Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Reading Town Hall, Berkshire, UK. Horseshoe gallery Ironwork made by Andrew Handyside in 1880.

Reading Town Hall was officially opened on 31st May 1882, it was Grade II listed in 1976. Refurbishment started in 1986 and was completed in 2000.

Today this building is used as the Museum of Reading and has a large concert hall with conference rooms.The ironwork made by Handyside is located in the Main Hall. They made the Horseshoe shaped gallery in the hall. You can't really see the ironwork as its hidden but you will see in the technical design drawings below how important the ironwork is in this building.

Google streetview outside this building.

Here is a photograph taken in the hall viewed from directly under the gallery, as you can see the ironwork is enclosed in decorative wood.

Reading Town Hall is 98 foot long by 60 Foot wide. Three sides of the hall are furnished with a horseshoe shaped gallery projecting out by without any support columns!
The gallery projects out by 10 foot down two sides and by 16 foot at the end, the whole structure stands 11 foot from the floor.
It covers an area of 2140 square foot and weighs 80.892 tons.

The iron structure utilises a clever branch-and-root construction method, it was designed to be able to stand on its own but also cope when full of people.

Tests were performed at The Britannia Iron Works in Derby to ensure that it could cope with the stress, they loaded it with 50,000 bricks, weighing 9lbs each!

Max am Ende was the civil engineer for this job, He specialised in Ironwork structures.
The ironwork was manufactured in Derby at the Britania Ironworks by Andrew Handyside & Co under the direction of Ewing Matheson.

Here are the technical design drawings for the gallery in Reading Town Hall. They show how the gallery balcony is constructed :

My Reference : Page 2-4 of The Engineer journal from July 1st 1881.

I would like to thank Michael Thomas of adp-architecture who was involved in the restoration of Reading Hall, this took 20 years and started in May 1981.

Michael says "I can tell you that I saw practically everything that was done in that hall and my recollection is that the steelwork was almost certainly installed as shown on your drawings. 

This is what triggered my interest.  I don’t know if you have any engineering knowledge, if so you would be surprised by the slenderness of the steels below the floor as shown in your figure 9.
The reason is simply that they sat on hefty brick cross-walls in the lower ground floor; this is in marked contrast with the uprights built into the hall walls. It was a clever solution and I have attached a diagrammatic cross-section which should help. In short the steelwork was continuous and consisted of:

· The beams under the concert hall floor sitting on brick walls. These went across the whole hall and thus reduced the bending moment hugely and acted as a tie.
· There would have been huge rotation when these floor beams met the uprights, hence you see massive steelwork at lower left junction. And you will have noticed the very deep steels embedded in the 3’ thick walls.
·  Thus the structure was very rigid when it reached the point of cantilevering the balcony. The fact that the balcony is stepped also gives room for added stiffness.

This is a Grade II Listed Building and there is little scope for alteration this part of the structure. Neither was there any need. The steel was in good condition too. However there was minimal ventilation and when full the hall would have been stifling.

When we came on the scene the balcony was out use as the fire escape arrangements were inadequate. We had to be quite cunning and introduce two new exits and now one would be hard pressed to distinguish new from old. Also we had to introduce some form of ducting for fresh air.

In the event we put new ducts for blown air in the void within the balcony and intermittent outlets at the step risers. This was very challenging as it had to be blown almost noiselessly!

My recollection is that some modifications were made to the steels in two larger voids to accommodate the ducts and give access for maintenance; there are also a few trap doors in the floor at the highest level for access only. Of course the steel is covered up now as it was never intended to be exposed.

My firm will be 50 years old this year and is running a blog featuring 50 projects highlighting its history.
They are quite short and here is the one for Reading Town Hall:

You may find this interesting as there is a different view of the concert hall.

I have given you a pretty full reply and I think you can be certain that the steelwork was installed as Handyside’s drawings and has stood the test of time very well.
You may not know that there was a strong move to sell the site around 1974 after Local Government reorganisation and permit demolition for a new commercial development!
The whole complex was listed as late as 1976.

I hope you find all this of interest.

Best wishes,

More information:
Reading Museum (formally Reading Town Hall)

Hope you enjoyed this new Andrew Handyside discovery.



  1. These are very interesting drawings and of great relevance to me as I was Team Leader and architect (ADP) for the entire complex from 1981 until completion in 2000. Thank you.

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