Photos by John Moss
unless otherwise credited
large Manchester city centre square, around which most of the
civic buildings and some of our finest architecture is situated,
including the imposing Town Hall
by Alfred Waterhouse,
the Town Hall Extension and
nearby the Central Library.
From the top of the Town Hall entrance the Emperor Julius Agricola,
(founder of the original fortress settlement of Mamuciam, from
which today's city grew), overlooks and guards the centre of
Albert Square, named in tribute to Queen Victoria's beloved
consort, is now largely cobbled and pedestrianised with a narrow
one way traffic lane opposite the Town Hall.
The square is a traditional congregation space for announcements
of election results, hosts numerous fairs and markets, is the
location of Thomas
Worthington's Canopy for the Albert Memorial of 1862, containing
Matthew Noble's statue, a decorative water fountain and several
statues and monuments to some of Manchester's city fathers,
politicians and philanthropists of bygone days. It is also the
location of the official city Christmas tree in the appropriate
Opposite the Town Hall are somewhat slightly regrettable, (though
by no means objectionable) modern buildings of a safe contemporary
style, which pale into insignificance by comparison.
Other statues and monuments in the square include one to Oliver
Heywood by Albert Bruce Joy (1894), a bronze of Bishop
Fraser by Thomas Wooler (1888), a stone statue of reformer
John Bight of 1891, and a bronze of Gladstone
of 1879, both by W Theed.
Albert Square looking towards the Albert Memorial and Cross Street
Manchester Town Hall
Albert Square looking towards the Town Hall
created and named triangular public space, based on the old
(now defunct) Cannon Street, Exchange Square is the focal point
for most of Manchester's redevelopment since the 1996
IRA bombing which devastated this area of the inner city.
This is modern Manchester at its most dynamic - love it or hate
it, you cannot ignore it.
The Old Corn Exchange lies on one side of the square, now renamed
and developed as the Triangle
shopping centre. On another, the rebuilt Marks & Spencers
and Selfridges Department Stores, with the recently erected
Ferris wheel which towers over the square and offers panoramic
vistas of the city skyline from a bird's eye viewpoint.
Much of the square itself has permanent curved arena-type stone
seating blocks , somewhat reminiscent of ancient Greek theatres,
from where the public can watch some of the many visual events
(pop concerts, fashion shows, New Year's Eve celebrations, sports,
etc) that are presented on the large screen on the walls of
the Triangle building opposite. A visually pleasant rippling
stream-like water feature runs through the square and is a popular
playground for young children who dare to walk its stepping
Behind, are the vast Arndale Centre shopping complex, Withy
Grove and the Printworks entertainment complex.
Just off the square and peeping round the corner is Sinclair's
Oyster Bar and the Old Wellington Inn, what remains of the old
and the Ferris wheel
Theatre-like seating in Exchange Square
Image Courtesy of www.webbaviation.co.uk © 2005
of the 20th century Piccadilly Gardens was the heart of the
city. Visitors arriving by bus or train inevitably found these
gardens to be there first real view of Manchester.
Originally the site of the Royal Infirmary, the gardens were
for many years a refuge from the hurly-burly of traffic and
shopping, with well-kept flower beds and spacious park benches,
alongside the busy bus station terminus. The author fondly remembers
sitting here to take a breather when he arrived heavy-laden
as a student in 1964. It was the location of the Christmas fairground
with its gaudy lights, Ferris wheel and loud seasonal music.
The benches were also a Mecca for tramps and courting couples,
whom, regrettably, became one of several pretexts for their
The sanctuary that once was Piccadilly Gardens has been so severely
eroded that they are now merely a pale shadow of what they once
were. The great late Professor Nikolaus Pevsner, who was scathing
in his criticism of Manchester Corporation neglect of its historic
buildings in the 1960s, would turn in his grave in reaction
to today's development. Gradually the gardens have been eroded
away - they are gardens no more - it has, regrettably, become
a "public space".
