Having written about Manchester’s grand hotel, I thought I’d continue the theme and tackle their Hôtel de Ville (a tenuous link I know).
The French term for a town or city hall seems appropriate when you look a the magnificent Hôtel de Ville in Paris and then compare it to the Town Hall in Manchester. Each is fronted by a large open square that gives the structure greater stature, and each was substantially constructed during the 19th Century.
That Manchester Town Hall should stand out in a city with so many architectural riches says a lot, but this building does so with ease. It is world-class, and though the splendour of the exterior is apparent to all, the interior is also impressive.
In its heyday, Granada Studios contained an exact replica of the House of Commons which was used by both Granada and other companies for shooting a number of political dramas. (Meryl Streep filmed in it when shooting The Iron Lady). Production companies shooting in Manchester then had to consider locations that could double for other parts of the parliament building. Step forward Manchester Town Hall.
Visitors are permitted access only to the ground floor but even with this restriction it’s easy to understand why it makes a popular filming location. Limited to a few minutes before starting work one day I found the main entrance was still closed. Undeterred I followed some council workers through a side door and then began my negotiations with a security guard. A short phone call to get agreement and I was in.
The sculpture hall which is the dominant feature has been transformed into a café, but don’t expect a Starbucks or a Costa installation. This is something altogether more luxurious and sophisticated, albeit with a very masculine air.
One of the things that I like about the city is its patronage of the arts, and clearly this building exemplifies that in its design, its decoration, and in the people who it chooses to lionise. The Sculpture Hall includes political campaigners and leading scientists that have played important roles in Manchester’s development, but also Sir Charles Hallé, the pianist who founded the city’s great orchestra, and Sir John Barbirolli, that orchestra’s most famous conductor.
Though not open to my visit, The Great Hall features a series of murals by the Pre-Raphaelite Ford Madox Brown that tell the story of the city’s development. The Manchester Murals begin with the founding by the Romans and end with John Dalton collecting marsh gases, which lead to his development of atomic theory.
With so much grandeur it’s easy to miss the finer details as I did. One of the recurring motifs found throughout exemplifies the work ethic at the heart of the Manchester story; the industrious bee. There’s certainly workmanship aplenty to be found through these doors.