Completed in 1887, this most impressive neo-Gothic building cost a million pounds and is acknowledged as a masterpiece in its own right. It rises as a Victorian edifice – a monument to the civic pride of the city fathers, reaching 286 feet above Albert Square below. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, a leading contemporary architect, it was fitted masterfully onto an awkward triangular space – although not unanimously liked as the best looking design, it proved the most practical of the 136 other designs entered. Manchester had achieved city status in 1853, and was keen to show off its civic dignity. Inside it is lavishly and richly decorated, with mosaic floors bearing the “bees”, symbols of Manchester’s industry, and has wall murals by Ford Madox Brown.
Top: the Town Hall from Albert Square; one of three great staircases; vaulted ceilings in the entrance hall Bottom: The Great Hall and one of Ford Madox Brown’s murals; the architect Alfred Waterhouse
To see more of the Ford Madox-Brown Murals CLICK HERE
At the front main entrance, a statue of the Roman Governor, Agricola, surveys the square. He had founded the original fort of Mamuciam, from which the city began, and is thus honoured by a statue over the main front entrance to the Town Hall. The building dominates Albert Square, with its monument to Queen Victoria’s consort, and statues of some of Manchester’s great men. The square has now been largely pedestrianised and regularly serves as a venue for local events, celebrations, street fairs, Christmas funfairs, etc – much in the way medieval market squares might have done in years gone by. Guided Tours of the Town Hall are available by prior arrangement – sadly they are no longer free. Tours can be arranged through the Manchester Visitor Centre in person or by telephone.
One of the highlights of the tour is the Great Hall with its 12 large murals by Ford Madox Brown, the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painter. (To see more of the murals in larger versions – CLICK HERE). Also see the tile mosaic work, the vaulted corridors and the three stone spiral staircases. The Town Hall demonstrates Waterhouse’s genius in not only exterior detailing, but internal style and decor. The Great Hall, designed in the fashion of a Flemish weaving hall, many believe to be the masterpiece of the building, with its famous murals.
The Manchester Busy Bee, floor mosaic – symbol of industry
Also notable is the elegant and dignified entrance hall, with its numerous busts and statues of city fathers and benefactors, as well as the highly coloured figure of the Duke of Lancaster in Roman costume. The visitor is guided up to the first floor by one of the three great spiral staircases, (bottom centre), included as if to accentuate the triangular plan of the building, and reminiscent of some great Gothic cathedral. Internally, a distinct sense of medievalism prevails, with hammerbeam ceilings, vaulted dark corridors lit by a large number of pointed Gothic windows, and the evocative cloister-like atmosphere which all these help create. The Thirteenth Century medieval Gothic styling of the Town Hall is bold and freely used maintaining a storytelling ethos which gradually unfolds the city’s history. Externally, the building is decorated with carved images representing important figures in the city’s history. The style was growing in popularity in the mid-nineteenth century, as the Neo (new) Gothic style was considered a true English style and therefore most suitable for civic buildings. The style is instantly heralded by the 280 feet high bell tower, which would not shame any great cathedral in its size and imposing style. Internal detailing reveals the same love of Gothic detail – in the mosaic tiled floors, the clustered columns and finely carved pillar capitals.
Inside the Gothic corridors of power
The Great Hall itself is dominated by Brown’s murals, which depict key events in the development of the City of Manchester, from the building of the first fort by Agricola, up to the later experiments in Science by John Dalton. It is well worth taking one of the guided tours so that none of the wealth of detail is missed.