Manchester City Council

The Council & democracy Manchester People - September Issue

The surprising history of Manchester Town Hall

It has featured in films, graced postage stamps and been visited by famous folk from William Gladstone to Queen Elizabeth II.

It is considered a national treasure, one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture and in 2012, was voted by Manchester Evening News readers as their favourite building in Greater Manchester.

A look at the Town Hall's long and colourful history reveals some surprising facts:

  • 50,000 people took part in a mile-long 'procession of the trades' to celebrate the opening of the Town Hall. There were 69 trade unions, from bakers and tailors to chimney sweeps and tin-makers, who were accompanied by a mounted knight in a suit of armour.
  • Queen Victoria was invited to the opening of the Town Hall, but did not attend. It's been suggested that this was because the city's mayor, Abel Heywood, had twice been prosecuted for distributing radical and 'blasphemous' literature.
  • Ford Madox Brown's famous murals in the Great Hall were painted from live models brought into the room – these included a pig, which promptly escaped, causing great consternation.
  • In the early 20th century, a pigeon was killed after 'flying against one of the spikes of the gilt ball' at the tip of the Clock Tower. The Lord Mayor ordered it to be retrieved and the unfortunate bird was stuffed for exhibition in the Sculpture Hall.
  • Before a major cleaning operation in the 1960s, the Town Hall was so sooty that some foreign visitors believed it was made of coal.

Manchester Town Hall has been at the heart of the city's life since it opened in 1877 and is a symbol of its confidence and pride.

However, it will be 140 years old next year and is seriously showing its age.

Designed in the 1860s, it no longer fully meets modern access and safety standards.

Detailed survey work carried out by experts since 2014 has found that many parts of the building – including its electrics, plumbing, heating, ventilation, lifts, windows and stonework – need urgent attention.

We are bringing forward a project to secure the future of the Town Hall for many decades to come.

This will involve opening it up more to the public, showcasing its treasures and bringing in more revenue through the commercial use of currently underused parts of the building.

Find many more surprising facts about the Town Hall at

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