Lynton Town Hall
Visit the splendid Town Hall in Lynton, North Devon and you will see an arch on the extreme left of the building. This is no ordinary arch for it is not at ground level for people to pass through and it appears to have no real function. Indeed, many people have wondered why it was put there in the first place!
The Town Hall itself was the gift of Sir George Newnes, the founder of Tit Bits, and owner of Hollerday House, a mansion high on the hill overlooking the town. This wealthy publisher had already provided Lynton and Lynmouth with two of it's greatest needs: a cliff railway linking the twin villages and a railway from Barnstaple.
On the 11 May 1898 Sir George and Lady Newnes arrived at the Lynton station on the first official train and formally opened the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. Then they rode in a horse-drawn coach down to Lee Road and laid a foundation stone for the Town Hall they had decided to give to Lynton and Lynmouth.
It was on 15 August 1900 that the opening ceremony for the Town Hall took place. Alighting from his carriage, Sir George was presented with a silver key bearing his coat of arms. He unlocked the main door and stepped inside. A few minutes later he appeared on the balcony, and took the cheers of the crowd. After making a short speech he turned to the Chairman of the Council and handed him the keys to the building. What a gift that was!
Early pictures of the Town Hall show this empty arch but accounts of the opening day make no mention of it. So what was it's purpose?
Local tradition has it that Sir George hoped that local residents would find the money for a bronze statue of him to sit in the arch and look out over the town. Sadly, they never managed to do so, though in 1902 they did acknowledge his generosity by subscribing for a marble bust that was placed inside the building.
For a hundred years the arch stood empty. But recently a bronze bust of Sir George was commissioned and this has now been placed in the arch to look out over the town he so loved.