Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian-era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

, Neo-gothic
Gothic Revival architecture
The Gothic Revival is an architectural movement that began in the 1740s in England...

 municipal building in Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

, England. The building functions as the ceremonial headquarters of Manchester City Council
Manchester City Council
Manchester City Council is the local government authority for Manchester, a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. It is composed of 96 councillors, three for each of the 32 electoral wards of Manchester. Currently the council is controlled by the Labour Party and is led by...

 and houses a number of local government departments.

Completed by architect Alfred Waterhouse
Alfred Waterhouse
Alfred Waterhouse was a British architect, particularly associated with the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. He is perhaps best known for his design for the Natural History Museum in London, and Manchester Town Hall, although he also built a wide variety of other buildings throughout the...

 in 1877, the building features the imposing Manchester Murals
The Manchester Murals
The Manchester Murals are a series of twelve paintings by Ford Madox Brown on the history of Manchester, England in Manchester Town Hall. Following the success of Brown's painting Work he was commissioned to paint six murals for the Great Hall of the new building. Another six murals were to be...

 by the artist Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Arguably, his most notable painting was Work...

 illustrating the history of the city.

The Town Hall was rated by English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 as a Grade I listed building
Grade I listed buildings in Greater Manchester
-See also:*Architecture of Manchester*Conservation in the United Kingdom*Grade II* listed buildings in Greater Manchester*List of tallest buildings in Manchester*Scheduled Monuments in Greater Manchester-Bibliography:...

 in 1952 and the Town Hall Extension, completed in 1938, was Grade II* listed in 1974. It is regarded as one of the finest interpretations of neogothic architecture in the United Kingdom.

Old Town Hall

Manchester's original civic administration was housed in the Police Office in King Street
King Street, Manchester
King Street is one of the most important thoroughfares of the city of Manchester, England. Once the centre of the north-west banking industry it is now predominantly an affluent shopping area.-History:...

. 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
Francis Goodwin
Francis Goodwin was an English architect, best known for his many provincial churches in the Gothic revival style, civic buildings such as the first Manchester Town Hall and Macclesfield town hall , plus country houses such as Lissadell House, County Sligo .Goodwin was born at King's Lynn,...

 and constructed during 1822–25, much of it by David Bellhouse
David Bellhouse
David Bellhouse was an English builder who did much to shape Victorian era Manchester, both physically and socially.Born in Leeds, Bellhouse received no formal education. An autodidact, he taught himself to read and write and the elements of arithmetic and technical drawing...

. The building was designed with a screen of Ionic columns across a recessed centre, in a classicising manner strongly influenced by John Soane
John Soane
Sir John Soane, RA was an English architect who specialised in the Neo-Classical style. His architectural works are distinguished by their clean lines, massing of simple form, decisive detailing, careful proportions and skilful use of light sources...

. The building was 134 feet long and 76 feet 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
Textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution
The industrial revolution changed the nature of work and society. Opinion varies as to the exact date, but it is estimated that the First Industrial Revolution took place between 1750 and 1850, and the second phase or Second Industrial Revolution between 1860 and 1900. The three key drivers in...

, 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
Heaton Park
Heaton Park, covering an area variously reported as , 247 hectares, , over and is the biggest park in Greater Manchester, England and one of the biggest municipal parks in Europe. The park comprises the grounds of a Grade I listed, neoclassical 18th century country house, Heaton Hall...

 in 1912, when the current Lloyds TSB
Lloyds TSB
Lloyds TSB Bank Plc is a retail bank in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1995 by the merger of Lloyds Bank, established in Birmingham, England in 1765 and traditionally considered one of the Big Four clearing banks, with the TSB Group which traces its origins to 1810...

 building was erected on the site (No 53 King Street).

New Town Hall

The planning for a new Town Hall began in 1863. The Manchester Corporation demanded in the architecture brief
Brief (architecture)
An architectural brief is, in its broadest sense, a requirement a client may have that an architect designs to meet, usually by creating a building to accommodate the requirement. A brief is a written document that might be anything from a single page to a multiple volume set of documents...

 that the new town hall had to 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 an investigation of suitable sites, including Piccadilly
Piccadilly Gardens
Piccadilly Gardens is a green space in Manchester city centre, England, situated at one end of Market Street and on the edge of the Northern Quarter...

