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Manchester Squares, Gardens & Public Spaces

Albert Square

A major 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 Manchester administration.

Albert Square, manchester Manchester Town Hall dominating Albert Square
Albert Square looking towards the Albert Memorial and Cross Street and Albert Square looking towards the Town Hall

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 season.
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.

Exchange Square

Exhange Square Manchester

A recently 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 stones.
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 Manchester Shambles.

Piccadilly Gardens

Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester
Piccadilly Gardens. Aerial Photograph Image Courtesy of © 2005

For most 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 removal.
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 it?
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).

Cathedral Gardens

Not quite 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, Manchester
Cathedral Gardens - photo copyright © 2010 Gloria Moss

Started 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.

St Ann's Square

St Ann's 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.

St Ann's ASrcade, St Ann's Square, Manchester St Ann's Church, Manchester
St Ann's Square with the War memorial, St Ann's Arcade and St Ann's Church

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.

Crown Square

A 1960s 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.

Crown Square, Manchester Manchester Crown Courts in Crown Square
Crown Square with the dominant Manchester Crown Courts

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 Restaurant.

Motor Street

Hardly yet 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.

Motor Street, St Mary's Parsonage, Bridge Street, King Street West. Masonic Hall, Bridge Street, Manchester
The "Square", Motor Street and the Masonic Hall, Bridge Street

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 in 1930.
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.

Great Northern Square

The Great 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.

Great Northern Square, lawned theatre outdoor performance area Great Northern - paved square and Bar 38 The Great Northern Warehouse, Manchester

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 weekends.

St Peter's Square

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 Trubshaw.

St Peter's Sqaure, Manchester facing the Cenotaph Manchester Town Hall Extension and Central Libray with Metrolink Tram The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester
St Peter's Square, facing the Cenotaph, the Town Hall Extension and Central Library and the Midland Hotel, Peter Street

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

Parsonage Gardens

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.

Parsonage Gardens, Manchester

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.

Catalan Square

A reincarnation 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.

Dukes Lock 92 off Catalan Square, Castlefield, Manchester
Catalan Square, with Barça and the Railway Arches and Dukes Lock 92

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 popular. Well worth a stop to watch boats and water on a visit to the Castlefield Urban Heritage Site.

Shambles Square

Shambles Square with the Old Wellington Inn Manchester

The present-day Shambles Square is actually its third location, having been physically moved twice before to make way for new city centre buildings. 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 Square".
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 building).
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.

Stephenson Square

Manchester's 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.

Stephenson Square, manchester

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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Copyright © John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom - all rights reserved.
This page last updated 1 Dec 11.