Restoring the jewel at Manchester’s heart
Manchester Town Hall. Our magnificent neo-gothic palace by architect Alfred Waterhouse, has stood in Albert Square for 140 years.
But fourteen decades, centre stage in the life of our city – and our nation, have taken their toll. Although it’s been maintained and remains structurally sound, it is now seriously showing its age.
Without significant work to address damage and defects, its condition will deteriorate to the point where it becomes unfit for use and would need to be mothballed – maybe for good.
So, after seeing in the new year of 2018, this grade-one-listed masterpiece will close for six years of restoration and renewal.
Catherine Dewar – Historic England:
I think this is one of the best, if not the best Town Halls in the country. And it’s a fantastic complex of civic buildings, alongside the library it’s sat within two public squares with the fantastic Albert Square Memorial in the centre, and this is the heart and soul of Manchester as a city.
It’s listed Grade one and that means it’s in the top two-and-a-half percent of all listed buildings that we have on our register, so it’s really a very significant building.
We’re here in the Sculpture Hall, which is my favourite bit of this building, because this is where the people of Manchester can come into the building and have a cup of tea and really appreciate this fantastic architecture.
It has some fantastic artwork inside and there are beautiful mosaics by Venetian craftsmen and, there’s some wonderful alabaster fireplaces in here.
And of course the murals by Ford Maddox Brown in the Great Hall are just one of the best examples of artwork from this period in a building.
Tens of thousands pass through these doors each year on Council business, to work or to marvel at an architectural icon.
Held in trust for Mancunians – and the nation – by the Council, it’s the city’s favourite wedding venue, was readers’ favourite building in the Manchester Evening News’s latest poll.
It features on its own Royal Mail stamp.
It’s a stage set for TV and film – and is the focus of our city’s civic pride, drawing visitors from all across the world, hosting presidents, prime ministers and monarchs.
Looking out on Albert Square it’s the focal point where people come together, celebrating much-loved events like Christmas Markets, the Manchester International Festival and football victory parades, or in times of trouble, to grieve or to assert our city’s values of tolerance and love.
Paul Candelent, Project Director:
Manchester Town Hall celebrated its 140th birthday in 2017 and it’s showing its age. Detailed surveys and investigations told us what we need to know to fix the buildings heating, plumbing and ventilation and access.
Outside the building beneath Albert we have issues with the collapsing drains and failing foundations. If this is allowed to continue, eventually the use of Albert Square as a meeting venue and place for Manchester centre-piece events will be affected.
Richard Bannister, Project Manager:
When we did visual inspections of the building we found over 20,000 items that need to be attended to . And once we start to uncover and once we lift thousands and thousands of floor boards in order to do the heating and electrics, it makes it obvious that we’ll have to do this with everybody out of the building . . . in one, well-planned, big hit.
So we have to safeguard the building, and make it work better for the people of Manchester.
And it makes sense to use the opportunity to do other work: going further to provide twenty-first century services without compromising its character, so that more of it can be used, by more people, in more ways.
Councillor Bernard Priest:
While we are doing all that, can we achieve some other goals? Can we make the building a more efficient building? Can we preserve the heritage? Can we reduce the carbon footprint of the building? Can we give people more access?
The way that it’s going to be funded will mean that there is no impact on the Council’s normal service delivery, this project is a once in a lifetime project and you only have to pay for it once.
We’re going to do that by taking long term borrowing. The payback for that long-term borrowing will be absorbed because the building will be cheaper to run, it will allow us to make greater use of the building and to generate income, so in a sense it will pay for itself.
And it will also give us the opportunity to build expertise in Manchester. This will be the project that allows us to create jobs and create skills that Manchester people can benefit from.
We want a lasting legacy that is more than just the building.
A renewed Town Hall, safeguarded for the next hundred-and-fifty years, will stand alongside the recent transformation of these other historic gems: Central Library, the Town Hall Extension and St Peter’s Square, to create one of the finest civic complexes in the land, attracting more and better investment to our city, prosperity to our people and renewing our city’s great heritage.
We mustn’t miss this golden opportunity to meet our historical obligations to Manchester, because really, this isn’t The Council’s building at all. It belongs to Manchester, and we must do it justice – to restore and renew it – for Manchester, and for the nation.