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Manchester Town Hall

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Manchester Town Hall
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Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall is a building in Manchester, England that houses the city's government and administrative functions. Completed by architect Alfred Waterhouse in 1877, it is a fine example of Victorian Gothic revival, featuring imposing murals by Ford Madox Brown.

As filming is forbidden in the Palace of Westminster, Manchester Town Hall is frequently used as its "body double" in British political dramatisations.

Contents

Old Town Hall

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Original Manchester Town Hall

Manchester's original civic administration was housed in the Police Office in King Street. It was replaced by the first Town Hall, to accommodate the growing local government and its civic assembly rooms. The Town Hall, also located in King Street at the corner of Cross Street, was designed by Francis Goodwin and constructed during 1822-1825, much of it by David Bellhouse. The building was designed in the Grecian style and Goodwin was strongly influenced by his patron John Soane. As the size and wealth of the city grew, largely as a result of the textile industry, its administration outstripped the existing facilities and a new building was proposed. The King Street building was subsequently occupied by a lending library and then Lloyds Bank. The facade was removed to Heaton Park in 1912 when the current Lloyds TSB building was erected on the site (No 53 King Street).

Design and construction of the new building

The site chosen for a new town hall was an oddly shaped triangle and, of the 136 entries in open competition for the design, Waterhouse's expoiled the constraints in the most practical and imaginative way. Despite its medieval styling, the building was designed to support the practical bureaucratic technologies of the 19th century. There was even a warm-air heating system.

The building exemplifies the Victorian Gothic revival style of architecture, using themes and elements from 13th century early English. The choice was influenced by the wish for a spiritual acknowledgement to Manchester's heritage in the textile trade of the Hanseatic league and also an affirmation of modernity, the fashionable gothic style being preferred over the classical architecture favoured in neighbouring Liverpool. The exterior, of spinkwell stone, is decorated with carvings of important figures in Manchester's history. The interior is made of multi-coloured terracotta produced by the famous Gibbs And Canning Limited of Tamworth.

Construction started in 1868, at a cost of GBP one million, comprising fourteen million bricks.

The new building had been championed by radical mayor Abel Heywood and his notoriety entailed Queen Victoria's refusal to attend the opening.

Entrance

The entrance overlooks Albert Square and features statues of:

In the entrance hall are statues of:

The Great Hall

The hall features an organ by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and a sequence of twelve murals by Ford Madox Brown. The murals reflect the outstanding themes of Victorian Manchester: Christianity, commerce and the textile industry. They are not true frescos but employ the Gambier Parry process. The murals are:

  1. The Romans Building a Fort at Mancenion: The building of the fort, to be found now in Manchester's Castlefield, by British slaves under Agricola.
  2. The Baptism of Edwin: Baptism of Edwin of Northumbria at York, watched by his wife Ethelberga and family.
  3. The Expulsion of the Danes from Manchester: A colourful depiction of the evacuation of the Danes from the town
  4. The Establishment of Flemish Weavers in Manchester A.D. 1363: Queen Philippa of Hainault greets Flemish weavers who were invited to England under Edward III of England’s act of 1337.
  5. The Trial of Wycliffe A.D. 1377: Perhaps the most impressive of the twelve murals, John Wycliffe is depicted on trial, defended by his patron, John of Gaunt. Geoffrey Chaucer, another protegé of Gaunt's, acts as recorder.
  6. The Proclamation regarding Weights and Measures A.D. 1556: The Burgess and others of the Town of Manchester shall send in all manner of Weights and Measures to be tried by their Majesties standard.
  7. Crabtree watching the Transit of Venus A.D. 1639: William Crabtree, a draper who lived at Broughton, was asked by a curate friend, Jeremiah Horrocks, to observe the Transit of Venus, on November 24. Crabtree's diligence and rigour enabled him to correct Horrocks' faulty calculations and to observe the transit on December 4.
  8. Chetham’s Life’s Dream A.D. 1640: Humphrey Chetham dreams of the school, Chetham's School of Music, to be established by his legacy.
  9. Bradshaw's Defence of Manchester A.D. 1642: During the English Civil War, Manchester was laid under siege by Royalists. It was in fact John Rosworm, not Bradshaw, who defended the town.
  10. John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle A.D. 1753: Depicts luddites destroying the shuttle mechanism while Kay is being smuggled to safety.
  11. The Opening of the Bridgewater Canal A.D. 1761: The 3rd Earl of Bridgewater owned coal mines in Swinton, and collaborated with engineer James Brindley to build a canal to carry coal into the heart of Manchester.
  12. Dalton collecting Marsh-Fire Gas: The seminal studies that led John Dalton to his atomic theory.

The bell tower

There is a 280 feet tall bell tower, housing a carillon of 23 bells manufactured by John Taylor Bellfounders. The clock bell, Great Abel is named for Heywood. It is inscribed with the initials AH and the Tennyson line Ring out the false, ring in the true. The clock is by Gillet and Bland and its face bears the inscription Teach us to number our Days.

Extension

Work started on an extension on 1934 and was completed in 1938. The achitect was E. Vincent Harris, who had recently completed the adjacent Manchester Central Library, and it is considered by many to be his finest work. The building features stained glass windows by George Kruger Gray.

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