Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall

Albert Memorial

Albert Memorial


Albert Square is a public square in the centre of Manchester, England. It is dominated by its largest building, the Grade I listed Manchester Town Hall, a Victorian Gothic building by Alfred Waterhouse. Other smaller buildings from the same period surround it, many of which are listed (the buildings on the north side are in Princess Street). The square contains a number of monuments and statues, the largest of which is the Albert Memorial, a monument to Prince Albert, Prince consort of Queen Victoria. The square, named after the Prince, was laid out to provide a space for the memorial in 1863–67. Work on the town hall began in 1868 and was completed in 1877.

The area in which the square is situated was once derelict land and an area of dense housing near the Town Yard and the River Tib (named Longworth's Folly).

The square's creation arose out of a project by Manchester Corporation's Monuments Committee to erect a memorial to Prince Albert who had died of typhoid in 1861. After initial proposals to create a memorial library, museum or botanical gardens, the committee decided to erect a statue in a decorated canopy. It was originally planned to place the monument in front of the Royal Infirmary building at Piccadilly, between the statues of Wellington and Peel. However it was felt that its ornate Gothic design was not in keeping with the neoclassical infirmary. In 1863, land was offered by the Corporation which was cleared to make way for a public space.

The project won much public support; the Manchester Bricklayers' Protection Society donated 50,000 bricks towards the monument's construction, "as an expression of sympathy towards our beloved Queen". When construction problems arose (the site was found to be riddled with drains and culverts) and the bricks were used up on the foundations alone, a public subscription was launched in 1865 and a further £6,249 was raised, in spite of the hardships of the Cotton Famine.

Clearing the site began in 1864, and required the demolition of over 100 buildings, including the Engraver's Arms pub, a coffee roasting works, a smithy, a coal yard and various warehouses. The project was encouraged by the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to open the Albert Monument in 1869.

It was decided to construct a new town hall for Manchester, as the old building in King Street had become too small. Following an architectural competition, Gothic designs for a building with a high bell tower by Sir Alfred Waterhouse were selected, and the Town Hall was begun in 1868 and completed in 1877.

In the early 1970s, there was a plan to build an underground station under Albert Square and neighbouring St Peter's Square, as part of the ill-fated Picc-Vic tunnel project. The project was eventually cancelled and the station was not built. In April 1972, the area around Albert Square was designated a conservation area, and in 1981 to include the neighbouring, newly created Lincoln Square. (The creation of Lincoln Square completed a "procesional way" from the Law Courts through Spinningfields and Lincoln Square to the Town Hall.)

The centre of Albert Square was originally laid out in the form of a traffic circle and a group of bus stops occupied the western part. In 1987 the square was redesigned and the eastern side in front of the town hall was pedestrianised. The square was laid with fan-shaped granite setts, York stone paving and 'heritage'-style cast-iron street furniture.

* Albert Memorial *

Albert Square's largest monument is the Grade I listed Albert Memorial, commemorating the Prince Consort. It features a marble statue of Albert standing on a plinth and facing west, designed by Matthew Noble (1862–1867). The figure is placed within a large Medieval-style ciborium which was designed by the architect Thomas Worthington. Noble was commissioned by the then mayor, Thomas Goadsby, to sculpt the Prince's likeness, and the designs were personally approved by Queen Victoria.

Worthington himself had, at the age of 18, been presented with the Royal Society of Arts' Isis Gold Medal by Prince Albert for a design for a Gothic-style chancel. His Medieval-style design for the Albert Memorial was inspired by the Church of Santa Maria della Spina in Pisa. Although his design was unusual for its time, commentators have suggested he may have been influenced by George Kemp's Scott Monument in Princes Street, Edinburgh, built 20 years earlier.

