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Seeing the light

Queen Victoria described it as 'worthy of ancient Athens' – and bits have certainly been crumbling like the acropolis in recent times. But all that's about to change at St George's Hall.

Published on May 15th 2007.

Seeing the light

Hands up who, among us, has never walked past St George's Hall with a visitor to this city, only to be asked: “What happens in there then?”

And who hasn't shrugged their shoulders and replied: “Nothing,” or “Dunno.”

The embarrassing fact is that St George's Hall, one of Europe's finest buildings, has been a landmark-without-portfolio for decades. It might have premiered Dickens' A Christmas Carol to the world and hosted some pretty grisly murder trials in its day, but in the past 20 years its best bet has been as a location for film crews zooming in to make a car ad before zooming out again.

And save for the occasional exercising of the organ by Joe Riley, its doors have remained shut to the public since the law courts closed in 1984.

So it is cheery news that the hall's leaking roof, crumbling walls and rotten fittings are no more. St George's Hall has had a huge refurb and will reopen with a dash of style later this month. £23 million has been spent, and it opens on 23 April.

But not coincidentally, April 23 is St George's Day and the flags will be flying at the Lonsdale Elmes masterpiece as Prince Charles turns up to approve some "architecture as it should be". First off, the hall will be the backdrop to twice-nightly son et lumiere displays recounting the city's past 800 years, from Monday 23 to Sunday 29 April.

Designed by Ross Ashton, who lit up Buckingham Palace for the Queen's 80th, the 30-minute showcase can be viewed from a 500-seater grandstand in St John's Gardens. And you can win a family ticket to be there on the opening night by clicking here. Or you can call 0151 233 2008 to buy them.

On the permanent front, the hall will host public tours that people can embark on with hand-held audio devices where they can see the holding cells that housed the wife of chief Ripper suspect James Maybrick, the upgraded courts and the judges' robing rooms. A new community exhibition centre will be available for hire and the fabulous St George's Concert Room has been restored to its original spec with a 450-seat capacity.

But blink and you might miss the rarely seen, 30,000-piece, hand-crafted Minton tiled floor in the Great Hall, which will be on display for the first time in 10 years until Sunday. A series of concerts by Liverpool musicians such as 2006 BBC Young Musician of the Year Mark Simpson, is also planned.

So next time a visitor asks you about St George's Hall, you can tell them all this. Or you could just mention that therein lie the only empty prison cells in the land.

That's got to be good. Unless it's John Reid you're showing around.

Fill in your details in the form below before the closing date on Weds 19 April.

This competition has now closed. Congratulations to Sarah Melhuish

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Thank you for your interest, but this competition closed to further entries on May 15th 2007.

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