Each decade has seen land lost to development. In the mid-1960s
the huge concrete monolith that is the Piccadilly Plaza complex
(incorporating the Piccadilly Hotel) was built from 1959-65
by Covell, Matthews & Partners, to overshadow the western
side of the square. Then, in the 1980s, Metrolink
took a wide swathe of the gardens for the Piccadilly Tram interchange.
More recently, the whole of the southern end was sold for an
office development which dominates and completely overshadows
a once wide open space
in the city centre.
The present large water feature/fountain in summertime is more
often than not choked with drinks cans, burger wrappers and
other urban castaways, and in winter it's switched off altogether
- one is tempted to ask when is there ever a good time to view
In the latest manifestation, the west side has been overtaken
by a massive wall of masonry that separates the gardens from
the tram rails. Its long unbroken and unrelieved facade leaves
a great deal to be desired, and is a graffiti artist's paradise.
The Thistle Hotel (formerly the Portland) lines Portland Street
on one side of the gardens. Alongside once stood Walter's 1845
built Italianate stuccoed Queen's Hotel, (much loved by the
author in its day), and now sadly demolished.
Fortunately, various statues and monuments still survive in
the gardens, including a bronze of Sir Robert Peel by
W Calder Marshall (1853), Matthew Noble's monument to Wellington
(1856), Onslow Ford's Queen Victoria Memorial of 1901,
as well as a statue of James Watt by W Theed Jnr and
"Adrift" by John Cassidy (1907).
if I'm alone in my detestation of what this once popular civic
amenity has now become?
Gardens Water Feature/Fountain (Winter)
Piccadilly Hotel seen from Piccadilly Gardens
a square, but as a major new space in the recently redeveloped
Manchester city centre, it's worth including here. Bounded by
the Cathedral on one side, (from which it gets its name), by
Victoria Station on another, Urbis and the Triangle on the other
sides. It emerged out of an area of former railway bomnded warehousing
which was demolished as unsafe after the boming in 1996.
Cathedral Gardens - photo copyright © 2010
in 2000 and completed in 2002, it was funded by the Millennium
Commission as part of a £42million regeneration of the
area devastated by an IRA bomb in 1996. The area is the medieval
heart of the city and the scheme, which consists of a series
of hard and soft landscaped spaces, tree planting, artwork and
water features takes much of its inspiration from the history
and archaeology of the site and its adjoining neighbours. The
client brief and design guidance for the gardens was developed
by EDAW, the masterplanning team for the whole Millennium Quarter
in consultation with Manchester City Council.
Square is a high class shopping area in one the city's oldest
and most distinguished squares.
Named after and somewhat dominated by St Ann's Church and a
large war memorial, this has now been designated as a pedestrian
zone, and vehicles are only allowed in during certain limited
periods for delivery, cleaning and servicing.
Much of the southern side of the square is dominated by the
Royal Exchange building, the historic cotton exchange, once
rated as "the largest room in the world" and now home
to the celebrated Royal Exchange Theatre. Below, the ill-fated
Royal Exchange Shopping Centre, which which regrettably failed
to recover its trading status after rebuilding following severe
damage to the building by the IRA bombing in 1996.
In former days, this square resounded with famous names like
the Kardomah Cafe, Austin Reed, Moss Brothers and Sherratt &
Hughes Bookshop (who for many years published all of the local
Joint Matriculation Board's 'O' and 'A' Level GCE examination
papers). Nowadays you are more likely to find Dixons, Waterstones
and MacDonalds stores. St Ann's Arcade still hangs on to its
expensive and traditional high class shops.
There is also a statue of Richard Cobden by Marshall
Wood dated 1867.
Ann's Square with the War memorial and St Ann's Church in the
High Class shopping survives in St Ann's Arcade
St Ann's Church
constructed square, nestled behind the old Manchester Education
Offices and in front of the Manchester Crown Courts of Justice,
Crown Square has seen the arrival of many notorious criminals
in its time, (most notably the Moors
Murderers, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady). The Court buildings
were designed in 1960-62 by Leonard C Howitt and are built entirely
of concrete, completely flanking the length of the Square on
one side, being 289 feet long.
