Manchester City Council

Councillor Sheila Newman

Our sympathies are with the family and friends of Councillor Sheila Newman, Executive Member for Children’s Services and current Lady Mayoress of Manchester, who passed away on Sunday.

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The Council & democracy Interesting facts about the Town Hall

The building

Painting opening of town hall 1877

With such a long and rich history, it's no surprise that a look back through the decades reveals a wealth of interesting stories and fascinating facts about the city's greatest architectural treasure – the Town Hall (1877). 

  • The need for a new Town Hall was caused by the 'unmitigated disaster' of its predecessor - a Grecian-style building on King Street, which was beautifully designed, but too small for the needs of a rapidly expanding Manchester.  The council was forced to rent extra office space, a situation which became worse when space had to be found for the Cotton Famine Relief Fund, set up to tackle the suffering caused by the American Civil War, in 1862.
  • The Town Hall could have looked very different, as more than 120 architects entered a competition to design the building, which was won by Alfred Waterhouse.  Most entries were in the Gothic or Italianate styles, but one ambitious contender, T. Roger Smith, submitted a scheme in 'the Indian style'.
  • No expense was spared when the Town Hall was built, with the cost estimated to have been as much as £1,000,000.
  • The building was constructed using 14 million bricks of Spinkwell sandstone, sourced from a quarry near Bradford, Yorkshire.  Waterhouse avoided flashy colour for the exterior of the building, because he knew that it would soon be rendered soot-black by the polluted atmosphere of the industrial revolution-era city.
  • The Clock Tower is 280 feet (87 metres) high.  The inscription on the three clock faces visible from Albert Square reads "Teach us to number our days".
  • The Town Hall housed the city centre police station until 1937.  Six cells for prisoners still survive to this day - but are not used! Greater Manchester Police opened a new city centre enquiries office at the Town Hall Extension in 2014.
  • Plans to demolish the Town Hall were floated in the 1940s, as planners felt that the 'sooty' building was no longer 'fit for purpose'.  They proposed replacing it with a new Town Hall in the Art Deco style.  Fortunately, the idea was eventually scrapped.
  • By 1965, the Town Hall's exterior was so sooty that the National Society for Clean Air reported that some foreign visitors believed the building was made of coal.  A six-month, £27,000 cleaning operation was proposed and the sandstone exterior was scrubbed clean with fluoride solution.
  • Albert Square and the Town Hall were joined together by a 1985 scheme to redirect traffic away from itself and to pedestrianise the area around the Albert Memorial.


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