, the site chosen for the new town hall was an oddly shaped triangle facing onto Albert Square
Albert Square, Manchester
Albert Square is a public square in the centre of Manchester, England.It is dominated by its largest building, Manchester Town Hall , a Victorian Gothic building by Alfred Waterhouse...

A competition was held to design the Town Hall. Of the 137 entries in open competition for the design, Waterhouse's design was chosen, mainly for his ingenious planning, and he was appointed as architect on 1 April 1868. The foundation stone of the new Town Hall was laid on 26 October 1868 by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Robert Neill. Construction took nine years, used fourteen million bricks, and cost £775,000 (£ as of ). The Town Hall was opened by Lord Mayor Abel Heywood
Abel Heywood
Abel Heywood was an English publisher, radical and mayor of Manchester.-Early life:Heywood was born into a poor family in Prestwich, who moved to Manchester after Heywood's father died in 1812. Abel obtained a basic education at the Anglican Bennett Street School, and at the age of nine started...

, who had championed the project, on 13 September 1877, after Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

's refusal to attend the opening.

The building exemplifies the Victorian Gothic revival style of architecture
Gothic Revival architecture
The Gothic Revival is an architectural movement that began in the 1740s in England...

, using themes and elements from 13th-century Early English Gothic architecture. The choice was influenced by the wish for a spiritual acknowledgement of Manchester's late medieval heritage in the textile trade of the Hanseatic league
Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic League was an economic alliance of trading cities and their merchant guilds that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe...

 and also an affirmation of modernity, the fashionable neo-Gothic style being preferred over the Neoclassical architecture
Neoclassical architecture
Neoclassical architecture was an architectural style produced by the neoclassical movement that began in the mid-18th century, manifested both in its details as a reaction against the Rococo style of naturalistic ornament, and in its architectural formulas as an outgrowth of some classicizing...

 favoured in neighbouring Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

. The exterior, faced with hard sandstone
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...

 quarried near Bradford, Yorkshire
Bradford lies at the heart of the City of Bradford, a metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire, in Northern England. It is situated in the foothills of the Pennines, west of Leeds, and northwest of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897...

, known as "Spinkwell stone", is decorated with sculptures of important figures in Manchester's history. The interior is faced with multi-coloured Architectural terracotta
Architectural terracotta
Terracotta, in its unglazed form, became fashionable as an architectural ceramic construction material in England in the 1860s, and in the United States in the 1870s. It was generally used to supplement brick and tiles of similar colour in late Victorian buildings.It had been used before this in...

 by Gibbs and Canning Limited
Gibbs and Canning Limited
Gibbs and Canning Limited was an English manufacturer of terracotta and, in particular, architectural terracotta, based in Glascote, Tamworth and founded in 1847....

. The painted ceilings were provided by Best & Lea of Manchester, who had also provided the ceilings in the Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England . Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road...

, London, also designed by Alfred Waterhouse.

Town Hall Extension

A competition to build a Town Hall Extension was won by Emanuel Vincent Harris in 1927, as well as a separate competition to design Manchester Central Library
Manchester Central Library
Manchester Central Library is a circular library south of the extended Town Hall in Manchester, England. It acts as the headquarters of the Manchester Library & Information Service, which also consists of 22 other community libraries.Designed by E...

. Work began on the extension in 1934 and was completed by 1938. The later building features stained-glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

 windows by George Kruger Gray
George Kruger Gray
George Edward Kruger Gray was an English artist, best remembered for his designs of coinage and stained glass windows.-Coinage:...

. N

Charles Herbert Reilly
Charles Herbert Reilly
Sir Charles Herbert Reilly, was an English architect and teacher. After training in two architectural practices in London he took up a part-time lectureship at the University of London in 1900, and from 1904 to 1933 he headed the Liverpool School of Architecture, which became world-famous under...

, a well-known architecture critic of the time who was not keen on neogothic architecture, thought the extension was 'dull an drab' while Nikolaus Pevsner
Nikolaus Pevsner
Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon Pevsner, CBE, FBA was a German-born British scholar of history of art and, especially, of history of architecture...

 believed it was Harris's best work.

Heritage listings

The Town Hall was listed by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building on 25 February 1952, and the extension was Grade II* listed on 3 October 1974.


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.

