Manc de Ville

_PW_9629_30_31-Edit-EditHaving written about Manchester’s grand hotel, I thought I’d continue the theme and tackle their Hôtel de Ville (a tenuous link I know).

Paris Hôtel de Ville completed circa 1880 in a...
Paris Hôtel de Ville completed circa 1880 in an unequivocal French Neo-Renaissance style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Manchester Town Hall, Clock Tower
Manchester Town Hall, Clock Tower

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.

Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes*

When I was small the 5th of November was one of the most important dates on the calendar; Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.

For weeks beforehand, young boys would tour the streets looking for any spare timber that could be used to build a bonfire, and stuffing old clothes to make a “Guy”, which would then be wheeled around the streets or left outside shops with a collecting tin.

“Penny for the Guy” went up the cry, and any pennies collected would be used to buy the magic ingredient of the evening.  Fireworks.  Almost every child had a display in their gardens; some no more than a few rockets and Roman candles, others having a more elaborate celebration with food including potatoes roast in the embers of the fire.

Nowadays the date is more significant to me as being my daughter Holly’s birthday, (don’t be fooled by the candles, she’s older than 7!) but it seems that I’m not the only one with different priorities.  Halloween, which was once the lesser event (carrying hollowed out Swede in the rain, and struggling to relight the temperamental candle inside without burning your fingers had a limited appeal) has now overshadowed a date celebrated to mark an important moment in British history.

Halloween is more of a marketing man’s dream, and I wonder how long it will be before that name (meaning the eve of All Saints’ Day) becomes replaced by Trick or Treat night.

Walking the beach the day after there were still some traces of Guy Fawkes celebrations; the scattered crocodilian timbers that evidenced a bonfire erased by the tide and the occasional carcass of a spent rocket, but these were few and far between and easily missed (unlike the smart windsurfing board abandoned at the water’s edge) Perhaps the two dates will merge into one at some point and we will celebrate at the end of October with fireworks as well as costumes.

Similarly I read this week that a breed of dog once familiar to all thanks to its role as the icon of a well-known paint brand has been placed on a watch list due to the decline in the numbers being bred.  I refer to the Old English Sheepdog (the “Dulux” dog) which it appears is seen as too much trouble to look after compared to “handbag” dogs like the Chihuahua.

So it was nice to meet a man out today walking two of these shaggy beasts.  Getting them both to remain still for a picture was too much to ask, but I grabbed a couple of shots of one of the pair as well as their owner John.  It was great to see these “real” dogs out exercising.  I hope they fare better than Mr Fawkes.

*David Bowie – Changes