A large paved square with semi-mature trees, and a popular lunchtime
refuge in summer for local office workers.
Currently undergoing extensive, (and rather traumatic) changes
as the new Spinningfields Retail and Leisure Complex is constructed
on its south-western edge.
Opposite the Crown Courts are the large rectangular block of
the Education Offices, built in 1965-67 by Leach, Rhodes &
Walker, of typical 1960s steel and glass construction with boxed
out oriel windows.
Access at one end to the Opera
House, and at the other to Bridge Street and a popular Indian
Above and Below: Crown Square with the dominant Manchester Crown
recognised officially as a proper square in its own right, and
located at the corner of King Street West, St Mary's Parsonage
and Bridge Street, the vestigial Motor Street has now virtually
disappeared in all but a street plaque which identifies it.
This triangular square is a popular lunchtime venue with local
office workers, and has seen several different incarnations
over recent years. At its best it was filled with pavement café
seating and in fine weather seemed to represent everything that
was best of European café culture.
On the Bridge Street end it is overlooked by the Masonic
Hall, which was designed by Percy Scott Worthington in 1929.
This Grade II Listed building is in Portland Stone and won the
Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal for Worthington
On the other side, set at an angle to the road, is the tall
dominating Albert Bridge House, designed by Ministry of Works
architect, E H Banks in 1958-59. This is the workplace of several
hundred tax officials and stands 18 storeys high in monolithic
concrete, clad in Portland Stone, with side sills in grey glass.
Located as it is on the edge of the Deansgate-Bridge Street
shopping zone, there are several very high class shops around
- art shops, hair stylists and cafés.
The Masonic Hall, Bridge Street
Northern is a recincarnation of the old Great
Northern Warehouse behind the old Central
Station (formerly G-MEX, now Manchester Central). Located
on the corner of Peter Street and Deansgate, it features several
cafés, restaurants and bars, a world-wide famous club
scene and a great range of hotels, shops, the AMC Great Northern
16 Megaplex Cinema and and Virgin Active gymnasium.
The Grade 2 listed Great Northern Warehouse, built in 1885 by
Foxlee, is now a lively leisure and shopping development with
bustling bars, cafes and restaurants and an elegant landscaped
public square. But it was once a neglected Victorian landmark,
and it was only after protracted planning negotiations that
work finally began on the £100million metamorphosis by
architects Leslie Jones in 1998.
On the other side, the square is charmingly bordered by the
ultra modern glass structure that is Bar 38. In front
of Bar 38 is a sunken lawned area edged with stepped
theatre-like seating, which serves as an outdoor performance
area in summertime. Several other cosmopolitan cafés
flank other sides, including Café History, as
well as restaurants and shops. These all make the square very
popular with late night-clubbers and is particularly busy at
below: The Great Northern Square
The Great Northern
One of Manchester's
most distinctive squares, St Peter's owes much of its charm
to the quality and elegance of the surrounding buildings, including
the Vincent Harris's Town Hall Extension
opened in 1938, his Central
Library (1930-34), and the Midland Hotel of 1898 by Charles
The Town Hall Extension houses all of Manchester Corporation's
administrative sections and is the working half of the Town
Hall complex. Thought by many to be Harris's finest work, it
was opened by the newly crowned King George V in 1938 and two
carved stones commemorate the opening, one at either end of
Library Walk, which separates it from the Central Library building.
Bounded by Mosley Street, Peter Street, Oxford Street and Lower
Mosley Street, it has in recent years lost a measure of its
tranquility due to the laying of Metrolink tram lines and the
installation of a tram station in the square.
Opposite the Central Library is a large 1960s built glass and
steel block with street level shops. Also of note in St Peter's
Square is the Cenotaph, (1924) by Edward Lutyens, almost identical
to his Cenotaph in London's Whitehall.
