Today, a building which has been labelled “irredeemable, joyless and utterly ignorant” is exactly 150 years old.

And today, it has pride of place in its town’s high street, with traffic flowing down one side of it, market stalls clustering on the pavement on the other and crafters selling their homemade wares from its groundfloor. A little performance area has been landscaped in front of its main door, where carollers have been singing this Christmas so that, 150 years after its completion, it remains at the heart of its town.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Northallerton town hall

On December 22, 1873, Northallerton Town Hall was formally opened with a concert by “a talented company of artistes” from York.

“There was a large and fashionable company present and the entertainment was a great success,” reported the Darlington & Stockton Times of December 27, 1873.

The town hall had been built on top of an ancient and ramshackle tollbooth, dating from 1334, and shambles – a covered meat market – from the 16th Century.

Darlington and Stockton Times: A late Victorian picture of Northallerton, with the Town Hall in the centre, and on the right can be seen the sign for the Black Bull, which was Capt Boss' campaign headquarters

The Bishop of Durham had controlled Northallerton market since it received its royal charter in 1200. His market officials were based in the tollbooth, taking fees from stallholders and percentages from purchasers. Over time, this evolved into the town hall, the home of all local regulation.

By the middle of the 19th Century, the bishop’s involvement in the affairs of a town was seen as anachronistic and Northallerton was one of many whose council bought the bishop out so local people could take control – bishexit was an early version of Brexit.

Northallerton took back control in the early 1870s and then formed the Town Hall, Market and Public Improvements Company to raise £3,000 to modernise the town centre.

“The fine town street of Northallerton has, for a number of years, been disfigured by the old, unsightly and inconvenient buildings standing in the Market Place, called the Toll Booth and Shambles,” said the D&S Times approvingly in 1871 when it started its work.

Darlington and Stockton Times: From the Archive Northallerton.

The improvement company contracted architect John Ross, of Darlington, to create a town hall complex featuring a covered market and a public meeting room.

“Although Northallerton is a Parliamentary borough and the capital of the North Riding,” said the D&S in 1872 when the “unsightly” Shambles was demolished, “the market arrangements have always been inadequate to public requirements and the want of a public room has long been felt.”

Mr Ross is usually regarded as a house-builder, but in the 1860s, in Darlington he designed the Brinkburn and Mowden Hall mansions for the Pease family, in Saltburn he designed the majestic clifftop Britannia Terrace and Alexandra Hotel, and then, in Nunthorpe, he designed the ridiculously overblown Grey Towers for Middlesbrough mayor William Innes Hopkins.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Northallerton town hall in the middle of the high street on a 1950s postcard view

Northallerton town hall was his last major work.

“The new market house is a handsome and effective building a brick and stone, and presents a marked contrast to the old shambles which it replaces,” said the York Herald newspaper at Christmas 1873.

The paper was particularly impressed with the public hall on the first floor, which it claimed could hold 600 people.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The stupendous Grey Towers at Nunthorpe, now 12 apartments, that John Ross designed in 1865 for ironmaster William Randolph Innes Hopkins - it was his firm, Hopkins, Gilkes and Company, which was blamed for the collapse of the Tay Bridge in 1879. In

“Great pains have been taken to render this hall as complete and suitable as a concert and ballroom and for theatrical performances,” said the Herald. “The design of the roof is novel and bold, and the ceiling, which is waggon headed in form, is effectively decorated in colours. The back of the stage or platform is a semi circular recess which together with the form of the roof, greatly aids the acoustic qualities of the room.”

But not everyone over the last 150 years has agreed.

The greatest architectural historian of the 20th Century was Nikolaus Pevsner who toured the country writing guides to the best, and worst, buildings in every county. His North Yorkshire guide was published in 1966 and was revised only this year.

It says: “The Victorian town halls of the North Riding do not add up to much, a fair reflection of the modest places they served. Bedale (1840), Middlesbrough (old) (1846), Stokesley (1854) and Leyburn (1856) are still humbly classical or Italianate and without any Victorian fancies. Northallerton (1873), marries such fancies to a broadly Italianate architecture but looks entirely incompetent. Middleham (1862) is more impressive.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Inside the 150-year-old Northallerton town hall assembly room for a Syrian pop-up restaurant

Pevsner then damns Northallerton Town Hall by saying that is “really irredeemable: joyless, utterly ignorant and not inventive either”.

But today it stands at the heart of its town centre, with carollers and tradespeople clustered around it. It is a little square, a little dumpy, and its anniversary has passed without note, but surely the passage of time has redeemed it a little – Northallerton’s townscape would be poorer without the 150-year-old town hall.