From Parapet to…etc (story)

Manchester Town Hall is among my favourite buildings, having worked there for several years later in life. The building has a church-like atmosphere, and the steps of the spiral staircases are worn down – the “smooth stone” of my poem. “Albert”, of course, is the statue of Prince Albert, the husband and consort of Queen Victoria, dominating Albert Square outside the town hall.

Alfred Waterhouse was the eventual winner of a competition to design the building, which was opened in 1877. His design made best use of the space available, with the building being almost triangular in plan – “a monument to spatial guile.”

It took a week to lay down the fundamentals of the poem, but two weeks to crack the penultimate line, with a slight re-writing of the poem several years later.

For architecture buffs, the building is a fine example of the Victorian Gothic revival style. The Spinkwell stone came from a quarry of that name in Bradford, Yorkshire. Unfortunately, the particular Italian tile used as flooring in the corridors and landings is no longer available. The prospect of the flooring wearing away and perhaps being replaced by inferior tiling is sad, but it is shocking to discover that the building itself was once earmarked for demolition as part of a city-centre rebuilding plan in the immediate post war years.

As I write this (2019), the town hall is closed for much-needed renovation. If you get the chance, please visit this venerable old building when it re-opens. The Bees landing outside the great hall, with the city’s bee symbol inlaid in the original Italian tile, is a well-known gathering area. The twin staircases leading up to them are also wonderful features, especially when they are lit in colour. My favourite part of the town hall? The rotunda in the Lord Mayor’s quarters.