The history of the construction of Sydney Town Hall is a complex one, interspersed with scandal, subterfuge, suicide and lengthy delays, and a roll call of architects, designers, engineers and builders whose associations with the project and with council were not always amicable or professional.
The winning competition entry, submitted by J H Willson, was the basis for the architectural design of the town hall and although he did not live to see the completion of the first stage in 1880, he has been credited with its concept and Council’s City Architect, Alan Bond, with its execution.
The first stage of the town hall (1868-1884) to be completed comprised the Vestibule and aldermen’s offices on the ground floor, the Council Chamber and retiring rooms and a proposed library on the first floor and operational facilities in the basement. The clock tower was completed in 1873.
Work on the completion of the grand hall behind the Vestibule was delayed by more controversy and while engineers haggled over the veracity of the foundations and council argued over the economics, another succession of architects came and went. By 1883 however, the City Architect, Thomas Sapsford and his assistant John Hennessey, had produced designs which became the basis for the second stage (1884-1889). Construction began soon after, with a significant extension to the west to include a grand hall, capable of accommodating several thousand people at one time, with complimentary backstage facilities at the rear and additional offices along the northern and southern sides. A secondary hall which was smaller and much less grand, was built under the grand hall. Two imposing external sandstone staircases were constructed on either side of the hall and opened into large internal and grand staircases which led to the upper galleries of the grand hall.