Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Manchester Town Hall


M is for Manchester Town Hall

Today we travel to the North West in the heart of England
Manchester Town Hall, Manchester

Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian, Neo-gothic municipal building housing a number of local government departments and is the ceremonial headquarters of Manchester City Council. 
Manchester Town Hall & Town Hall Extension seen from the West.
Aerial Photograph Courtesy of www.webbaviation.co.uk © 2005.

The building was designed by the architect Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1877.   It had to bridge the gap between office and ceremonial requirements and maximise space on its triangular site.  The six-storey building has a perimeter of cloister corridors linking offices and everyday workings.  The grandiose, ceremonial features of the town hall are centrally located. 


There are two grand staircases by the main entrance of Albert Square leading to the landing outside the Great Hall; the stairs have low risers allowing access for women in Victorian dress.  The walls of the staircases have tall, arched windows to admit daylight.  There are three spiral staircases to access the first floor from the entrances on Princess Street, Lloyd Street and Copper Street which are constructed in English, Scottish and Irish granite. 

The entrance hall has a mosaic glass roof; the Sculpture Hall on the ground floor contains busts and statues of people who have made significant contributions to Manchester, such as the Anti Corn Law campaigners, Richard Cobden and John Bright and scientists John Dalton and James Joule and Barbirolli. 

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons

The clock tower dominates the exterior and rises to 87 metres (285 feet) From Albert Square three clock faces are visible and they read “Teach us to number our Days.   There are 24 bells in the tower.  The Great Hour Bell is called Great Abel after Abel Heywood, The Mayor at the time of the official opening; it weighs 8 ton and 2 cwt.  The formal opening ceremony took place on 13 September 1877. 

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons

There were great problems for Victorian architects to overcome due to the rapid growth and accompanying pollution which included denial of light, overcrowding, awkward sites, noise and accessibility and visibility of buildings.    

The skyline of Manchester, at the height of the 19th Century.

Source: mrmattwardle.wordpress.com


The clever architects addressed these through architectural devices such as suspended first floor rooms, made possible by using iron-framed construction, use of skylights, extra windows and dormers.  They ‘borrowed light’ for interior spaces by using glazed white bricks and mosaic marble paving where the light was less strong.  They used clear glass in important rooms and light coloured tints for coloured glazing because the sky of Manchester does not favour the employment of stained glass.

The Town Hall in the early 20th century, its stonework blackened by soot

Although it was medieval in style it was designed to support the practical technologies of the 19th century.  It has gas lighting, a warm-air heating system which provided fresh air drawn through ornamental stone air inlets placed below windows and admitted behind the hot water pipes and ‘coils’ of rooms.  Warmed, fresh air was fed into the stairwells and through hollow shafts with the spiral staircases to ventilate the corridors.  The pipes that supplied gas for lighting were ingeniously concealed underneath the banister rails of the spiral staircases.  The building was designed to be fireproof by using a combination of concrete and wrought-iron beams.

Manchester is only a two hour train journey from London and is the largest city in the North of England and is therefore a major cultural and economic centre.  It has its own international airport, which is the second largest in the UK and serves flights to Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

The Town Hall is a great location for filming and has recently been used for Sherlock Homes, starring Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law (Warner Brothers, 2009), The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep (2011), and the BBC's Antiques Roadshow 


Betty travelled into the centre

Of the busy city, the scenery a blur

She coughed as the smoke tickled her nose 

Tightly clutching the bouquet of primroses

She made her way to the clock tower
Rising up from the town hall, looming bigger

Than any building she had seen in the country

She wanted to see the mosaic floor of bees

The symbol of Manchester, hard working folk 

Beehive mills reach to the skyline powered by coal and coke

Coating the buildings with dust and grime

She heard the bell in the clock tower chime

As she hurried ahead to meet her sister

She ignored the boots that were too tight and the blister.   

Attribution: David Hawgood


  1. What a magnificent building. Thank you for sharing it's beauty and telling us it's history.

  2. I really enjoyed this history of a city I was not able to visit when I spent some time in England a while ago. You bring the history to life with that vignette of Betty visiting her sister -- even to the blister. And the commentary is well matched by those photos from Wiki. Even to the soot! What changes from then to now.

  3. If I could go back in time, I would want to visit the Victorian Age. The world was starting to move fast then. It must have been exciting times with so many possibilities. I love that the building was built with those hobble skirts in mind. Rather cute.
    Wendy at Jollett Etc.