Sunday, 14 January 2018

Manchester Town Hall: This is the Place

Tomorrow, Manchester Town Hall closes its doors for the next 6 years.

Today, I spent some time in there, trying to get to know the building a little before it retreats even further from public life.



The Great Hall is built to resemble a cavernous Gothic cathedral nave. Tall, tall windows, but with simple traceried-heads atop tall lights. Lacking the late-Gothic flourish of the Flamboyant; the fussiness instead contained in geometric leadwork from head to foot, square and regular.

Timber panels are exalted above, springing from stone corbels; guilded detailing, and the names of companion countries painted in bold capital letters, shouting their international friendship from the ceiling: RUSSIA. DENMARK.


The Manchester Bee falls underfoot. The little ceramic hive catches everyone's attention. Everyone buzzing through this building today feels a connection with these striped symbols. They are all of us. We are the cogs that make Manchester work. We are the musicians, the artists, the scientists, the athletes. And this year, the bee came to mean solidarity. In the wake of horrible disaster, the bee was a beacon of hope to gather around, because we are a city, always connected. The bee should be here, in the Town Hall. It makes more sense than being plastered on tshirts by people trying to make a quick buck from a simple shape. Trying to capitalise on the purest of all things: a group of strangers, brought together by tragedy and love.



& here they are again, on a piece of silk work dating from 1877. We have always been them. They have always been us.


For me, the most striking thing about the interior was actually the view outwards onto the square. Each bay providing a little perch, to watch the kerfuffle below. Although, today being Sunday, there was little kerfuffle to mention.





Generally, the interior did not excite me. Whilst richly patterned, with smart and delicate detailing, especially with the spiral staircases, it was the most pedestrian in Victorian interior design. The secondary spaces especially were simply dado-height wainscottng and little else. Instead, it was this nonsensical, inward facing courtyard that most captured my imagination.








This courtyard is a conundrum. Its location means it wouldn't have served much of a public function. The external elevations of this monstrous building has, for the last 140 years, served to remind the people of Manchester where its heart lies. 
Whereas here, away from passers-by, where Waterhouse could have gotten away with the most plain and simple of treatments ("no one will see it, why spend any cash!?), we get something entirely more interesting. Spandrels and string courses decorated with lovely tiles. The grid-like window leading, lit from the inside, giving the windows a rich texture. The grouping of early-Gothic tripartite windows. Tiny corner balconies that serve no purpose other than to be beautiful. The stepped windows, echoing the form of the staircase inside.
Here, protected from the harshest punishment of the Manchester weather. Here, we are treated to the true beauty of the city.

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