With the sun looming over Manchester, some would turn to the grass and lounge chairs, but I am always swung to the beauty of Manchester’s abandoned buildings. It is upsetting to understand, that the number of buildings, which are such a part to the history and timeline of Manchester are becoming vacant, with so little prospects for the future. I am presently a volunteer for the Archives+ and will be publishing a blog about some abandoned buildings which I take a great interest in, have a place in my heart, and that I feel are such a hidden gem to the foundations which make this city great. I will be updating you with a feel for both the history and future of buildings, as well as some ‘old vs. new’ images. The buildings which I take interest in concern the old Mathematics and Social Science building (which is part of the University of Manchester) the Faraday Tower, Royale Theatre, and last but not least the old fire station on London Road. Many a great bystander has walked by these buildings and not thought of its significance or beauty, and as a student at the University of Manchester, to know something about my surroundings which others don’t, well, I can take that with my stride.
My first building of interest takes us back to 1845. This gem, if one takes a step back, plays an important role for the entertainment and creative minds which have crossed paths in the city of Manchester. This was the first theatre in Manchester, it was commissioned by businessman John Knowles who was best known for bringing national drama to Manchester, and his theatre will have housed many of the great great great grandmothers and grandfathers which once roamed the world. It operated as a theatre until 1921 and since then it has operated as a nightclub, bingo parlour and also a cinema, but as of 2012, the building became unoccupied and now remains owned by the Radisson Hotel (opposite at the Free trade Hall) which was once the site of the Peterloo Massacre. The building could potentially be restored as a theatre or banqueting hall as an extension for the hotel. As I uploaded the image which I took below, I was disheartened to see the building was complimented by the presence of two 21st century taxis rather than what would once have been a rather lush horse and carriage set.
As we can see, instead of taxis outside or horses and carriages, the building has five gas lit lanterns outside, with an awning and walls on the side built from bricks, which is now significantly different as the walls appear to have been reconstructed, perhaps due to a weakening of the architectural integrity of the building. It pains me to know, that a building which once was so beautiful, played such a graceful role with the history for the theatre of Manchester now remains unoccupied and owned by a hotel. I can only hope that the magic of this building will one day soon stroll back, and wishfully wearing an old suit, with a tall top hat and a fashionable walking stick.
Our journey through the abandoned buildings of Manchester, now marches us to the year 1906. Namely, the Old Fire Station on London Road in Manchester. The building only cost £142,000 to build, and housed the headquarters to the Fire Service, a police station, an ambulance station, a coroner’s court and finally a gas-meter testing station. Throughout its lifetime, the building has been visited by royalty in 1942 and operated for 80 years. And so, I’m walking in the streets, it’s 1926 and the local pub is set alight. I reach a telegram service and guess who I message? the old fire station of course! yes, this building was the first centre equipped to record emergency calls, but was sadly after a great lifespan closed in 1986. After years of being dormant, it was eventually water sealed but still was placed on the Buildings at Risk register in 2001. The current owners of the building (Britannia Hotels) have been in what can only be understood as a dispute over planning. Supposed plans to transform the building into a hotel have been postponed, changed, and not submitted by deadline dates. This is how the building looks today, which was such a great part of the hard working men and women of the 20th century.
I also managed to, on my adventures stumble across this timeless relic. Here, one will see the arch to the Fire station, where emergency engines rushed in and out, I felt the buzzing whiff of panic and emergency as I stood beneath.
And finally, here we see an image of the London Road Fire Station from 1940. A lone policeman stands in the centre of the crossroads we see today, whom probably was based at the fire-station himself, and with much less traffic than what we see today. You can also see tram tacks in line, which resemble the past of the way individuals used to get around.
The square inside the building, is now sadly used as a storage facility, but alike my hopes for the Royale Theatre to transform, I hope this building can transform to something great such as a hotel one day.
