Mancunian Magnificence

Back in Manchester, and time to turn my attention away from Salford Quays to the city proper, but what should be my subject?

For a historic city, Manchester is missing a vital ingredient.  A castle.  The chester suffix derives from there being a Roman fortification here, but visit Castlefields and there is no trace of a fortification (unless you count the turrets on the railway bridge).  I need to find a different structure to write about.

Medieval options are out generally.  Manchester’s growth to prominence was a product of the industrial revolution, so there is little left predating the Victorian era.  That still leaves a huge variety to choose from; neo-classical, high-tech, gothic, art-deco and more.  One of the notable features is the brown terracotta tiles that clad many of the buildings.  The same industry that made the city wealthy made it polluted (think of the mill chimney’s of Lowry’s paintings).  These tiles were supposed to shed the dirt.

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I could easily have opted for Manchester Town Hall, a temple to municipal power and the status of he officials within.  There are few structures in the gothic revival style to rival it.  The shame is that the Town Hall extension alongside it should be such a plain building (though the 1930’s were not a time for exuberant design).

I may return to the town hall on another occasion; when I can add some interior shots to the story.

Then there’s the The Manchester Free Trade Hall.  Built to mark the repeal of the Corn Laws, this magnificent structure stands on the site of The Peterloo Massacre, when cavalry charged a group of protestors seeking parliamentary reform.  I was ignorant of all that until I read the commemorative plaque on the building’s facade, though another moment in its history resonated with greater strength.  The hall was Manchester’s premier concert venue for both classical and popular music, though on the one occasion I made the return trip over the Pennines it was to the Apollo to see Alice Cooper.  Despite Alice’s excesses, that evening has faded into obscurity, but a single word uttered by a member of the audience in the mid 60’s has become legendary.  Dylan was playing the Free Trade Hall with a show that marked his adoption of the electric guitar.  In a quiet moment during the second half of the show a voice rang out shouting “Judas”.  Dylan was still talking about the incident as recently as 2012.

Manchester Free Trade Hall
Manchester Free Trade Hall

The building now houses a hotel, although tragically two of the facades were demolished for its construction.  The details that remain though are an entertainment in their own right.

Manchester Free Trade Hall detail
Manchester Free Trade Hall detail

In the end it was a hotel that I opted for, but you’ll have to wait for another post before I reveal my choice.


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