Warkworth Town Hall

History

Warkworth Town Hall is a Grade 1 Listed building in the New Zealand Heritage Register – List Number 7709. The ‘Arts & Crafts’ style building was erected between about 1909 -1911, from glazed terracotta hollow blocks, a new American innovation at the time which took advantage of the Warkworth Area’s clay deposits. It is believed to be the only public building in New Zealand using this patented technique and is certainly the only one remaining. The building was opened in 1912 by Nathaniel Wilson – a key figure in Warkworth’s development, who produced the earliest Portland cement in New Zealand and possibly the Southern Hemisphere, from his industrial complex in Warkworth. Wilson was chairman of the Town Board when the hall was commissioned and laid its foundation stone on 22 June 1911, the coronation day of King George V. The foundation stone is on display in the Foyer. It was modernised with an extension to Alnwick Street in 1937, using Art Deco ‘Moderne’ design which was popular at the time, when interior Deco embellishments were added to the Main Hall. The Hall hosted Farewell and Welcome Home events for our local soldiers in both World Wars – and played host to the Hauraki Regiment and US Troops stationed in the area during the War in the Pacific, when it held daily film showings and weekly Dances. As well as being an item of important architectural heritage, the Warkworth Town Hall has been the most important public building in the whole area, from when the population was only 750 people right up the rapidly expanding community we have in the 21st Century.

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The Warkworth Town Hall is a rare Australasian example of construction using glazed hollow stoneware blocks, and is linked with a strong tradition of technological innovation in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Warkworth. Erected in 1911, the building was commissioned by the Warkworth Town Board, which had been established shortly before in the wake of New Zealand’s transformation from British colony to Dominion. In the early 1900s, Warkworth was the largest settlement in Rodney District, and a major centre for the production of building lime and related materials. A key figure in its development was Nathaniel Wilson (1836-1919), who produced the earliest Portland cement in New Zealand and possibly the Southern Hemisphere from his industrial complex in Warkworth. Wilson was chairman of the Town Board when the hall was commissioned and laid its foundation stone on 22 June 1911, the coronation day of King George V. A symbol of civic progressiveness, the hall replaced a timber venue that had fallen into disrepair. It was erected close to a new post office and the offices of the Rodney County Council, helping to reinforce the existence of a public nucleus to the settlement.

The single-storey building was erected at a cost of £1200 by T.E. Clark (1887-1964) of R.O. Clark Ltd, a pioneer in ceramic production in New Zealand. T-shaped in plan, it incorporated a large hall with a stage wing at one end and a covered porch at the other. It was constructed using Clark’s recently patented Glazed Stoneware Hollow Building Blocks (1910), an early rival to modern concrete block technology. Borrowing from American precedents, these large rectangular blocks were salt-glazed on the outsde and had a hollow interior separated into two compartments by a vertical divider. Rarely used for the construction of whole buildings in Australasia and elsewhere in the British Empire, the blocks were visually prominent in the design of the Arts and Crafts-influenced building, effectively advertising the value of Clark’s products as well as promoting Warkworth as a centre of technological expertise and innovation. Clark and his father, R.O. Clark II had previously erected residential housing using such blocks close to their industrial works at Hobsonville, Auckland. However, the construction of the Town Hall and a more modest building for Rodney County Council (since demolished) in Warkworth appears to have represented a bold attempt to demonstrate the value of these products for a broader range of building types, and in a township noted for its rival, concrete technology. The structure was designed by Arthur Herrold, an Auckland-based architect who had previously overseen construction of the Cambridge Town Hall (1909).

Officially opened in October 1911, the Town Hall subsequently became a major focus of community events, including recreation, public meetings and the celebration of civic occasions. This encompassed the showing of silent films, a new medium for supplying information and entertainment to rural communities. The innovative nature of the building was reinforced in 1937 with the addition of an avant-garde extension at the front of the building, replacing the earlier porch. This was designed by Llewelyn Piper, a noted New Zealand-born architect of the mid twentieth century. Incorporating offices for the Town Board, which had previously been located in an adjacent library building on the site, it can be seen as a conscious attempt to project an association between civic administration and progressive thinking. Nationally, new political ideas introduced by the first Labour Government in 1935 were increasingly accompanied by the adoption of more contemporary forms of architecture such as Art Deco and Moderne for civic buildings.

The hall’s remodeled interior of streamlined design soon became a place of recreation and gathering for large numbers of American and New Zealand troops stationed near Warkworth during the Second World War (1939-1945). Subsequent alterations have included a Council office extension in the mid 1960s and a kitchen addition in 1971. Vacated by the local council in the 1980s, the hall remains in use for community functions. Its former offices are currently tenanted.

Warkworth Town Hall is architecturally significant for its adaptation of a rare and innovative building material of American influence to a traditional New Zealand building type. It is the only civic building erected of Clark’s stoneware blocks known to survive. Both its 1911 and 1937 elements are notable for expressing progressive ideas and modernity in provincial civic architecture. The place has historical value for its connections with pioneering attitudes to construction-material technology and leading figures in the field of structural innovation, notably T.E. Clark and Nathaniel Wilson. It also has associations with the development of local government, and events such as the coronation of George V and military activity in the Second World War. The place has cultural and social value for its function as a major venue for community activity and social gathering over nearly a century. It has very considerable technological importance as a rare and well-preserved example of hollow stoneware block construction in Australasia, an early rival to modern concrete block technology. It is also highly significant as part of a network of places in Warkworth that demonstrate the production and use of innovative building materials.

This is an extract from New Zealand Heritage Website

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