Skip to content Skip to main navigation

History of the town hall and the golden gates

The hall was designed by James Gibbs and built in 1750. 

Its front south facade consists of nine bays, the outer three on each side being of exposed brick whilst the middle three are in ashlar-like rustication. This centre area has four large three-quarter attached composite columns with a pediment bearing the arms of the Patten family. In the middle also there is an open two arm staircase, with a fine wrought iron balustrade, leading up to the main entrance which is flanked by a pair of arched windows with the typical Gibbs surround. The pediments of the windows on the main floor in the side sections have alternating triangular and elliptical heads. The north side of the hall is completely of brick and altogether simpler.

The hall is flanked by long detached service wings, each of thirteen bays, the middle three of which are ashlar rusticated with a pediment. These wings project both north and south of the main block of the hall, and were originally used as stables, coach-houses and accommodation for the head servants. 

The entrance hall to the building is spacious and contains a fine stone chimney-piece. Other features to notice are the mosaic floor and the various coats of arms. 

The mosaic floor was put down in 1902 replacing an original wooden one. It was laid by skilled Italian craftsmen who left a little secret in the floor before they returned to their own country. If you look closely you can find four sets of initials let into the floor.  They are JWP for John Wilson Patten, LW for Lionel Whittle (the town clerk at the time), TL for Thomas Longdin (the borough engineer), and QV for Queen Victoria who granted Warrington's charter as a borough in 1847.

The painted coats of arms over the various doors are part of the original decoration. The centre shield over the door to the council chamber is that of William Patten of Dagenham, Bishop of Winchester, Lord High Chancellor of England in 1456 and founder of Magdalen College, Oxford. Those on each side of it are also very early arms of the family.

The shield over the door to the mayor's parlour is that of Thomas Wilson Patten, grandson of the builder and father of John Wilson Patten, Lord Winmarleigh, the last owner, whilst that over the door to committee room 1 represents the arms of Thomas Patten, son of the builder.

The shield over the door to the west staircase shows the arms of Thomas Patten, father of the builder, and finally that over the door to the east staircase bears the arms of Thomas Patten, builder of Bank Hall. 

The room now used as the council chamber was originally two rooms - the great hall and the music room.  Committee room 2 at the east end of the council chamber was the ladies retiring room, whilst committee room 1 was the dining room, and the room now being used as the mayor's parlour originally served as a reading room. 

The rooms on the upper floor, at present used as offices, were of course bedrooms, changing rooms, bathrooms and toilets, etc. The kitchens, as now, were situated on the ground floor along with store and servants' rooms.

Extensive cellars still provide good dry storage accommodation, and were originally used primarily for wine and food, etc.

An interesting feature in the building is that there are two staircases of identical size in the middle of the short sides of the block, both having very fine wrought-iron handrails. The west staircase is decorated with fine stucco plaster-work, as are the ceilings in most of the main floor rooms. 

Certain unique features about the hall are indicative of the trade which provided the wealth of its builder, for the whole house is built on a foundation made of moulded blocks of copper slag from the copper smelting works at Bank Quay.

These blocks can be clearly seen forming the flooring and walls of the cellars, and measure 610mm x 610mm x 305mm, 610mm x 305mm x 305mm and 457mm x 229mm x 229mm. 

The window frames of the hall would appear to be made of wood, but much of their delicacy is due to the fact that they are made of a combination of copper and iron, and the whole being painted in white.

The building and its two annexes are used today for civic functions, weddings, council business and as offices.

The architect

Dr Richard Pocock, the well known 18th century traveller who was later Bishop of Ossory, wrote that as he was passing through Warrington on 14 July 1750, he saw Thomas Patten Esq. busy building this house and this dating is confirmed by the date which can be clearly seen on the rainwater-heads on the sides of the building.

Other contemporary manuscripts make it perfectly clear that James Gibbs, the builder of the Radcliffe Library at Oxford and many other great works, was the architect and builder of this house, but from its dating it would seem likely that it was the last important building erected to his designs and finished in his lifetime. 

It became known as Bank Hall, and originally stood in open fields on the edge of the town, surrounded by extensive landscaped gardens and with nothing to obscure the views south to the River Mersey and the Cheshire countryside beyond.

This situation remained until early in the 19th century, when because of the growth of the town and its industries, it would seem that a perimeter wall was built around the estate to provide some sort of privacy.

The first owner

The name of Patten dominates the industrial and social history of Warrington from the turn of the century to the late 19th century.

The family originated in Chelmsford, Essex about 1119 and one member, William, was the founder of Magdalene College Oxford, Bishop of Winchester, and Chancellor of England in 1456. By way of Derbyshire, another branch of the family arrived in Warrington in 1536, and by the middle of the 17th century had settled in Patten Lane, off Bridge Street, as merchants dealing in a wide range of commodities including tobacco, sugar and tea.

The father of the builder of Bank Hall, also a Thomas Patten, realised the importance of the river in using Warrington as a key distribution point for inland trade, and was responsible for making it navigable from Runcorn to Bank Quay, enabling copper to be brought by boat from Ireland, Cornwall and Anglesey right to the family's smelting works at Bank Quay. This industry was so successful that by the mid 18th century, these local merchants had become important and landed gentry, commissioning James Gibbs to build a fine country house - Bank Hall - in 1750.

The Pattens' fortune were largely built on the infamous slave trade as their works produced copper bangles traded for slaves in Africa and great coppers used to boil sugar and distil rum in the West Indies. 

The name Wilson was linked with that of Patten as a result of the marriage between Mary Patten and the Rev. Thomas Wilson D.D. in 1698. This Thomas Wilson became Bishop of Soder and Man, and in recognition of his services to the island's sovereign, the Earl of Derby, he acquired considerable lands in Lancashire and Cheshire which, on the death of his only son, passed to the Patten family on condition that the additional surname was used.

This portrait of Thomas Patten was painted by Hamlet Winstanley, a well known artist who lived in one of the houses which he designed and built in Stanley Street, which incidentally he named after his patrons, the Stanleys of Knowsley.