In May 1912 a very serious fire was narrowly averted in Chas Coleman’s privately-owned Roland Hall at 103 Main St (opposite the present Baptist church) when a hanging lamp was knocked from its place and fell amongst the dancers. Following this scare, many ratepayers petitioned the Kentish Council to build a proper public hall with improved safety and sanitary conditions. The next month, the council affirmed Sheffield’s need for their own town hall and had Devonport architect Stephen Priest draw up plans. But to build a public hall, the council needed to borrow money, and to do that a poll of ratepayers was required to show a two-thirds majority was in favour of the project. Priest’s plans were sent on to Hobart but were deemed to be too costly. They told the council to limit total expenditure to £2,000, with £200 set aside for seating. Eventually, new plans submitted by local builder Mr W H (Harry) Morris of Henry St., Sheffield, were approved. Morris designed a handsome two-storey brick building to seat 500, gallery all around and municipal offices on each side of a front foyer. Council clerk Allan Soutar believed the new Town Hall could become self-supporting, but if not, a rate of three-farthings (¾d) in the £ would be required.
A proposal was put to ratepayers on 24 Aug 1912: ‘for the Kentish council to borrow £2000 for the erection of a municipal hall at Sheffield’. The poll, taken at 13 polling booths around Kentish, failed by three votes to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. About month later, Coleman’s own home, his Roland Hall and adjacent boarding house were destroyed in an accidental fire, leaving the town without a suitable building for public gatherings. A second poll of ratepayers taken on Sat 8 Feb 1913, again failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority until the postal votes were counted. The final tally of 712 votes gave them 61 votes above the two-thirds required.
Erecting the New Municipal Building
Work commenced on Mon 5 Jan 1914 and by April they were almost ready to put on the roof. The building contractor was Robert Masterman & Son, Devonport, who constructed the walls a brick and a half thick. These bricks were made locally at the Sheffield Brick Works, but when they ran out, three bullock teams were sent to Dulverton to get more, paying 2/- per hundred bricks. The foundation was laid by local stonemason/chimney builder William Treloar, who spent weeks gathering and glazing the bluestone. The woodwork sections of the building were made by Gideon Robson, local carpenter, woodturner and funeral director. He made the bannisters and ornamental balls on the staircase of blackwood, including the remarkable hammer beam construction supporting the balcony. There were eight fire escape doors – four from the main hall and four from the gallery. These gave local people a feeling of security, having survived two quite scary incidents inside the old timber Roland Hall.
One of the most attractive features of the hall was its ceiling, made of beautifully stamped steel sheeting, decorated with coloured terra-cotta to the palest pink tints. Another special feature was the roomy ‘proscenium’ (curved stage) with a heavy red pull-up curtain. Later, this curved stage was made square with new side-opening green curtains. Beneath the stage were ladies’ and gents’ dressing rooms, a kitchen and storage spaces. All suppers were prepared for functions below the stage and carried up a short staircase and out through an opening beneath the centre of the stage onto the floor of the Town Hall. The hall, measuring 100ft long by 44ft wide, comfortably seated 500 persons and was well lit throughout by a large acetylene gas plant.
Entry to the Town Hall was through two massive front doors that led you into a fine foyer. On the left was the council clerk’s office and on the right was the warden’s room (later the Health Inspector’s). From the entrance hall, a blackwood stairway led upstairs to the councillors’ meeting room, the library and lodge room (later a baby clinic). It also provided access to the gallery running around three sides of the hall.
