Photos by John Moss
unless otherwise credited
Manchester Squares, Gardens & Public Spaces
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 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.
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
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. Aerial
Photograph Image Courtesy of www.webbaviation.co.uk © 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
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
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
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 - 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 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
St Ann's Square with the War memorial, St Ann's Arcade and St
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
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 with the dominant Manchester
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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
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.
Catalan Square, with Barça and the Railway Arches and Dukes Lock
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.
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.
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.
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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