The memorial is topped with an ornate spire, and on each side a crocketed gable with canopied pinnacles on colonettes. Within the canopies stand symbolic figures representing art, commerce, science and agriculture. Below these stand secondary figures representing particular disciplines:

  • The Four Arts: painting, architecture, music, sculpture.
  • Commerce: the Four Continents.
  • The Four Sciences: chemistry, astronomy, mechanics, mathematics.
  • Agriculture: the Four Seasons.
  • The coloured sett paving which was laid around the memorial in 1987 depicts floral representations of the Four Home Nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

    Proposals to move or demolish the Albert Memorial have been made; a plan to replace Prince Albert with a war memorial following the First World War was defeated; and when the Albert Memorial had fallen into disrepair, it was proposed that it should be demolished. It was rescued from destruction several times by campaigners, and was finally restored with help from Robert Ernest Shapley in 1976–77.

    * Other Monuments *

    Albert Square is bounded by a varied selection of listed Victorian buildings, the largest being the town hall. Only the western side of the square (facing the town hall) has lost its original buildings and is now occupied by brick and glass office blocks erected during the 1980s. Buildings in Albert Square include:

  • Manchester Town Hall (1868–77) – neo-Gothic sandstone ashlar local governmental building on a triangular site, with a 280 ft (85 m) bell tower, housing a carillon of 23 bells, designed by Alfred Waterhouse for Manchester Corporation. Contains mural paintings by Ford Madox Brown.
  • Abbey National building (c.1900), Grade II listed – Neoclassical Portland stone bank by Percy Worthington with semicircular front.
  • Albert Chambers, 16 Albert Square (1873), Grade II listed – Venetian-style sandstone ashlar offices designed by Clegg and Knowles for Manchester Corporation Gasworks.
  • Carlton House (formerly Bridgewater Buildings), 17–18 Albert Square (1872), Grade II listed – Venetian Gothic-style sandstone ashlar office buildings by Clegg and Knowles.
  • St Andrew's Chambers, 20–21 Albert Square (1874), Grade II listed – Neo-Gothic sandstone corner building designed by George T. Redmayne for the Scottish Widows Fund Life Assurance Society.
  • The Memorial Hall, by architect Thomas Worthington for the Unitarian Church (1866), Grade II* listed, Southmill Street corner.

    * Manchester Town Hall *

    Manchester's original civic administration was housed in the Police Office in King Street. It was replaced by the first Town Hall, to accommodate the growing local government and its civic assembly rooms. The Town Hall, also located in King Street at the corner of Cross Street, was designed by Francis Goodwin and constructed during 1822–25, much of it by David Bellhouse. The building was designed with a screen of Ionic columns across a recessed centre, in a classicising manner strongly influenced by John Soane. The building was 134 feet (41 m) long and 76 feet (23 m) deep, the ground floor housed committee rooms and offices for the Chief Constable, Surveyor, Treasurer, other officers and clerks. The first floor held the Assembly Rooms. The building and land cost £39,587.

    As the size and wealth of the city grew, largely as a result of the textile industry, its administration outstripped the existing facilities, and a new building was proposed. The King Street building was subsequently occupied by a lending library and then Lloyds Bank. The facade was removed to Heaton Park in 1912, when a bank, 53 King Street was erected on the site.

    Great Hall

    Great Hall

    Original Town Hall

    Original Town Hall

    Planning for the new town hall began in 1863. Manchester Corporation demanded it be, 'equal if not superior, to any similar building in the country at any cost which may be reasonably required'. The choice of location was influenced by a desire to provide a central, accessible, but relatively quiet site in a respectable district, close to Manchester's banks and municipal offices, next to a large open area, suitable for the display of a fine building. After investigating suitable sites, including Piccadilly, an oddly shaped plot facing Albert Square was chosen. The Albert Square frontage measures 323 feet (98 m), Lloyd Street is 350 feet (107 m), Princess Street the longest at 383 feet (117 m) and Cooper Street measures 94 feet (29 m). On this tight site, the corporation built a grand hall, a suite of reception rooms, quarters for the lord mayor, offices and a council chamber.

    The second stage of a competition to design the town hall which attracted 137 entries was judged by Thomas Leverton Donaldson, a classicist, and gothicist George Edmund Street. The eight finalists were Waterhouse, William Lee, Speakman & Charlesworth, Cuthbert Brodrick, Thomas Worthington, John Oldrid Scott, Thomas Henry Wyatt and Edward Salomons. In terms of design and aesthetics, Waterhouse's proposal was placed fourth behind those of Speakman & Charlesworth, Oldrid Scott and Worthington but his design was considered much superior for its architectural quality, layout and use of light and he was appointed architect on 1 April 1868.

