We have new dates for our ever-popular tour of the glorious Gothic Gormenghast that is Manchester Town Hall. Make sure you book your place, for the Town Hall will be closing for repairs for five years in January 2018.
* We now book through eventbrite.
* Choose a date and click the link.
* Please meet at the Midland Hotel, not Manchester Town Hall as the main entrance and Albert Square are often out of bounds. We don’t like to see customers wandering aimlessly around Manchester desperately looking for the guides.
Next tours in March
* Mon 27 Mar, 11am. Booking with eventbrite. !SOLD OUT!
* Tue 28 Mar, 10.30am (Pre-Raphaelites & Murals, starting at the Art Gallery). Book with eventbrite here. TICKETS LEFT
Next tours in April
* Mon 10 April, 11am. Please book with eventbrite here.
* Tue 11 April, 11am. Please book with eventbrite here.
* Tue 18 April, 11am. Please book with eventbrite here.
* Wed 19 April, 11am. Please book with eventbrite here.
** Please do check the website in case of last-minute problems.
How to get on the tour. Do you need to book?
Yes. We now have a new system. We would like you to book via eventbrite.
We work very closely with the management to ensure access to the state rooms. Just occasionally (last time, Valentine’s Day, 2013) there are last-minute problems. We will do everything we can to inform you before setting off and your ticket will be valid for a future tour.
Where does it start from?
The front entrance of the Midland Hotel, Peter Street. Please do NOT go to the Town Hall before us, otherwise you’ll miss the tour.
Nearly two hours.
Is it a popular tour?
When we launched the first Saturday Town Hall tour a ew years ago it attracted 43 customers. Magnifique! Last year we took more than 2,000 people around the Town Hall. That’s because word has travelled that the New Manchester Walks’ guides host an extraordinary tour, packed with superb stories, awesome anecdotes and trenchant analysis about the building’s architecture and art, its purpose, its politics and the people who have made their mark within.
Our guides are brilliantly informed, wonderfully entertaining and great fun to listen to. We constantly discover new things and unearth unusual angles about the building. We do more than just point out the bleedin’ obvious. We reveal, unveil, cross-reference. We talk about the sacrilegious placing of a cotton boll on top of the church-like tower; the masonic symbolism to show the “true time” on the clock; the coup within the Labour Party that abolished the post of Lord Mayor.
Yes, this is the de-luxe tour.
I just HAD to write to thank you for your wonderful tour of Manchester Town Hall – it was even better than we had hoped! Sue was the best kind of guide – efficient, friendly, approachable – and fun!
We got to know all kinds of information, local and global history, art, politics and all manner of details about the building and the importance of Manchester.
I was so grateful to be able to see this wonderful building and gain so much from our trip – well worth the wait!
All best wishes
A very happy
xxxx and xxx
Good Morning. Just letting you know how much I enjoyed the Town Hall Tour yesterday with Sue. It was fabulous – a wonderful experience. Sue was professional, friendly and entertaining – she made the Town Hall come to life and her knowledge was endless. She went beyond what I expected and I can’t wait to go on another one. I have wanted to look round the Town Hall for years but didn’t know there was a guided tour and I couldn’t have wished for a better guide than Sue.
Everyone on the tour was impressed with her knowledge, not only of the Town Hall, but the historic, architectural and political history of Manchester – it was worth every penny.
Well done Sue – and thank you for a most interesting, informative and fun day out. I’m looking at your brochure and already planning my next adventure.”
You’d like to know more?
Below, Ed Glinert, author of Penguin’s Manchester Compendium and editor of Penguin Classics’ Sherlock Holmes stories, sums up the essence of the building and its history.
Fittingly for a city that prides itself as a municipal power on a scale rivalling the great city-states in European history, Manchester Town Hall is the grandest, greatest and most imposing building in the region.
It was built from 1868-77 to the Gothic designs of Alfred Waterhouse whose plan, one of 136 entries, while not the most handsome and not even the winning entry initially, was the one the judges felt made the best use of light, ventilation and the awkward triangular site available.
The Corporation had given no preference for the building’s architectural style, but to emphasise Manchester’s newly found wealth from textiles Waterhouse chose as his model the 13th century Gothic cloth halls of Flanders. He built in brick faced with stone from the West Yorkshire Spinkwell quarries for the exterior, ashlar for the interior, and placed above the main entrance a 386-foot high clock tower. He also included much statuary on the façade. General Agricola, the Roman who founded Manchester in AD 79, is honoured with a statue over the main doorway. Above him are Henry III (symbolising political independence, crucial to Manchester’s history) and Elizabeth I (religious freedom), and there are also statues of Thomas de la Warre, founder of what is now the Cathedral, and Humphrey Chetham who founded what is now Europe’s oldest library a mile away. Inside the ground floor entrance are busts of the scientists John Dalton, with glassware at his feet, and William Joule, cross-legged, leaning on an elbow.
Inside the building Waterhouse’s skill becomes apparent. Seven staircases lead up from the ground floor; some grand and imposing, others spiralling mysteriously at the corners of the building. On the first floor are the Lord Mayor’s rooms, the Conference Hall, which contains the original council chamber and contains a huge Gothic chimney-piece, oak screen and wrought-iron galleries where the press and public sat, and the Great Hall, the building’s tour de force, which John Ruskin called “the most truly magnificent Gothic apartment in Europe”. In the panels of the Great Hall’s hammerbeam roof are gilded costs of arms of the nations with which Manchester traded, and on the walls are Ford Madox Brown’s 12 murals which illustrate episodes in Manchester’s history.
The internal courtyard in the basement is often used as a Victorian setting in TV dramas, while throughout the profusion of cloister-like corridors, spiral staircases, bridges and stairwells creates a wonderful sense of drama.
The Town Hall was officially opened on 13 September 1877 with a grand ceremony marred only by the refusal of Queen Victoria to attend. Benjamin Disraeli, the prime minister had to notify the city cryptically that it was “out of the power of Her Majesty to be present on this interesting occasion”. The reasons, undisclosed at the time, were that the Queen was unhappy that the Manchester Corporation had commissioned a statue of the regicide Oliver Cromwell. She was also wary of being seen on the same platform as the one time fiercely radical Manchester mayor, Abel Heywood, who had once been imprisoned for distributing publications which argued for abolishing the monarchy.
Such was Manchester’s penchant for empire building, by the 1920s it considered the Town Hall too small. E. Vincent Harris was duly commissioned to build an extension on an adjacent site to the south, and it is there that the council now meets. Yet ironically when the Corporation commissioned chief surveyor Rowland Nicholas to draw up the Manchester Plan of 1945 in rebuilding the city after the Second World War, he decided the main Town Hall was now too big, and suggested it be replaced at excessive cost with a streamlined modernist replacement. Fortunately for Manchester his proposals were shelved.