Red House


Giclee printed on 305gsm off white coloured archival paper with a subtle texture. A4 297mm x 210mm, A5 148 x 210mm.

SKU: RH Category:


Designed by E. A. Johnston, the “Redhouse” is a frothy and exuberant piece of Victorian civic architecture in so called “French Renaissance style” and could be said to have shared the vicissitudes of Merthyr Tydfil’s economy. Constructed as a town hall between 1896 – 1898 in the historic heart of Merthyr Tydfil when it was the largest town in Wales, it symbolised Merthyr’s municipal significance and pride, although by this time economic decline had already set in. Perhaps then, it was no surprise that in 1900 it became the seat of the first independent labour member of parliament, Keir Hardie, an ardent socialist. I can only imagine the many rousing speeches that he would have delivered from the theatrical balcony facing the main street, (my only frame of reference was during my childhood looking up at the mayor standing on the same balcony, before he turned on the Christmas lights). When the council moved out in 1989, the building became a nightclub suffering poor treatment until it was abandoned in 2000 and lay derelict for a number of years. During this time it was used as filming location for an episode of Torchwood, a Dr Who spin off featuring a group of alien hunters. Extraterrestrials aside, Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association acquired it in 2007 and began the arduous task of bringing the building back to life. When re-opened as a community arts centre in 2014 it was complemented by a new civic space, Penderyn Square. Although very different from the original dense urban nature of the town, the square has opened up views of the Redhouse, improving its prospect, aspect and grouping with the adjacent library and Church buildings.

The sensitive refurbishment by Austin Smith Lord architects has maintained the integrity of the original design and plan; two distinct volumes arranged around a central atrium. To the front, a roughly square building formerly housing the county offices faces the main High street. To the rear following the slope of the site, a rectangular block is offset at a slight angle which formerly contained the law courts and police cells. Externally, rusticated penant stone provides a strong and contrasting base to the warmer red cattybrook brick skin above. Orange terracotta enlivens the facade further with pilasters, bay windows, finials, heraldic lions, Dutch like gables and the theatrical cantilevered balcony above the main entrance facing the High Street/new square. Squatting along the ridge of the steeply pitched slate roof is the painted clock turret positioned above the entrance and balcony elements emphasising the central bay of the elevation. Internally the decorative orgiastic frenzy is continued with Art Nouveau glazed tiling, mysterious masonic symbols and the sweeping grand imperial staircase animated through the play of light and shadow cast by the large stained glass window on the half landing. It is also worth mentioning that the roof is supported via a series of cast iron trusses (it would have been rude not to, being the seat of government in the pre-eminent iron town of Merthyr Tydfil). Let us hope that the good fortune of the old town hall continues and perhaps take heart through the motto lovingly laid in the dragon mosaic of the entrance floor; ‘Y draig goch a ddyry cychwyn’, meaning ‘The red
dragon inspires action’.

Additional information

Accent colour

None, Grey, Red

Illustration Size

A3, A4