At the Mosley Street end are the Peace gardens, a small secluded
oasis with pleasant seating surrounded by shrubs and other greenery.
Just a short walk down Peter Street is the old historic Free
Trade Hall, monument to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, now
the Radisson Edwardian Hotel
St Peter's Square, facing the Cenotaph
The Town Hall Extension and Central Library with Metrolink Tram
The Midland Hotel, Peter Street
Not so much
a square as a quiet inner city public green space, Parsonage
Gardens are very popular in summertime, particularly with local
shop workers at lunchtimes.
Located on a more-or-less triangular plot between St Mary's
Parsonage, and a strange little backstreet called College Land,
with Arkwright House on one side and Courtney's Wine bar and
Nightclub on the other, just off Deansgate and accessed via
St Mary's Street alongside Kendal's Department Store.
Very quiet, beautifully maintained gardens, and well worth a
five minute halt to relax on the park benches and breathe air
relatively free of exhaust fumes.
gardens, looking towards Courtneys Night Club
of the formerly derelict old Castlefield railway arches and
the canal basin,
Catalan Square is a fairly recent creation. The square is imaginatively
conceived and overlooked by the café-bar, Barça,
owned by Manchester singer, Mick
Hucknall, of Simply Red, which is an inspired attempt
to bring his favourite Spanish tapas-style experience to Manchester.
Located immediately beneath the railway arch, successful and
ideally placed, it attracts large crowds, particularly on fine
sunny summer weekends, when Castlefield regularly hosts outdoor
events in the nearby Outdoor
Events Arena, as well as boat festivals, street markets,
fairs and music festivals. The bar conveniently offers light
refreshments, drinks (just a coffee, a wine or a beer) and food
in an elegant setting overlooking the Bridgewater
Canal's junction with the Rochdale
Canal Lock Flight at the Dukes 92 Lock, and is understandably
Well worth a stop to watch boats and water on a visit to the
Castlefield Urban Heritage Site.
Catalan Square, with Barça and the Railway Arches
Dukes Lock 92 off Catalan Square in Castlefield
Shambles Square is actually its third location, having been
physically moved twice before to make way for new city centre
The Old Wellington Inn, (now extensively refurbished), has its
roots in what is undoubtedly the oldest surviving pub in Manchester
City Centre. It, and the adjacent reconstructed Sinclair's Oyster
Bar once stood on a rickety old street called "The Shambles"
(hence the Shambles connection), and were originally destined
for demolition to make way for the proposed Arndale
Centre redevelopment in the mid-1960s. Thankfully, various
lobby groups secured the building for posterity, and it was
physically lifted up and removed to a new site several hundred
feet away into a purposely constructed square - "Shambles
So it stood happily and popularly, until in 1996 when the IRA
detonated a bomb nearby and most of the surrounding buildings
were terminally devastated. Fortunately, the Shambles was protected
by another building and suffered only minor damage.
Subsequently, with the long and extensive rebuilding of Manchester,
and with the creation of Exchange Square and the new Marks &
Spencer building (the largest in Europe), the Shambles had to
be moved a second time, to their present location, just next
to the Cathedral and behind the Triangle (the former Corn Exchange
Shambles Square is a small affair, and is now little more than
an overspill for the pub and restaurant, whose tables entirely
fill the square. It's still pleasant to sit and have a drink
here on sunny days and to imagine you are surrounded by the
real history of Olde England - unfortunately, much of it is
a mere plastic imitation, which doesn't at all seem to put off
photographers and tourists.
The Old Wellington Inn
least attractive and possibly most neglected square and one
you're unlikely to stay in. It is now little more than a mass
of car lanes and on street parking surrounded by the cheaper
end of Manchester's rag trade and greasy spoon cafés.
Rather tawdry and dilapidated, well worth a miss unless you
have business to be there or happen to be driving through.
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