THE FIRST municipal building specifically constructed for the administration of Southampton was the Audit House located in the High Street in front of Holyrood Church which can be clearly seen on Speed's map of 1611.

Holyrood Church originally occupied the site but by 1333 a new church had been built, leaving the former space free for the Audit House.

Leland, writing in 1549 about the High Street, says "There is a fair house builded yn the middle of this streat for accomptes (accounts) to be made in".

Beneath the Audit House a market for eggs and butter was held.

Towards the end of the 18th century building was showing its age. It had been rebuilt in 1519, repaired and improved on several occasions since but now it was considered necessary to demolish it "to improve the beauty and convenience of the High Street".

A site in the High Street opposite the Red Lion was purchased for £1305 from Alderman Purbeck. The new Audit House with its handsome edifice was designed by John Crunden of Piccadilly and the first stone laid in September, 1771. The lower part was used as a market and the first floor contained the Council Chamber, the Town Clerk's and Borough Treasurer's offices. A house adjoining the Audit House was incorporated later for further office space.

From about 1890 it was recognised that the Town had outgrown the Audit House with the consequence that administrative offices were spread all around the Town.

Proposals were made on several occasions for a new Town Hall with one suggestion that it should be located by Palmerstone's statue in Above Bar.

In 1914, a committee was established under the chairmanship of Sidney Kimber to consider the matter of new municipal buildings but had to wait until 1919 when the decision was taken to explore using part of the West Marlands and, in 1924, the Council decided to seek an Act of Parliament to secure the land. The same year the Committee were given permission to explore the development and costs of the new buildings.

Following a visit to Cardiff's impressive Municipal Buildings the West Marlands site was confirmed as the preferred location and that the final design would be awarded through public competition. Forty seven designs were submitted and displayed at the Hartley Institute and the design by London architect Ernest Berry Webber was chosen.

In order to ensure the scheme went ahead politically unopposed it was agreed that 2000 houses would be built to provide homes for working people in the Borough.

The Foundation stone of the Municipal Building was laid by the Duke of York on July 1, 1930, who returned to open the completed building in November 1932.

This structure was followed by the Law Courts and Police Station which was opened in 1933. A change was made at this time to the original plans as it was decided to incorporate a clock tower which could be seen from various locations in the town. This has since become known locally as Kimber's Chimney.

There was some resistance to the construction of the Guildhall on cost following an overspend on the earlier building work. However, it was recognised that there was a need for this public space as the council had often used the facilities aboard the ocean liners for large entertainment functions in the past. The work was approved and started in March 1934 and completed for the opening on February 13, 1937.

The final part was the Library and Art School which was opened on April 26, 1939.

With the four phases completed between 1930 and 1939 Southampton at last had the Municipal Buildings of which it could be justifiably proud thanks to the skill of Ernest Berry Webber and the determination of Sidney Kimber.

It was the first building to be described as a Civic Centre.