    The foundation stone was laid on 26 October 1868 by the Lord Mayor, Robert Neill. Construction took nine years and used 14 million bricks. Estimates for the cost of construction vary from £775,000 to around £1,000,000. When Queen Victoria refused to attend, Manchester Town Hall was opened on 13 September 1877 by the mayor, Abel Heywood, who had championed the project.

    In 1927, a competition to design the Town Hall Extension was won by Emanuel Vincent Harris, the architect who also won a competition to design the city's Central Library. Work began on the extension in 1934 and was completed by 1938. Charles Herbert Reilly, a contemporary architecture critic, thought the extension was 'dull' and 'drab' while Nikolaus Pevsner considered it was Harris's best work. It is linked to the town hall by glazed pedestrian bridges at first-floor level.

    By late 2014, the Town Hall was being described as "being in urgent need of essential repair" and modernisation. In a 2014 report, Manchester City Council highlighted the need to replace the building's heating and electrical systems, refurbish windows and high-level stonework and repair parts of the roofing. The cost of this work, including work on improving the adjoining square, is estimated to be £2.2 million.

    The rapid growth and accompanying pollution in Victorian cities caused great problems for architects including denial of light, overcrowding, awkward sites, noise, accessibility and visibility of buildings, and air pollution. Provision for "the sufficiency of window light supplied throughout the building" was addressed by the use of architectural devices: suspended first floor rooms, made possible by the use of iron-framed construction, skylights, extra windows and dormers, "borrowed lights" for interior spaces and glazed white bricks in conjunction with mosaic marble paving in areas where the light was "less strong". Clear glass was used in important rooms, with light-coloured tints for coloured glazing, as "the sky of Manchester does not favour the employment of deeply stained glass."

    The building exemplifies the Victorian Gothic revival style of architecture, using themes and elements from 13th-century Early English Gothic architecture. Gothic features most prominent in the Manchester Town Hall are low rib vault ceilings and tall arched windows. The choice of the Gothic was influenced by the wish for a spiritual acknowledgement of Manchester's late medieval heritage in the textile trade of the Hanseatic league and an affirmation of modernity in the fashionable neo-Gothic style favoured over the Neoclassical architecture of Liverpool.

    Despite its medieval styling, the building was designed to support the practical technologies of the 19th century. It had gas lighting, and a warm-air heating system, which provided fresh air drawn through ornamental stone air inlets below the windows and admitted behind the hot water pipes and 'coils' into the rooms. Warmed, fresh air was fed into the stairwells and through hollow shafts within the spiral staircases to ventilate the corridors. Pipes supplying gas for lighting were ingeniously concealed underneath the banister rails of the spiral staircases. Waterhouse designed the building structure to be fireproof, using a combination of concrete and wrought-iron beams.

    In mid-19th-century Manchester, many important Georgian buildings were blackened by atmospheric pollution. By the 1870s the local soft red Collyhurst sandstone was deemed to be unsuitable for public buildings, and tough Pennine sandstones were preferred. The architectural competition entries were judged in part on their suitability for the "climate of the district", and sample stone types were investigated. Waterhouse believed it was a matter of great difficulty to find a stone "proof against the evil influences of the peculiar climate of Manchester" but decided that Yorkshire-quarried Spinkwell stone would resist "the deleterious influences of Manchester atmosphere". The interior decoration was chosen with a view to providing permanent colour and cleanable surfaces. Public corridors were faced with terracotta rather than plaster, and extensive use was made of stone vaulted ceilings, tiled dados and washable mosaic floors.

    Waterhouse's design used a Gothic style with limited carved decoration and a uniform colour, a departure from the high Victorian heaviness and colour used in contemporary Ruskinian Gothic buildings, and was criticised by some Manchester inhabitants for not being Gothic enough. The decision to spend large amounts of money on a building "when most of its architectural effect would be lost because ruined by soot and made nearly invisible by smoke" was criticised. Waterhouse avoided using a polychrome scheme as seen in High Victorian Gothic buildings such as St Pancras railway station believing it to be impractical as Manchester's industrial atmosphere would quickly ruin the effect and decided a uniform stone exterior was the better solution.

