Belfast Telegraph

Derry's Guildhall closed to the public for 15 months

By Brendan McDaid

Londonderry's town hall has been locked to the public and will not reopen again until three months into the city’s year as UK City of Culture.

Closing gates in Derry is a time-honoured tradition, although the only people likely to lay siege to the Guildhall in 2012 are unsuspecting tourists.

A major £5m programme of internal renovation works is getting underway as the exterior makeover of the building nears completion.

The closure of the city centre’s landmark building and attraction sparked controversy after it emerged in August that it would not be open in time for 2013.

The £3m external works has restored stonework, roofs, windows and stained glass as well as giving facelifts to the Guildhall tower clocks.

Staff and local councillors have had to leave to make way for some of the biggest internal renovations and rearrangement of services in the lifetime of the building.

Among the facilities to be built will be a new cafe with an outdoor space linking to the Harbour Museum, while the Mayor’s parlour will become a new Tourist Information Point for the city.

The Council Chamber, where committees and full council meetings have historically been held, will become a new dedicated exhibition space.

New touch-screen, interpretative panels will be installed throughout the building.

The Main Hall, where the Bloody Sunday Inquiry was held, meanwhile, will be refurbished to host an increased programme of business, tourism and cultural events.

To facilitate works and internal changes to services, both the Guildhall and Harbour Museum will remain closed to the public throughout 2012 and into the spring of 2013.

Colin Sharp, superintendent of the Guildhall, officially closed the gates to the public at the weekend.

The Mayoral Office will now be relocated to Derry City Council offices on Strand Road.

Monthly council meetings will take place at the Great Hall at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster, while committee meetings will take place at the council offices.

The District Registrar’s Office for Births, Death, Marriages and Civil Partnerships will move to 14 Magazine Street, retaining the same contact numbers: 028 7126 8439, fax 028 7137 7964 |and email address at |registrarsoffice@derrycity.gov.uk.

Registrar Michelle Duddy said: “When we consider the overall number of visits to the office annually, with an average of 3,500 events registered, it is a moderate figure to estimate that there is around a footprint of 10,000 to the office in any one year.

“The Registration Service, whilst governed by legislation, is a customer-orientated service and it is often an emotional and sometimes very sad time when people visit the office. When considering suitable accommodation for the temporary relocation period for the District Registrar’s |Office, council have taken into consideration the needs of the customer for all registration of live events.”

The Harbour Museum will be closed to the public from next Friday, December 16, with arrangements for accessing archive and genealogy services to be made known shortly.

Local people are advised to |telephone 028 7137 7331 or visit www.derrycity.gov.uk/museums for further information.

Full details of the interim service arrangements for the Guildhall and associated services are available at www.derrycity.gov.uk/serviceupdates or by contacting Derry City Council on 028 7136 5151.

Background

The Guildhall has been the seat of local government for over 120 years. The former Londonderry Corporation relocated to the reclaimed land now known as Shipquay Place or Guildhall Square in the late 1880s. The land was donated to the Corporation to build the new Town Hall, renamed ‘Guildhall'. But the original 1890 building was almost completely destroyed in a fire in 1908. The second Guildhall was reopened in 1912.

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