Stepping off the bus tour of history, we finally find ourselves glued to modern history. I am namely referring to the year 1967. Once upon a time, UMIST and Victoria University once educated the great minds of today, but after a merge of the two universities in 2004 to create The University of Manchester, some buildings certainly became prevalent. I am referring of course to both the Mathematics and Social Sciences Building as well as the Faraday building and tower. Let’s start with the MSS building. This building housed the mathematics and social sciences departments from the University, inside an impressive 50 metre tall, 15 floor building being characterised by a cuboid outline with decorative columns on either side. The building was built on the site of a cramped terraced housing area that accommodated factory workers (noted famously by Frederick Engels in 1844). I shall show you an image I took of the building below;
This seems somewhat depressing from what was once its most former glory; Here you can see the an image of the building courtesy of Manchester’s local image collection, dating to 1970. The building boasts its concrete with UMIST showing proudly at the top.
And so one wonders, why the interest in the building? I am simply astonished that since 2010, a building that is made from reinforced concrete has been made vacant and is set up for demolition by 2020. Looking into more details why, a spokesperson from the University of Manchester’s Press office notified me that the Northern Campus which composes part of the University, is currently victim to the ‘Campus Master plan’ which from the onset looks very impressive. In short, and I really do mean short, the University of Manchester is to invest £1 billion over the next ten years to create a ‘world-class campus’ for the staff and students. The vision as the president of the University quotes is to ‘For the first time, we will deliver a single site for the University of Manchester, where engineering, arts, biomedicine, business and all of our other activities live side by side, and our students will be the real heart of the campus’
So in short, it appears that the future of the building is somewhat sapped, but will be for a greater benefit of both staff and students who attend the University of Manchester. We couldn’t find any pictures that feature the inside of the building unfortunately but would appreciate if some of these could be nominated to the Archives. The grounds at which this building stands used to be the site for cotton mills dating to the start of the 20th century, and many times before then existed as a site for workers close to what once was a ‘Lunatic Asylum’, I tell no lie, have a look at this Ordnance Survey map image from 1855.
In this survey, we see the old MRI & a Lunatic Asylum housed close to where the building now stands.
I also have an image of the site from the 1955 Ordnance Survey which shows that the site was once a Cotton Mill.
And finally some love for the construction of the site, one must hold back the emotion of such a great building which will have clearly meant a great deal to a significant number of people. This image was taken in 1964.
Ultimately, and moving on from what I can only acknowledge as one of my most favourite buildings, I will finally speak of the Faraday Tower, this was built in 1967, was also part of UMIST, before becoming part of the University of Manchester and still remains victim of the wonderful ‘Campus Master plan’ which I mentioned not so long ago. The building is now abandoned, but I assure you housed some of the most respectful chemists of this time, as it was the chemistry school. I took an image of the building, but let me just summarise my view of abandoned modern buildings by adding a note that they simply hold a place in my heart, in a way I cannot express, for the history, and the possible future amazes me everyday.
I’m sure Michael Faraday, an English scientist born in 1791, a man who contributed to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry would be upset by the demolition of this building.
It saddens me, I mean, truly upsets me to know that there are no images that feature the building dating from the era it was built, but I suppose the fallacy that the taller the building the more interest it has, has proven to be true. So I ultimately conclude my blog on Manchester’s abandoned buildings, the history and the future by reminding you of our journey. The Royale Theatre based on Peter Street has high expectations of being renovated by the Radisson hotel owners in the near future, the London Road fire station shares expectations from owners Britannia hotel who may one day convert it into a 4-star hotel, but one has to be hopeful for that one as it is on the Buildings at Risk register. And finally, my beloved buildings from the University of Manchester; MSS and the Faraday Tower are now abandoned and up for demolition, they have lived through some great history, but a greater good is planned for them with the ‘Campus Master plan’ from the University of Manchester.
My only request to you as a reader, or something which you can take from this, is to always question a building which has no lights on and that seems abandoned, you may just learn something new if you snoop around a little bit. Over and out- MrRobertVarley