CBD004-Sydneytownhall.jpg (68265 bytes) Sydney Architecture Images- Central Business District

Sydney Town Hall


John Henry Wilson, Albert Bond and others


483 George and Druitt Streets, Sydney 


1868 John Henry Wilson (original design facing George Street)
1873-77 Albert Bond (mansard roof and vestibule interiors)
1875-77 Thomas and Edward Bradridge (clock tower)
1883-89 Thomas Sapsford (Centennial Hall)
1886-88 George McRae with John Hennessy
1934 Entrance portico replaced


Victorian Second Empire


Sandstone 57 m 187 ft 




Town Hall, the seat of local government of the City of Sydney. This building was built in stages between 1869 and 1889 on the site of what was known as the Old Burial Ground. Between 1792 and its closure in 1820, about 2,000 people were buried here.Many of the burials were shallow and people used to complain about the stench. According to the official records, the Burial Ground was closed because it was offensive to the inhabitants. Before the Town Hall was built the bodies were supposedly exhumed, but even today whenever there is digging in the area a stray skeleton is likely to turn up. The Town Hall’s high Victorian architectural style and decorative excesses earnt it the nick-name ‘the wedding cake building’. In the 1960s some people even thought it should be pulled down. Today, the Town Hall steps are a favourite Sydney meeting place.
  - The centrepiece of the Main Hall is the Grand Organ, which was the largest in the world at the time. It still remains only one of two of its type in the world. 
- A bird cage lift was added to the Grand Staircase of the Town Hall in 1906 and remains the sole surviving example of its kind in the state & still operates by its original motor. 
- The great location of this Town Hall on corner of George & Druitt Streets was once a old burial ground from 1792-1820. 
- The clock tower was Sydney's tallest structure on completion, surpassing the 52m copper spire of St James. 
- The first stage contained vestibule, tower & Council chamber and the second stage became the Main Hall, basement, a large hall & rooms. Architects Albert Bond, D. Macbeath, Thomas Sapsford and George McRae witnessed the completion of the building. 
- A design by Tasmanian architect J.H. Willson was selected and construction commenced in 1869. The building was built over 20 years in two stages and completed in 1889. 
  Above- domination of the skyline, as seen from Pyrmont.
  Above- the spectacular view from the tower, towards the heads. No towers, no pollution.

The Sydney Town Hall is a beautiful landmark sandstone building located in the heart of Sydney. It stands opposite the Queen Victoria Building and alongside St Andrew's Cathedral. Sitting above the busy Town Hall station and between the cinema strip on George Street and the Central Business District, the steps of the Town Hall are a popular meeting place.

Town Hall was built in the 1880s from local Sydney sandstone in the grand Victorian architectural style, and remains the only non-religious city building from the era to retain its original function and interior. The building houses the Sydney City Council Chamber, reception rooms, the Centennial Hall and offices for the Lord Mayor and elected councillors.

The Town Hall was immortalised in song by the 1980's indie rock and pop band The Mexican Spitfires in their song "Town Hall Steps".
The Sydney Town Hall is possibly the only non-religious city building to retain its original function and interiors since it was built 120 years ago. Accommodation in the 19th century building includes the Council Chamber, reception rooms, the Centennial Hall and offices for the Lord Mayor and elected councillors.

The building's history is a turbulent one. After decades of unsuccessful negotiations, the city fathers finally secured a land grant from the Crown in the commercial centre of the city - as far away from colonial Government House in Macquarie Street as possible.

The site was the old cemetery next to St. Andrew's Cathedral, which required careful exhumation and transferral of bodies to other cemeteries. Perhaps envious of Melbourne's lavish Town Hall, built during the prosperity of the gold rush, a competition for its design was held and was won by JH Willson, an unknown architect from Tasmania. After Willson's sudden death, a parade of architects appear to have suffered through their involvement with the project.

When complete, the building had a large porte-cochere over the present (rebuilt) steps, and its own ring road inside a stone and iron palisade. Unfortunately, this area was destabilised in 1934 during tunnelling for the underground railway and the formal entry had to be demolished. As a landmark, the tower by the Bradridge brothers was second in scale to Barnet's tower on the General Post Office (203) in Martin Place, while no building to the south or west was taller.

Albert Bond, when City Architect, designed the chamber now known as the vestibule (open to the public) which served as the meeting hall until the larger Centennial Hall was built. The vestibule has elaborately decorated surfaces in plasterwork with stained-glass lanterns and cast metal plaques commemorating royal visits to the city.

The "Great Hall" by Charles Sapsford - which was officially named the Centennial Hall, but referred to in its day as the Place of Democracy - was an engineering triumph, involving a highly structured roof system to meet the span. The ceilings are lined with an early use of the Wunderlich metal panel system, chosen to overcome the fear of plaster panels falling on patrons from vibration caused by the immense organ which still functions.

In later periods, the Town Hall was referred to as a wedding cake or lollipop building, but was nevertheless representative of its time, sharing similar Victorian/Beaux-Arts (Second Empire) design concepts with the much grander City Hall in Philadelphia (1871-1901).

Information appearing in this section is reproduced from Sydney Architecture, with the kind permission of the author, Graham Jahn, a well-known Sydney architect and former City of Sydney Councillor. Sydney Architecture, rrp $35.00, is available from all good book stores or from the publisher, Watermark Press, Telephone: 02 9818 5677.

  1934- Entrance portico replaced.
  Above- the buildings opposite.
  Town Hall House (admin building behind Town Hall)- an interesting bit of early '70s Brutalism.
  Below- the Philadelphia Town Hall, the model for STH. Click images for larger versions.
  cbd3-001-phil1.jpg (51073 bytes)cbd3-001-phil2.jpg (45085 bytes)cbd3-001-phil3.jpg (65599 bytes)
  cbd3-001-phil4.jpg (48818 bytes)cbd3-001-phil5.jpg (17358 bytes)cbd3-001-tphil1.jpg (76425 bytes)
  Philadelphia City Hall 
John McArthur, Jr.
Thomas U. Walter
John Ord
W.Bleddyn Powell




The Steps of Town Hall