The Council and democracy Our Town Hall Project - the transformation

Timescales: what we've been doing

Summer 2022

We’re now about halfway through the construction phase. Our work over the last 2 years has largely involved stripping out old and redundant services to make way for the construction of new ones: drainage, the installation of new plant and machinery (including 7 new lifts) and the restoration of the existing building fabric. 

We’re partway through the complete replacement of the roof slates and are approaching the final stages of the stone restoration work. This is a pivotal point in the project, as it means that we can turn our attention to the restoration of internal building finishes and all of the work that will bring the internal spaces back to life. 

To find out more about the work that’s been going on, see our Progress Slideshows on YouTube. Alongside our photographer’s stunning images we’ve added captions to help tell the story.

Slideshow #1

This first presentation on you Tube starts in January 2018, when we officially closed the building. It details lots of the work that went into emptying the building of 140 years of history and heritage, and almost a century and a half as the beating heart of civic Manchester. 

Slideshow #2

Our second slideshow takes us from April 2020 to March 2021. This was a time that Covid restrictions limited access to the building, but we made sure that our photographer was able to safely capture plenty of what was being achieved in this strange time. 

Slideshow #3

The third slideshow features images captured between May and December 2021. As well as the careful removal of the iconic Town Hall Clock, there are fabulous close ups of the ceilings afforded by the intricate scaffolding and some stunning shots of the Albert Memorial.

We hope you like this format of updates – if there’s any element of the project that you feel we’ve missed out, or would particularly like to see covered in our future slideshows, email us at ourtownhall@manchester.gov.uk to tell us, and we’ll pass your requests on to our photographer for his next visit. 

A fascinating one-hour documentary was made in Autumn 2021 as part of the Fixing Britain's Landmarks series. It was aired on UKTV just before Christmas but you can still watch it online at https://uktvplay.co.uk/shows/great-british-landmark-fixers/series-1/episode-5/6285407274001

Previous updates

COVID-19

Lockdown presented us with the same complexities faced by sites up and down the country. The site was temporarily shut for two weeks, while our management contractor assessed the works that could still be undertaken safely and in accordance with Government Guidance and Safe Working Protocols. When the site re-opened, there were strict limits on how many staff were allowed on site at any one time, new rules to follow and changes to previous working practices with social distancing a priority.

Hoardings

The hoardings, which surround the Town Hall and Albert Square on all three sides, offered us a fantastic blank canvas. Our design includes lots of imagery and photographs and tells some of the Town Hall history, as well as detailing the improvements we're making and updating on progress. We refreshed the design when the need to move and relocate the hoarding panels gave us the opportunity.

Scaffolding

January 2020 saw preparation in the moat areas surrounding the Town Hall that would enable the vast network of scaffolding that’s now the largest single scaffold project in Europe; we’ve been capturing progress from across Albert Square for a bird’s eye view. See our clip of the scaffolding being built from across Albert Square, on our You Tube playlist. We find the clock hands quite mesmerising! An article in trade press Scaff Mag includes plenty of facts and figures plus some amazing photographs.

Courtyard

The inner courtyard's largely untouched features lend themselves well to Victorian city scenes such as those recreated for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, or the Houses of Parliament in wartime for Darkest Hour. Features include original gas lamps, smut stained stonework and intricately leaded windows overlooking the original 19th century cobbles, which are edged by original york stone paving. 
A specialist team was brought in to survey, assess and finally lift the entire courtyard, painstakingly and row by row. After numbering, the sets were loaded into labelled crates, which were catalogued before going to storage. As the york stones were lifted, they were also numbered and mapped, so that their eventual return will see the courtyard faithfully restored. A new concrete slab foundation has been laid, to support the scaffolding and - afterwards - serve as a foundation for the replacement of the cobbles and york stones.

Albert Square site offices

The size and proximity of Albert Square makes it the perfect position for the Our Town Hall Project site offices, and also allows the vital space required for logistics such as deliveries and access. 

Work has already been carried out to survey the Grade 1 listed Albert Memorial, which will also undergo repairs and partial restoration as part of the overall project.

The stones in the patterned cobbled areas, laid when the road outside the main entrance was closed off and the square partly pedestrianised in the 1980s, have now been lifted, bagged and removed for storage. Our Public Realm team will make excellent use of these, in several of the city’s open spaces; some of them have already been used in Heaton Park. The old-fashioned style lamp-posts that were such a feature in the square will also be reused by the team at Heaton Park’s Tram Museum.

Organ - contract and plans

The removal of the Cavaille-Col organ in the Great Hall is now complete. The contract for the work to restore and rebuild it was awarded to two firms, who tendered jointly. Find out more on the dedicated organ webpage.

Apprentices

Our first cohort of apprentices graduated in August 2019, two more completed theirs in 2020, and the most recent group of seven completed their courses in summer 2021. Read more about our PlanBEE apprenticeship scheme.

All of the contractors onsite are taking the opportunity to offer apprenticeships, training and jobs for local people; read more about what's available and how to apply.

Paintings removal and conservation

The Town Hall Collection includes about 80 large scale oil-paintings and watercolours - the largest is 3m wide! These have all had to be carefully taken down from the walls of the State Rooms and public spaces in the building. Some conservation work has already been done on some of these, and more is now underway. The paintings have been packed away in individually built wooden boxes and put into storage for the duration of the Our Town Hall Project. See some of the photographs of this work in our flickr album.

Sculpture cleaning, conservation and relocation

Artworks, statues and sculptures needed to be taken away to keep them safe and out of harm’s way during the building works. After a few months of cleaning and restoration, 34 of the sculptures and statues have now been relocated to other venues around the city and beyond, all chosen for their relevance to the individual sculpture. You can see pictures and more details of all these sculptures, including their new homes, in our Flickr photo album.

Intrusive surveys

Back at the start of the Project, in 2018 / 2019, a programme of intrusive surveys was undertaken. This included interior work, such as taking down false walls and ceilings to investigate what's behind, and running checks on utilities throughout the building. 

Expert conservators advised how best to proceed with unique aspects of the building, such as the condition of the paint on Ford Madox Brown's 12 murals in the Great Hall, and the 'slab' that the mosaic floors are set into. Their reports were vital to planning the work that will see the building through the next century or so.

External work was done too: Albert Square's foundations were assessed, as were external parts of the building, to check levels of stonework damage in key areas.

Official 'closing' ceremony - January 2018

Once the decision had been made to close the building, and properly address the repairs and renovations required to make the building fit for modern requirements, the doors were officially closed after a rousing send-off on Sunday 14 January 2018. Almost 4,000 people attended, having claimed the free tickets that allowed them free rein to explore the courtyard, magnificent state rooms, Great Hall and the famous Bees mosaic floor. The day ended with the Lord Mayor of Manchester Cllr Eddy Newman symbolically handing over the building’s keys to the Our Town Hall Project team.

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