Manchester City Council

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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