    Statues of notable figures in the city's history decorate its exterior, that of Agricola, founder of the Roman fort is over the main door and over its gable is a statue of St George. Statues of Thomas Grelley, first lord of the manor, Humphrey Chetham and Thomas de la Warre are among six at the corner of Albert Square and Princess Street. Waterhouse's design proved successful and although its exterior was blackened by the late 1890s, the stonework was in a suitable condition to be cleaned and restored to its original appearance in the late 1960s.

    The 280 feet (85 m) tall bell tower, the sixth tallest building in Manchester, houses a carillon of 23 bells: 12 are hung for full circle change ringing and were manufactured by John Taylor Bellfounders. The clock bell, Great Abel, named after Abel Heywood, weighs 8 tons 2.5 cwt. Its clock, made by Gillett and Bland (predecessor of Gillett and Johnston), was originally wound using hydraulic power supplied by Manchester Hydraulic Power. The clock bell first rang on New Year's Day 1879, but cracked, was replaced in 1882, and then recast with all the bells in 1937. Its clock face bears the inscription Teach us to number our Days, from Psalm 90:12. The clock bell is inscribed with the initials AH for Abel Heywood and the line Ring out the false, ring in the true from Tennyson's "Ring Out, Wild Bells". Tours of the clock tower have been suspended while repair work is carried out. They are due to begin again in 2023.

    Waterhouse's plan for the town hall bridged the gap between office and ceremonial requirements and maximised space on its triangular site. His design for a six-storey building filled the asymmetrical site. Set around its perimeter is a cloister of corridors linking offices and everyday workings. Its grandiose, ceremonial features are centrally located. By the main entrance on Albert Square are two grand staircases leading to the landing outside its Great Hall. The stairs have low risers allowing access for women in Victorian dress. The walls of the staircases have tall, arched windows admitting daylight. Three spiral staircases accessing the first floor from entrances on Princess Street, Lloyd Street and Cooper Street are constructed in English, Scottish and Irish granite.

    The ground-floor Sculpture Hall contains statues and busts of people who made significant contributions to Manchester, the Anti-Corn Law campaigners, Richard Cobden and John Bright, and scientists John Dalton and James Joule among many others. The room measures 53 feet by 33 feet and has a groin vaulted ceiling, constructed out of Bath stone. The Sculpture Hall Café is now located here.

    The landing has a glazed skylight on which the names of mayors, lord mayors and chairs of the council since Manchester received its Charter of Corporation in 1838 are inscribed on glass panes. The landing has a mosaic floor with a pattern of bees and cotton flowers, both symbols of Manchester. Influential Victorian critic John Ruskin described the Great Hall as "The most truly magnificent Gothic apartment in Europe."

    The rectangular hall measures 100 feet (30 m) by 50 feet (15 m). Natural light permeates from seven high windows on either side of the hall from the courtyards outside. It has a wagon roof, its ceiling divided into panels bearing the arms of countries and towns with which Manchester traded at the zenith of its mercantile power. The Manchester Murals by Ford Madox Brown, a sequence of 12 paintings depicting the history of Manchester decorate its walls. They are not true frescoes but use the Gambier Parry process.

    The organ installed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1877 stands 16 feet (5 m) tall and had more than 5,000 pipes, five manuals and 65 speaking stops. Cavaillé-Coll cleaned it and added the solo organ in 1893. In 1912, T.C. Lewis of Brixton rebuilt it and added the echo division. Jardine of Manchester's minor rebuild in 1970 added the mobile five-manual console.


    Location : Town Hall, Albert Square, Manchester M2 5DB

    Transport: Manchester Piccadilly (National Rail) then bus OR 16 minutes. Bus: 278 stops in Albert Square; 26, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 50, X39, X41, X43, V1 and V2 stop close by.

    Opening Times: Dawn to Dusk

    Tickets : Free

    Tel: 0161 827 7661