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Photos & Drawing by John Moss
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Manchester Prisons & Police Courts


Strangeways Prison, Manchester

Southall Street, Manchester M3. Telephone: 0161-834 8626.
Despite prison riots in the early 1990s, which virtually destroyed most of the original prison building, and the subsequent new building which has taken place around it, Strangeways Prison, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, still stands starkly against the skyline of the north of the city centre.

Strangeways Prison, Manchester Strangeways Prison Manchester Architect Alfred Waterhouse
StrangewaysPrison and Alfred Waterhouse

Waterhouse began designing in 1861 after making several visits to Reading and Holloway Prisons. Some input into the concept of its radial plan was made by Joshua Jebb, the Surveyor General of Prisons, who had designed a similar plan for Pentonville Prison in the 1840s. It was completed in 1869 at a cost of £170,000.
The gaol was built on the site of the original Strangeways Park and Gardens, and intended to house 1000 prisoners in its dense brick walls with stone cladding and dominant watchtower which has served as a local landmark for many years.
The tower is like a medieval Italian campanile (bell tower), complete with machicolations, standing in phallic splendour above the Strangeways district, and offering distant views all over the city. It has become so identified with the district that the very word "Strangeways" has come to mean 'prison' in the public consciousness. In an attempt to change public perceptions, no doubt, it is nowadays simply known as "Her Majesty's Prison, Manchester".
It was here that the suffragette Christabel Pankhurst was incarcerated for seven days in October 1906. The building is the archetypal Victorian prison, and Waterhouse, (who was also architect for the Town Hall in Albert Square) employed his favourite Venetian Gothic style in its creation, though today only the two gatehouse entrances and the watchtower can be easily seen behind the new security parapets. Their steep spires and the combination of red brick and buff stone have become synonymous with public and corporation building of the period, and were most popular over a century ago, as can also be witnesses in Worthington's Police Courts in Minshull Street (below).

The City Police Courts, Manchester

Minshull Street, Manchester.
Designed and built by the architect Thomas Worthington, the Police Courts in Minshull Street were originally known as The City Police and Sessions Courts, and still remain one of his most impressive buildings. Worthington was, also responsible for the Albert Monument in Albert Square facing the Town Hall.
Although Worthington had failed to win the design for the Town Hall, he was successful against tough competition for the commission of the Police Courts, which were completed in 1871.

Minshull Street Police Courts Police Courts, Minshull Street, Manchester

Worthington had just returned from one of his many visits to Italy, and created this bright red building in the style of those he had seen and sketched in Florence. The tower is especially imposing, standing as it does like the bell-tower of some great Italian cathedral. Worthington intended the red brick to stand out brightly against the otherwise drab and sooty buildings of industrial Manchester.
Now that much of the surrounding dereliction has been cleared to make way for the Metrolink Rapid Transit Trams, its original splendour has been revealed again, and it is a major feature of the cityscape to visitors arriving at Piccadilly Rail Station nearby.
It also commands an imposing view over the near subterranean Rochdale Canal which runs along its southern walls. The building has recently undergone complete restoration, cleaning and refurbishment.

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Copyright © John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom - all rights reserved.
This page last updated 22 Nov 11.