionary method of valves and pipes that allowed each room in the building to be heated or cooled separately.
The impressive hall was designed by architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, who oversaw its construction until he died of consumption in 1847. In 1851, architect Sir Robert Charles Cockerell was asked to complete the interior decoration, a task he took on with gusto. Cockerell’s Georgian appreciation of bright, almost gaudy colors contrasts dramatically with the restrained early Victorian sensibilities of Elmes’ designs, and make for a truly unique space.
One of Cockerell’s most impressive additions was the Small Concert Room at the north end of the building, adorned with gold details and topped with a beautiful chandelier consisting of nearly 3,000 individual crystal pieces. Charles Dickens gave several readings in the space, and reportedly described it as “the most perfect room in the world.”
Know Before You Go
St George's Hall is open to the public Monday to Saturday and unless there are events on, the public has free access to the holding cells, court, and the viewing gallery. There is a self-guided tour of the hall with various information panels on the history of the building, the individuals involved in its construction, and some of the major events that occurred there. Public access is via the Heritage Centre, which is on the south side of the building on St George's Place.