Design stipulations for the Town Hall had Included provision for "the sufficiency of window light supplied throughout the building." This was addressed by the use of a number of architectural devices: suspended first floor rooms, made possible by the use of iron-framed construction, and skylight
Skylight may refer to:* Skylight * Skylight , by David Hare* Skylight of a lava tube, a hole in the ceiling of the tube* Skylight, Arkansas* Skylight, a short film by David Clayton Rogers* Skylight Pictures, a film company...

s, extra windows and dormer
A dormer is a structural element of a building that protrudes from the plane of a sloping roof surface. Dormers are used, either in original construction or as later additions, to create usable space in the roof of a building by adding headroom and usually also by enabling addition of windows.Often...

s, "borrowed lights" for interior spaces and glazed white bricks in conjunction with mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 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."

In mid-19th century Manchester, many important Georgian building
Georgian architecture
Georgian architecture is the name given in most English-speaking countries to the set of architectural styles current between 1720 and 1840. It is eponymous for the first four British monarchs of the House of Hanover—George I of Great Britain, George II of Great Britain, George III of the United...

s had become blackened by atmospheric pollution. By the 1870s the local soft red Collyhurst sandstone was deemed to be to be unsuitable for public building, and tough Pennine sandstone
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...

s were preferred. The architectural competition entries for the Town Hall were judged in part on their suitability for the "climate of the district", and sample stone types were investigated. Waterhouse believed that 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 the Yorkshire-quarried "Spinkwell stone" would resist "the deleterious influences of Manchester atmosphere". The interior decoration was also 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 ceiling
Vault (architecture)
A Vault is an architectural term for an arched form used to provide a space with a ceiling or roof. The parts of a vault exert lateral thrust that require a counter resistance. When vaults are built underground, the ground gives all the resistance required...

s, tiled dado
Dado (architecture)
In architectural terminology, the dado, borrowed from Italian meaning die or plinth, is the lower part of a wall, below the dado rail and above the skirting board....

s and washable mosaic floors.
Waterhouse's design for Manchester's new Town Hall used a Gothic style with limited carved decoration and a uniform colour. This, along with a limited amount of modelling detail, was a departure from the High Victorian architecture
Victorian architecture
The term Victorian architecture refers collectively to several architectural styles employed predominantly during the middle and late 19th century. The period that it indicates may slightly overlap the actual reign, 20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901, of Queen Victoria. This represents the British and...

 heaviness and use of colour in contemporary Ruskinian Gothic
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

 buildings, and the Town Hall was criticised by some Manchester inhabitants for not being Gothic enough. Many also commented on 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." Waterhouse's design proved successful, however, and although the exterior was blackened by the late 1890s, the stonework was not badly damaged and was in a suitable condition to be to be cleaned and brought back to its original appearance in the late 1960s.

Modern technologies

Despite its medieval styling, the building was designed to support the practical technologies of the 19th century. These included gas lighting, and a warm-air heating system, which provided fresh air drawn through ornamental stone air inlets placed below the windows and admitted behind the hot water pipes and 'coils' of rooms. Warmed, fresh air was also fed into the stairwells and through hollow shafts within the spiral staircases in order to ventilate the corridors. The pipes that supplied the gas for the lighting were ingeniously concealed underneath the banister rails of the spiral staircases.

Exterior and layout

The entrance features twelve exterior statues executed by the firm of Farmer & Brindley
Farmer & Brindley
Farmer & Brindley was a firm of architectural sculptors and ornamentalists based in London, founded by William Farmer and William Brindley , who contributed to some of the greatest structures of the Victorian era....

, including:
  • Gnaeus Julius Agricola
    Gnaeus Julius Agricola
    Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. His biography, the De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, was the first published work of his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and is the source for most of what is known about him.Born to a noted...

    , founder of the Roman
    Ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

     fort of Mamuciam in year 79
  • Henry III of England
    Henry III of England
    Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

  • Elizabeth I of England
    Elizabeth I of England
    Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

  • Saint George
    Saint George
    Saint George was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier from Syria Palaestina and a priest in the Guard of Diocletian, who is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic , Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox...

In the entrance hall are statues of:
  • James Prescott Joule
    James Prescott Joule
    James Prescott Joule FRS was an English physicist and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work . This led to the theory of conservation of energy, which led to the development of the first law of thermodynamics. The...

