Take a walk around the Manchester of 2013 and behold a 21st Century city; skyscrapers and sleek, glass shop fronts galore. But look beyond the modern facade and you will find evidence of the origins of Manchester’s rich architectural history…the gems of Britain’s first industrial city.
The skyline of Manchester, at the height of the 19th Century.
At the height of the nineteenth-century Manchester was home to over 3,000 warehouses, mills and factories. The Industrial Revolution had made Manchester a wealthy city, and it’s ruling elite was keen to demonstrate the culture of Britain’s second city. Art galleries, museums and libraries appeared alongside imposing mills and austere factories. So, lets take a virtual tour of Manchester’s most iconic Victorian buildings…
The iconic Manchester Town Hall. It’s interior is as remarkable as its exterior.
Designed by Alfred Waterhouse and built between 1868-77, the Town Hall remains a highlight of any architectural tour of Manchester. The population of Manchester had increased so rapidly during the nineteenth-century that the increased need for legislation had exceeded the capabilities of the previous town hall. With an imposing Gothic façade, the building was a direct contrast to the neo-Classical designs of (rival cities) Leeds and Liverpool town halls. The interior is rife with allusions to Manchester’s industrial heritage. Look out for the bees and cotton plants in the floor tiles, and Ford Madox Brown’s famous murals depicting scenes from Manchester’s history.
The John Ryland’s Library can easily be described as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
An oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Deansgate; open to visitors seeking both a place to work and an opportunity to marvel at its many treasures. The library was built between 1890-99 by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands (Manchester’s first multi-millionaire).
It was actually designed to resemble a church. Now home to upmarket shops and restaurants, the Deansgate of the 19th Century housed one of Manchester’s worst slums. The library was purposefully built in such an area to show Manchester’s working-class that there was an alternative and provide them opportunity for education. The library was and still is free to use. Its initial collections were initially mainly theological, but nowadays the library boasts a Gutenburg Bible, books printed by William Caxton and Elizabeth Gaskell’s private papers.
The imposing Palace Hotel.
The Palace’s iconic tower is a landmark feature of the Oxford Road skyline, and the building is considered to be the epitome of the ‘Manchester style’ of 19th Century architecture. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, it boasts a basement ballroom (supposedly haunted) and a 26ft high war memorial. The ground floor was originally one huge business hall; home to a successful life insurance and pensions company, and during WWII the building was reinforced and opened as a refuge to the general public. Sadly it remained empty for some years before being converted into a hotel.
The Greek-Neo Classical frontage of the Manchester City Art Gallery.
Initially home to The Royal Manchester Institution, Charles Barry designed this Greek neo-Classical building in 1824. The Institution was opened in 1835 and held regular exhibitions, lectures, and painting classes, a reflection of the attempts of Manchester’s middle-class to improve the city’s image. In 1882 the building and its collections were gifted to the city and became the Manchester Art Gallery. Today the gallery is free to visitors and boasts an impressive collection of fine and modern art, as well as frequently changing exhibitions.