The Victorian Society’s Manchester
Group held its inaugural meeting on 18 January 1966. Over 450 people met in Alfred
Waterhouse’s Town Hall with great interest shown by the press, radio and
television. The meeting was held jointly with the Manchester Society of
Architects, which that year was celebrating its centenary and Frank Jenkins of
the Manchester School of Architecture was in the chair. The Lord Mayor and Lady
Mayoress of Manchester attended – the Lord Mayor wearing the diamond incrusted insignia
created for an 1850s visit by Queen Victoria.
Prof. Nikolaus Pevsner,
architectural historian and creator and main author of the authoritative series
The Buildings of England (1951 –’74), gave the address on the understanding
and appreciation of Victorian architecture.
The Victorian Society itself was
formed in 1958, in response to the growing threat to fine examples of Victorian
and Edwardian architecture. The Society was one of many groups around the country
and was in the forefront of long and hard battles to try to limit needless
damage to our townscapes. We continue to demonstrate that conservation and
re-use of historic places is a good thing. Unfortunately, many of the
consequences of poor redevelopment were irreversible and blight our towns and
The Manchester Group started
raising awareness of Manchester’s architectural riches, as it continues to do,
through guided walks and lectures. It also carried out thematic studies of
building types, forgotten historic areas such as Ancoats and Castlefield and
the works of prominent Manchester architects. These studies were part of a long
term campaign to have Manchester’s woefully inadequate schedule of listed
buildings remedied. In 1972 only 25 Victorian buildings in Manchester were
listed. It took many years of campaigning and providing information to
gradually achieve the necessary correction. As a result hundreds of Victorian buildings
were recognised as being of national architectural significance
and Manchester’s position as a great Victorian city was eventually celebrated.
the Second World War Manchester, in common with all our great cities, had
suffered some sad losses. These include the General Post Office and York House -
where even Walter Gropius’ support for our campaign couldn’t save this early
Other buildings were under
threat. Parrs Bank (later the National Westminster Bank) at the junction of York
Street and Spring Gardens was listed Grade II* in 1972. Designed by Charles
Heathcote in 1902, this Edwardian baroque masterpiece was described by Pevsner
as ‘the most opulent banking hall ... surviving in Manchester, and for that
matter in London’. Both design and material quality were superb – seventeen foot
high grand antique Pyrenean marble columns, bronze windows and
solid mahogany fittings. In 1975 demolition consent was sought to
permit the construction of a speculative office block and was granted by the
City Council almost immediately.
After the Society raised an 11,000
signature petition the Bank, concerned by the extensive adverse publicity, handed
back their listed building consent and the building survives.
Also in 1975, following a
proposal by the City Council to demolish the Albert Memorial
the group launched a ‘Save Albert’ campaign.
For many years the Manchester Group
worked to save the world’s first railway station at Liverpool Road which lay
empty and threatened. It established the Liverpool Road Station Society
which in turn helped to secure the transfer of the site to Greater Manchester County
Council as the new home of the North West Museum of Science and Industry (now
Museum of Science and Industry). In 1979 we enjoyed the Rocket 150 celebration,
held to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Rainhill Trials, whilst the following
year the anniversary of the station opening was celebrated on the secured site.
The Manchester Group has also
been involved with many notable recent successes, such as at The
Monastery, Gorton, Oldham Town Hall, Ancoats Dispensary and London Road Fire
To celebrate the Victorian Society’s
work to change public attitudes towards the nineteenth century’s best
architecture, noted architectural historian Gavin Stamp has curated a large photographic
exhibition which includes local images from Greater Manchester. Marking the 50th
anniversary of the Manchester Group of the Society, Saving a Century finishes a 65-venue tour around Britain at The
John Rylands Library on Deansgate, Manchester until 24th March.
Moth and Steve Roman
The Victorian Society is
the national charity campaigning for the Victorian and Edwardian historic
Follow them on Twitter @thevicsoc or Facebook www.facebook.com/thevicsoc
Image: Oldham Town Hall, courtesy David Harrison.