    , by Alfred Gilbert
    Alfred Gilbert
    Sir Alfred Gilbert was an English sculptor and goldsmith who enthusiastically experimented with metallurgical innovations...

  • John Dalton
    John Dalton
    John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

    , by Francis Legatt Chantrey
    Francis Legatt Chantrey
    Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey was an English sculptor of the Georgian era. He left the Chantrey Bequest or Chantrey Fund for the purchase of works of art for the nation, which was available from 1878 after the death of his widow.-Life:Francis Leggatt Chantrey was born at Norton near Sheffield ,...

Decorating the floor of the entrance hall is a mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 depicting the bee, the symbol of Manchester being a hive of industry during the 19th century. The bee is carved into many of the pillars and walls about the building.

Clock tower

There is a 280-foot (85 metre) bell tower, housing a carillon
A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a free-standing bell tower, or the belfry of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to play a melody, or sounded together to play a chord...

 of 23 bell
Bell (instrument)
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...

s: the last 12 of them are hung for full circle change ringing
Change ringing
Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called "changes". It differs from many other forms of campanology in that no attempt is made to produce a conventional melody....

 and were manufactured by John Taylor Bellfounders
John Taylor Bellfounders
John Taylor & Co, formerly trading as Taylors, Eayre & Smith Ltd and John Taylor Bellfounders Ltd, and commonly known as Taylor's Bell Foundry or simply Taylor's, is the world's largest working bell foundry, located in Loughborough in the United Kingdom.The company manufactures bells for use in...

. At 85 metres, it is only 11 metres shorter than St Stephen's Tower which houses Big Ben in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...


The clock bell, Great Abel, is named after Heywood and weighs 8 tons 2.5 cwt. It is inscribed with the initials AH and the Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language....

 line Ring out the false, ring in the true.
The clock is by Gillett and Bland (predecessor of Gillett and Johnston
Gillett & Johnston
Gillett and Johnston is a clock and formerly bell manufacturing business in Croydon, England.-History:William Gillett started a clock making business on Union Road in Croydon, England in 1844. Charles Bland became a partner in 1854 and the company became known as Gillet and Bland. In 1877, Arthur...

) and was originally wound using hydraulic power supplied by Manchester Hydraulic Power
Manchester Hydraulic Power
Manchester's Hydraulic Power system was a public hydraulic power network supplying energy across the city of Manchester via a system of high-pressure water pipes from three pumping stations from 1894 until 1972...

. Its face bears the inscription Teach us to number our Days, from Psalm 90:12
Psalm 90
Psalm 90 is the 90th psalm from the Book of Psalms. According to its title, it is attributed to Moses.-Judaism:*Is recited during the Pesukei Dezimra during Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Hoshana Rabbah....


Manchester Murals

The hall features an organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was a French organ builder. He is considered by many to be the greatest organ builder of the 19th century because he combined both science and art to make his instruments...

 and a sequence of twelve murals by Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Arguably, his most notable painting was Work...

. The murals reflect the outstanding themes of Victorian Manchester: Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, commerce and the textile industry. They are not true fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

s but employ the Gambier Parry process
Gambier Parry process
The Gambier Parry process is a development of the classical technique of fresco for painting murals, named for Thomas Gambier Parry.In some environments, conventional fresco colours can rapidly accumulate dirt and grime. Gambier Parry developed a spirit medium for use on a specially prepared...

. The murals are:

See also

  • Grade I listed buildings in Greater Manchester
    Grade I listed buildings in Greater Manchester
    -See also:*Architecture of Manchester*Conservation in the United Kingdom*Grade II* listed buildings in Greater Manchester*List of tallest buildings in Manchester*Scheduled Monuments in Greater Manchester-Bibliography:...

  • Grade II* listed buildings in Greater Manchester
  • Rochdale Town Hall
    Rochdale Town Hall
    Rochdale Town Hall is a Victorian-era municipal building in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England. It is "widely recognised as being one of the finest municipal buildings in the country", and is rated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building...

Film set

Due to its resemblance to the Palace of Westminster
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

, Manchester Town Hall has served as a filming location for both television shows and films with scenes set in the House of Commons and the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

. In the case of the BBC series State of Play, the location was partnered with a set of the House of Commons chamber at nearby Granada Studios.>

External links

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