Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Memorial Hall, Manchester

All eyes in Manchester’s Albert Square turn towards the stupendous Town Hall, designed by Alfred Waterhouse and one of the biggest and most magnificent of all 19th-century Gothic structures. The other buildings on the square are apt to get overlooked as a result, so here’s one worth a lingering glance that was completed in 1866, just before work began on the Town Hall. It’s the Memorial Hall, on the corner of Albert Square and Southmill Street.

The hall was built by Manchester’s dissenters in memory of the Nonconformist clergy who were forced from their livings by the 1662 Act of Uniformity. It was designed by Thomas Worthington, an architect who was responsible for several of the city’s major buildings, as well as Manchester’s Albert Memorial. The Memorial Hall looks like a Venetian palazzo untied from its moorings and floated to Manchester, and these rectangular traceried windows on the upper floor are a typically Venetian feature. Venice and its buildings were in the air at this period. Worthington had been to Italy a few years previously, but the main influence was the writings and drawings of John Ruskin, whose three-volume work The Stones of Venice came out in 1851–3. Ruskin was especially keen on using different coloured materials and Worthington responded with a lively mixture of brick and stone.

Manchester soon had a number of buildings in this Venetian style – Worthington’s Crown Court is another one that has survived. Perhaps it’s an especially appropriate style because Manchester, like Venice in its heyday, was a major mercantile city, humming with commercial activity. The stripey polychrome masonry of buildings like the Memorial Hall seems to reflect the busy confidence of this great and successful city.

1 comment:

Peter Ashley said...

One of a series of successive Eaton Halls that have been built on the Duke of Westminster's estate in Cheshire was one by Waterhouse. He managed to make it look like something in the centre of Manchester, but when they finally pulled it down to make way for the next latest fashion they did keep the town-hall style clock tower.