Perth Town Hall
Built in 1870, Perth Town Hall is Australia’s only Gothic-style town hall, and the only town hall built by convicts.
An award-winning restoration has returned this historic jewel to its original charm. Antique aesthetics and modern amenities combine in this grand, one-of-a-kind venue.
The Hall is open for public inspection from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Saturday, unless hired for a private function.
On Tuesdays at 11am the Town Hall hosts the Tuesday Morning Show, a free weekly community event aimed at seniors, with a program of musical entertainment, speakers and more. The Lower Foyer also hosts art and informational exhibitions regularly.
Perth Town Hall Living History
Perth Town Hall 150 Years - Historic Item Donation Drive
The Perth Town Hall is an important site in Perth’s history. In 1867, construction of the Town Hall began and the building officially opened on 1 June 1870.
The Whadjuk Nyoongar people are the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Perth Town Hall sits, and before colonisation, this area of land was used as a campsite by the Aboriginal people. The area is a registered Aboriginal heritage site (3789) with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.
The site continues to be an important community meeting place. In acknowledgement of its significance for the community, an exhibition of items related to the Town Hall site will be held in 2020. Historic and contemporary photographs, artworks, objects, spoken memories and ephemera related to the Town Hall site from the City of Perth’s Cultural Collections will be displayed in the exhibition.
You can help shape this exhibition by sharing your Town Hall keepsakes and stories.
To offer an item for donation to the City’s Cultural Collections or on temporary loan for inclusion in this exhibition, please complete the Online Donation Drive Form or complete and return the Collection Offer Form within our brochure, soon available at the Town Hall.
For enquiries, please contact:
In June 2020, Perth Town Hall will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its opening. A donation drive for historic items, photos and stories is underway.
In the early 19th century, the Perth area was known by the Aboriginal people as Boorloo. It formed part of Mooro, the tribal lands of Yellagonga. Yellagonga and his followers were part of the Whadjuck people, one of 13 or more groups comprising the Nyoongar language group.
The Town Hall stands along the traditional route Aboriginal people took from Matagarup (the shallow river crossing around what is now the Causeway) to Mt Eliza. This route became Howick Street, which later changed to Hay Street. The corner of Hay and Barrack Streets is the highest point in the centre of town. Here Perth was founded in 1829, with the ceremonial felling of a tree.
A Gift from the Colony
Perth Town Hall is unlike any other Australian town hall in that it was built by convicts, in a medieval style. Governor Hampton decided to build a Town Hall for the citizens of Perth in 1866, as part of a public works program using the skills of the convict population. Government House and the Pensioner Barracks (of which Barracks Arch is the only remaining remnant) were part of the same building program, designed in same Gothic style which was enjoying a revival at that time.
Construction of the Perth Town Hall began in 1867 and was planned to take 12 months to complete. Instead, the construction took three years. The Town Hall was designed by the Supervisor of Public Works, Richard Roach Jewell. Building was overseen by the Clerk of Works, James Manning, who was also the architect for the Fremantle Prison. Manning is thought to have designed the technically significant jarrah roof trusses in the Main Hall. The Foundation stone lists both Manning and Jewell as architects.
Perth Town Hall’s architectural style is described as a combination of ‘Victorian Free Gothic Style, with strong medieval overtones’. The Town Hall design has been compared with 14 to 16th century village public buildings in Italy, Germany, Brussels and Britain, which often incorporated a market place beneath a hall and a watch tower at one end. It was not specifically designed as a Council chamber or administration centre, but rather as an all-purpose meeting place for the people of Perth.
The coloured bricks came from the East Perth clay pits (now ornamental ponds at Queen’s Gardens) and were laid in chequered Flemish bond. Free settlers laid the foundations for the Hall and then convicts completed the building.
Governor Weld officially opened the Town Hall on Foundation Day, 1 June 1870. A few days later, almost 900 people enjoyed their new hall at a ‘Monster Public Tea Party’.
The building’s first alteration took place in the same year it was opened, when Jewell built a chamber for the colony’s first representative government onto the east end of the Town Hall, in an area meant for a courtyard. The Legislative Council actually held its first meeting in the Town Hall on 5 December 1870, before the City Council, which held first meeting in the hall proper, in January 1871.
At the time, the City employed one staff member, Mr Lazenby, who was paid 100 pounds per year, plus another 16 pounds for winding the clock each day. It soon became apparent that more staff, and more office accommodation for them, would be required.
Offices were constructed in the Undercroft area in 1871. In 1872, after some delays, the markets intended to operate under the hall commenced. However, they were not successful and closed within five years.
Saved by the Citizens
Although the community made use of the Hall in many ways alterations continued to accommodate more offices, toilets and extra stairways. The northern parapet was enclosed to create a proper council chamber (now the Supper Room). The Council investigated a number of options from about 1890 on, including selling the Town Hall to build a newer one to better serve its needs.
The government offered to extend the land available around the existing Town Hall to allow for a new, larger hall on the site, but Council declined, saying the site was still too small. A cash and land swap arrangement was reached between the Council and the State government. The community response to the suggestion of demolishing the Town Hall was swift and negative. The Council had to find alternative accommodation for its staff, and new uses for the Town Hall.
Just before the turn of the century and up until 1924, the Undercroft housed a variety of tenants, including the fire brigade, insurance brokers, and the tram office. Several Council officers, including the Town Clerk, occupied the northeast corner with the Fire Brigade behind, and the other tenants took up the half of the building facing Barrack Street.
In 1924, while the Council was preparing to move into the Strelitz building the next year, extensive alterations were developed for the Town Hall, which included building shops into the ground level. While the decision to incorporate shops suited some people and could at least partly offset the cost of maintaining the hall, not all were pleased. The West Australian newspaper describing the decision as ‘municipal vandalism’.
More shops were added in 1955. The R&I Tower stage one was commenced in 1959, obscuring the Town Hall on two sides. The Tower on the East Side was 13 storeys high and abutted the east wall. In the 1960s grey granite was attached at ground level in a bid to make the 1870s Hall and the 1960s R&I Tower look more compatible.
In 1973 the Hall was classified by the National Trust and in 1978 placed in the Register of the National Estate. The Council agreed "in principle to the restoration of the brick arches", and in 1984 a conservation report was prepared for the Town Hall.
The removal of the R&I Building in 1994-95 exposed some major damage to the Town Hall. However, it was the first time in a generation the Town Hall was presented "in the round" as Jewell intended, and created an opportunity to reinstate many of the Town Hall’s unique, but hidden features. The Council adopted a Conservation Plan and Feasibility study in 1996.
A major restoration and refurbishment program was completed in 2005 and won two Western Australian Heritage Council awards. The Town Hall continues to serve Perth as a venue for civic receptions, banquets, public forums, meetings, functions and weddings. The Lower Foyer houses a model of the HMAS PERTH as well as the bells of the PERTH I and II. An historic portrait of Sir George Murray and various items of art and memorabilia from the City’s collections are also on display in the Hall’s Upper Foyer.
Perth Town Hall under construction by convict labour
Perth Town Hall and Hay Street
Perth Town Hall and Hay Street looking east
Perth Town Hall and Hay Street looking east
Perth Town Hall and Hay Street looking west