1914 Opening the New Town Hall
The official opening of the Sheffield Town Hall and municipal offices occurred at 3pm on Wed 19 Aug 1914 with the hall filled with people and children from every part of the municipality. It fulfilled a long-felt need and removed the stigma of a progressive town and municipal district of 6,000 people not having their own town hall. Seated on the stage were the Warden of Kentish (James Charleston), Hon John Hope, all other Kentish councillors, the council clerk Allan D Soutar, the warden and council clerk from Latrobe, and four coastal parliamentarians. Warden Charleston presided and commenced by singing the National Anthem, with the contractor Robert Masterman playing their newly acquired piano for the first time. The warden said the Town Hall had been built under the Public Loan Act and cost £2,360/3/6. He praised architect W H Morris, the painting contractor Fred Porter and especially contractor Robert Masterman for his 2-storey brick building. When called on to open the new municipal hall, Hon John Hope said it was ‘a notable day in the history of the municipality. The new hall is, without doubt, one of the best and most modern buildings in the state. It does not belong to Sheffield alone, but the people of the whole Kentish municipality.’
While Hope’s speech, and those of the various parliamentarians that followed, referred to the progress of the Kentish District, this gala opening event was overshadowed by their many sombre references to the recent outbreak of the war between Great Britain and Germany that occurred just over two weeks earlier. Mention was made of the Kentish district’s great patriotic spirit, noting that within those first 15 days since war was declared, Sheffield’s medical man, Dr Victor Ratten, along with 42 young local men from Kentish, had enlisted to fight overseas for their British Empire.
Later that same evening, Kentish residents continued celebrating with a grand opening concert. Although a freezing cold night, the large audience almost filled the seating capacity of the new hall. As everyone dressed up for the occasion, it began with a grand parade. Sixteen Railton ladies came dressed as ‘Irish Colleens’, wearing pink frocks with green shamrocks and bonnets to match. Again, Warden Charleston presided over the program that included an overture, numerous songs, vocal duets, piano duets and bagpipes with dancing. It ended with singing God Save the King and supper.
Building Alterations & Additions
Numerous adjustments have been made in the years since 1914. Local builder Edwin Rowe and his son Alf won the tender for ‘pointing’ the brickwork. Edwin Rowe made his young son Alf do all the high work, but it is still good to this day. Because the cold, wet westerly weather blew in the front entrance hall, in 1927 James Sellars and Edwin Rowe erected the present front portico, which made a huge difference and enhanced the front façade of the Town Hall.
On 11 Nov 1941, Sheffield’s first baby clinic was opened by Dame Enid Lyons in an upstairs room of the Town Hall. Twenty-nine mothers and babies attended that day. For the next 20 years, all mothers wanting to see the clinic sister had to park their prams in the foyer, struggle up and down the staircase, carrying their newborn babies whilst other small children clutched their skirts. In 1961 a brand-new baby clinic was opened next to the Police Station in High St.
The need for additional council office space and the very unsatisfactory conditions of catering for public functions from the old kitchen located beneath the stage had been a problem for years. In Nov 1954, council accepted the tender of T. G. Mathews of Devonport to build new council offices, a large new supper room with a kitchen and a toilet block for £6,350/10/. The official opening occurred on 18 May 1955.
Renovation of the council’s meeting room occurred in 1979. The oblong top on the long conference table was removed and replaced with a new oval top that enabled councillors to see each other much better. The old leather-padded chairs were replaced, and the original warden’s chair was donated to Tandara Home for the Aged, where ex-councillor Len Carey took a liking to it.
By 1994, the 80-year-old hall no longer met current fire restrictions, nor had facilities for the disabled. In the years leading up to the turn of the century, new toilets were built off the main foyer, the kitchen refurbished, a public address system installed, and the Town Hall declared smoke free.
Some Memorable Events
Since 1914, this municipal hall has been the main gathering centre for celebrating our community life in Kentish. Numerous council meetings, public debates, political rallies, polling days, Anzac services, fund-raising events, welcome homes for returning servicemen, religious rallies, combined church services & SS anniversaries, daffodil shows, sporting and school functions, seasonal balls, old time dances, square dancing, queen’s carnivals, film nights, music festivals, mass immunisations, community farewells, funerals and memorial services have been regularly held. All these stories need to be told, but the following are a few unique occasions.
