These are the words of JK Morris himself, written in 1933, and tell the fascinating story of The Morris Hall building, which was originally known as Bellstone Hall:
The building facing the street was formerly known as “Owen’s Mansion” and was built in 1582. The house was a good specimen of the smaller mansions of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, with stone gables and mullion windows. The walls were of red sand stone and 2’6” to 3’6″ thick. There was a forecourt to the street and very extensive gardens at the rear reaching to St. Chad’s Terrace. The New St. Chad’s Church was erected on a portion of the garden. In the 1930s Owen’s Mansion was demolished and a bank was erected on the forecourt. The premises were occupied by the National Provincial Bank.
The Street in front of Owen’s Mansion is known as Bellstone because of the old “Bell shaped” boundary stone found there – it is of granite. “The Bell stone” is of granite similar to the granite found in the Cumberland Hills. It is thought that the Stone came down to Shrewsbury from Cumberland during the Ice Age. A resting place has been found for this old granite boulder near the entrance gates to Bellstone Hall. It is within about 20 yards of the position in which it was originally found – hence the name Bellstone.
Bellstone Hall has been erected on a part of the garden at the rear of Owen’s Mansion. The porch, lobby and main hall are of Fourteenth Century design, whilst the other building on the left is of Sixteenth Century style. The main hall has a stone base about five feet high, built of red sand stone (taken from Owen’s Mansion). Upon this foundation the remainder of the building is of solid oak framing, with the panels filled in with old style, hand-made multi-coloured bricks, 2″ thick. These bricks are specially rich in colour. The varied tints being obtained by using the bricks at random as they come from the kiln.
The heavy oak mullion windows were cut out of old oak beams. The roof is covered with hand made tiles from Broseley. The carved oak barge boards and the door of the porch and the floor of the porch, laid in the style of Roman tiles are all worthy of notice. The building on the left is of Sixteenth Century design with stone capping of gables, stone quoins at the corners of the building and stone mullion windows, and slightly larger old style hand made multi coloured bricks. The bricks in use in the Fourteenth Century being 2″ thick whilst those in use in the Sixteenth Century were generally 2 3/8” thick.
Some people may ask why two distinct period designs should be used for one building. Our designer wished to create the impression that the one building of the Fourteenth Century design has been added to two centuries later. Many old buildings in our old world towns have been added to in this way, and the style of the addition often denotes the period when the work was carried out.
The small dwarf walls with red sand stone capping on each side of the steps in front of the hall, which mark the footpath, are of special interest as these were formerly in the garden of Shrewsbury’s greatest son – Charles Darwin.
Inside the main hall the walls again reveal the half timber work. All the oak used in this building is of great age and taken from old buildings which have been demolished. Some of it has been used twice before. This was observed by the way in which the beams had been cut. Some of this oak is now used in building construction for the third time. Trees had been cut down in the forest and used with the bark upon them in the erection of Lymore Hall, Montgomery. This old building, the property of Lord Powis, was recently demolished. Some of the trees after lying in that building for perhaps 400 years or more, had the bark still upon them when removed to Shrewsbury to be again used in the erection of Bellstone Hall.
Observe the old oak corner post near the steps to the platform (stage). It must be 500 or 600 years old or more, and looks good enough for another 100 years. See the oak panelling cut out of old beams near the emergency exit door. The oak cornice at the sides of the room is fixed at a different height to that at the end of the room. Much of the glass in the windows of the hall and the porch is of great age, observe the green, yellow, and brown tints and the “Bulls Eyes”. The uneven plaster work on the walls and the motifs indicate the style of work of the Fourteenth Century. In those far off days the plasterer did not possess the tools to make the smooth plaster work of today but our present craftsmen have succeeded in making a good copy of the old work.
The “Arms of England” occupy the position over the fireplace and the “Arms of Shrewsbury” over the entrance to the room. The barrelled shaped ceiling is another feature of the room, also the open hearth fireplace with its basket grate and irons, fireback and log tongs, together with the old style hand wrought iron lanterns an, electric light fittings.
It is especially pleasing to know that practically the whole of the work was carried out by local workmen. Bellstone Hall stands as proof that craftsmanship both in design and workmanship still remain with us.
From 1935 to the present day
After the death of James Kent Morris on 27 January 1935, the Bellstone Hall (as he called it) was renamed as The Morris Hall in remembrance of its creator.
On 2nd March 1936 a carved memorial plaque was unveiled over the fireplace in the Hall. This duty was performed by the Rt. Hon. George Lansbury M.P. This memorial holds pride of place within the Hall.
All of the original features incorporated when first built have been preserved and are on view today.
It is a testament to the skill and dedication of those who constructed the Hall that no major works have had to be carried out apart from the removal of asbestos and the replacement of the oak floor in 2006.
After building the Bellstone Hall, J K Morris transferred the Hall and other property to a Trust, known as the Morris Hall Trust, which he set up and which continues today, over 75 years later, owning and managing the Hall.
Our aim now, as Trustees, is to enable as many people as possible to experience this beautiful building in the heart of Shrewsbury, and so we are delighted to be able to offer both the main hall and its smaller sister the Lake Room for hire. What event could we host for you?