The Civic Halls have been at the heart of our city for more than 80 years.
Now attracting performers and visitors from across the world, the call for a major entertainment venue first began in the 1920s.
At that time Wolverhampton had three buildings where concerts could be held – the Agricultural Hall, the Baths Assembly Hall and the Drill Hall.
None of these had been built for concerts and all of them had terrible acoustics with musicians at the time describing playing in the Agricultural Hall as “like performing in a railway station.”
In addition, the Drill Hall was draughty, the Baths Assembly Hall looked bare and this was becoming a real problem for local orchestral and operatic societies.
like performing in a railway station
Something had to be done and in 1920 Councillor Clement Jenks raised the matter at a council meeting.
But it wasn't until August 1922 that a Civic Hall committee was set up to look at the question of a new hall: whether it should be built, where it could be built and how much it would cost.
Two years later, the council agreed that a hall should be built - by a tight margin of 19 votes to 16 and at an estimated cost of £80,000.
The next 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.”
The signs looked good, but it was to be another 10 years before any further action was taken. In February 1934 the Civic Hall committee asked the council to push ahead and organise an open architectural competition for the design of the hall which would now be used for concerts, dances, meetings, banquets and receptions.
The budget had risen to £100,000 – with a further £10,000 to allow for any problems. Prizes of £350, £250, and £150 were offered for designs.
The competition attracted 122 entries from all over the country and designs were judged by the well-known architect Mr Cowles Voysey. The winners were London-based Lawrence Israel and Edward Douglas Lyons – the two were just 22 and 25 and the Civic Hall was their first job.
Building work started in 1936 by local firm Henry Willcock & Company. The halls were built of multi-coloured brick and had naturally sprung dancefloors. The Civic Hall could hold 1,283 people on the ground floor, and 497 in the gallery. A lower platform had space for an 80 piece orchestra, with tiers behind, for a choir of up to 200.
The Wulfrun Hall seated 700 and the opening to the hall was decorated with murals showing scenes from local cultural and social life. They were made by Muriel Gilbert, an artist who produced many of the paintings on the HMS Queen Mary.
As the main music venue for the town, it was clear that the acoustics had to be right so leading expert Hope Bagenal was called in to help.
On Thursday 12th May, 1938 the Civic Halls officially opened with a performance by George Dorrington Cunningham, the city organist of Birmingham. He was the first musician to play in the new building, beginning a grand tradition of music and entertainment in our city.
Since they opened more than 80 years ago, the Civic and Wulfrun Halls have continued to host a wide variety of community meetings, official visits, concerts, comedy nights, dances, sports events and club nights.
We've played host to a huge amount of special guests including former prime minister Harold Wilson and the Queen.
We've welcomed rock legends Nirvana, Robert Plant and David Bowie to our stages and laughed along with comedy stars including Ken Dodd, Jimmy Carr and Sarah Millican.
Performers and visitors have flocked to the city from all over the world and for many the Civic Halls remain their favourite entertainment venue.