*On Anzac Day 25 April 1921, the Town Hall was crowded for the unveiling of the two new honour rolls, placed on the front wall on each side of the ‘proscenium.’ When the premier failed to arrive, Mrs John (Mary Ann) Carey was asked to lower the flag covering the 97 names of local men who had died for their country and Mrs George (Hannah) Edwards to uncover the 298 names of the soldiers who had returned.
*On the evening of 21 Dec 1926, a crowd of Kentish residents assembled in the Town Hall to celebrate electricity coming to Sheffield. After the carbide lights were turned off, Kentish Warden Bob Quaile turned on the switch that, much to their delight and wonder, brought electric light to the town of Sheffield.
*When King George V opened the new Parliament House in Canberra on 9 May 1927, local pioneering radio buff Frank Slater set up his ‘wireless’ with loudspeakers in the Sheffield Town Hall so local people could come and listen for the first time via ‘wireless’ to the opening ceremony directly as it occurred in Canberra.
*The red granite memorial tablet honouring the father figure of Kentish Municipality, the Hon John Hope, was unveiled in the foyer of Sheffield Town Hall on 31 October 1927.
*In 1934, two brothers Alfred & Allen Bye of Campbell Town commenced showing moving pictures in Sheffield. Their first silent movie was Love Me Tonight, with Mrs Gert McClenaghan hired to play the piano. The first talkie film was All Quiet on the Western Front, shown to a packed-out Town Hall. After 38 years on the road, the Bye Brothers were compelled to close in 1972 because of competition from home TVs.
*A highlight of the Athletes & Cyclists Club’s annual ball on 21 Oct 1936 was a bicycle race around the inside of the Town Hall involving local baker Alex Edwards and pharmacist Bern Ralph.
*Local boy Athol McCoy held his first concert in the Sheffield Town Hall in Feb 1954 and returned in 1994 to celebrate 40 years of show business across Australia.
* My father Aubrey H Dyer retired on 30 June 1965 as Kentish council clerk after 52 years of continuous service, working in the municipal offices of the Sheffield Town Hall. Commencing as a 14-year-old in 1913, he was made council clerk in 1921, at the time becoming the youngest council clerk in Australia. In 1963, he was awarded an MBE for services to the public, which he received personally from the hand of the Queen at Government House, Hobart.
*When Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was to give a political speech in Sheffield about 1980, John Reisz of Latrobe was hired to bring up his public address system and set it up in the Town Hall. As Reisz walked through the foyer with a box of microphones, two plainclothes security men appeared from nowhere and demanded to know what he was carrying in his little black box.
*The centenary celebrations of the Sheffield Town Hall were held on 20 Aug 2014 with storytelling, singing, dancing and a cocktail party. Kentish Mayor Don Thwaites outlined its history and former Mayor Ian Braid gave his recollections and recited a Banjo Paterson poem.
*The first Music Hall in Sheffield was held in 1983, being the brainchild of Doug & Lindsay Hingston. Each year, these very popular music halls became the Kentish Lions Club’s largest fundraiser project and continued for 38 years until covid killed it in 2021.
Municipal Offices moved across High St.
In Nov 2006 Kentish Council purchased the old Roland Boys Home building diagonally opposite at 69 High St, where, after extensive renovations and additions, they opened their present modern offices on Wed 14 May 2008 to continue their resource sharing arrangements with the Latrobe Council. Meanwhile, the vacant council offices in the Town Hall were occupied by the Kentish Regional Clinic, which operates Cores (Community Response & Eliminating Suicide) and Hippy (Home Interaction Program for Parents & Youngsters), dedicated to creating a learning environment in the home and LGBTIQA+ enquiries.
Now almost 110 years old, our iconic Sheffield Town Hall, prominently situated at the end of an spectacular avenue of palm trees on one of the highest elevations in the town, remains structurally sound. With its imposing front portico, it continues to be an impressive building, likely to serve our Kentish community for many years to come.