In October 1914 the German Army came to a halt eight kilometres from Béthune, a town which had lived under British protection for most of the war. In the spring of 1918 the German High Command decided to carry out a series of attacks at various places along the Western Front before the arrival of American troops in Europe, and this became known as the Spring Offensive. In Flanders, an attack along the Lys River enabled the German Army to take Bailleul and threaten Mount Kemmel; however, once again, they failed at Béthune.
This failure provoked the Germans into bombarding the town centre with incendiary and shrapnel shells. Béthune burned for more than four days and the main square and its surrounding buildings were completely destroyed. The sandstone bell tower, which dated from the 15th century, was damaged but remained standing thanks to the protection afforded to it by the surrounding buildings. The town hall and many other buildings were also seriously damaged.
After the war, public money earmarked for reconstruction was mostly spent on the main square, and private initiatives were relied upon to rebuild the rest of the town. Because of the narrowness of the plots of land (often less than 2.7 metres in front of the buildings), the architect in charge of the renovation works, Jacques Alleman, chose to give the facades high gables with ornamental reliefs combining Art Deco and regionalist styles.
He used the same architectural solutions for the new town hall but adapted them to the monumental character of the building. The town hall's facade shows the Béthune coat of arms surrounded by the military honours it received in the aftermath of the war.
The marvellous buildings which border the main square, with their high gables and balconies, are the perfect setting for the jewel of this Flanders town: the bell tower and its sonorous chimes.