Manchester Town Hall, one of the best examples of Victorian Neo-Gothic architecture, is the setting of films like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘The Iron Lady’, the absolute architectural icon of Manchester and the most favourite building of the Mancunians themselves. A visit to Manchester Town Hall is a journey back to the heyday of the Industrial Revolution.
In the mid-19th century, Manchester was one of the world’s most important industrial cities. The money kept pouring in and the city grew like wildfire. A palatial town hall would surely befit such prosperity and status, so a design competition was held and the winner was the master of Neo-Gothic architecture, architect Alfred Waterhouse. 10 years, 14 million bricks and 1 million pounds sterling later, Manchester had a fairytale-like castle with towers, gargoyles, Victorian frills and a triangular layout.
““The most truly magnificent Gothic apartment in Europe””
Waterhouse’s design was both functional and wild. The interior features frescos, gilded chandeliers, tall stained-glass arched windows, vaulted galleries, majestic spiral staircases, marble statues and mosaic floors with busy bees – the symbol of Manchester’s hard-working industrial workforce. The centre of the complex, around which the other buildings are constructed in a triangle, is the Great Hall, measuring 15 x 30 metres. The Manchester Murals are particularly famous. These 12 wall paintings by Ford Madox Brown are dedicated to the glorious history of Manchester. John Ruskin, the most influential art critic at the time, called the Great Hall “the most truly magnificent Gothic apartment in Europe”. From the outside, the showpiece is the bell tower. No fewer than 173 steps lead to the top of this 87-metre-high tower, where 23 bronze bells announce the time with quite a racket. Below them is the 8-tonne bell ‘Great Abel’, named after the mayor who opened the town hall in 1877.
Even if you have never been to Manchester, the town hall may look familiar to you. That is because of its striking resemblance to the Houses of Parliament in London. Since it isn’t possible to film in the Houses of Parliament, Manchester Town Hall is often used as a stand-in for the Palace of Westminster. In 2009, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law walked its halls in the film ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Two years later, Meryl Streep debated here as Margaret Thatcher in ‘The Iron Lady’. And in 2014, Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) wandered across Albert Square and the Victorian courtyard as Igor in ‘Frankenstein’, to be released in 2015.