Building Name

Provisional Scheme Free Trade Hall Peter Street Manchester

1852 - 1853
Peter Street
Central, Manchester
GMCA, England
Preliminary design

A NEW PUBLIC HALL ON THE SITE OF THE FREE TRADE HALL, PETER STREET. - The vast size, low roof, and barn-like character of the present Free Trade Hall have long unfitted it for anything but the reception of large assemblages of people, such as the great free-trade gatherings during the anti-corn law agitation; while its temperature during the winter months, unless quite filled, is such as, combined with large grids in the floor and numerous other apertures causing draughts – to induce ladies and delicate persons instinctively to avoid it. It has, however, since the object for which it was erected was accomplished by the repeal of the corn laws, been pretty frequently used for various purposes of public assemblages and amusement, Including concerts of all kinds, balls, great dinners and tea parties, panoramic and other exhibitions, and even for the hippodrome and the usual sports of the arena and the circus. The numerous cuttings and carving, patching and botchings, to fit it for these various uses – “all things by turns, and nothing long” - have greatly deteriorated from its original character; added to which, since a year or two ago it was determined to take it down, its old decorations have been allowed to remain till they literally hung in tatters from its ceiling and walls, and the whole place is as cold, dirty and comfortless as any room can well be. Its frequent use under such circumstances is only a strong proof, if any were needed, of the great want of a suite of public rooms in Manchester for various purposes of social interest and amusement. This want, long felt, but which, from the lack of some good central spacious area for the site, in a fitting part of the town has hitherto remained unsupplied, is at length about to be removed by the demolition of the present unsightly edifice, and the erection of another on its site, which, while it will afford two good public rooms, with all the requisite subordinate apartments, will, by its architectural character and superior comfort, be a great improvement in every respect upon the old and now doomed Free Trade Hall. As to the means by which this new structure is to be raised, we shall simply state that they were set forth in an advertisement in the Manchester Guardian of Saturday last; and that it is proposed to raise the required capital of £25,000 in £10 shares. As it is at present proposed to be erected, the new building is to be in accordance with designs and plans which have been prepared for that purpose by Mr Edward Salomons, architect, King Street, under the direction of the gentlemen who have the management of the building. These plans we have seen; and we shall only add that we must regard them rather as provisional designs than as actual working drawings; for circumstances may, and no doubt will, arise from time to time, suggesting requirements which will involve corresponding modifications and alterations.

The plot of ground now chiefly occupied by the Free Trade Hall has an area of 2.300 square yards, with frontage to three streets, - Peter Street, South Street and Windmill Street, the fourth side being bounded by the Methodist Chapel in Peter Street. The three sides of the plot next to Peter Street, South Street and the chapel are at right angles; but the Windmill Street boundary is a diagonal line, narrowing the plot towards its westerly end; so that the end adjoining the chapel is only 90 feet in length; while the opposite end next to South Street has the same extent of frontage as the side in Peter Street – 160 feet. The present Free Trade Hall proper covers an area of 1,700 square yards, the remainder of the area being taken up by yards, outbuildings, lumber stores and some small rooms. It is proposed to cover the whole of the 2,300 square yards with a new building, which is to consist chiefly of a large hall, capable of containing from four to five thousand persons, suitable for concerts, balls, and public meetings generally; and a smaller room, adapted to smaller meetings, lectures, chamber concerts, etc, and capable of containing 600 persons. Besides these, it is proposed to have next to Peter Street, a well-regulated café and a shop; and next to South Street, a warehouse or other building, this point not yet being determined.

Externally the edifice will have the character of a palatial building in the purely Venetian style, free from Byzantine mixture. Its chief front will be to Peter Street, that side of which, with the Concert Hall at the top, then two handsome and lofty piles of warehouses, followed by the Natural History Society’s Museum, the Theatre Royal, and lastly the new Public Hall, will present a line of public buildings not elsewhere to be equalled in Manchester. This façade will be wholly of stone, 160 feet in length and 55 feet in height, including externally two storeys; and divided by a slightly advanced centre, into three parts, centre and wings. The lower storey consists in each division, of a triple arched opening, adaptable either for entrances or windows as the exigencies of the building may require. At present it is intended to make the centre one the principal entrance; the other two entrances being placed at the extremities of the wings; so that the three entrances will be separated from each other by 90 feet, an important consideration in connection with crowded meetings and popular concerts. Above these again are a series of triple windows, each having a circular headed light between square headed lights; the centre one lighting the principal staircase, and those of the wings the smaller hall and a large ante-room, to be noticed shortly. An enriched cornice in the style already indicated, is carried along the upper part of this façade, surmounted by a stone parapet of perforated or open work, which over the centre of each division is enriched, and the long line so abhorrent to the educated eye, broken by a piece of appropriate sculpture Throughout this front the object of the architect has apparently been to obtain the necessary effect by proportion and form; rather than by elaboration or richness of detail; and so far as we can judge from plans on paper, he seems to have been successful, and that in a building of some character and originality, and without any counterpart in Manchester. From economic considerations the sides of the building next to South Street and Windmill Street will be quite plain, without any attempt at an unnecessary expenditure of architectural decoration in streets of minor importance.

The principal entrance in the centre of the façade opens directly into a vestibule, beyond which is the grand entrance hall, 31 feet by 28 feet, and the principal staircase, the steps of which are 10 feet in width, so as to afford ample space for departure. This is an important consideration in any edifice devoted to the reception of large assemblages; and it is not always sufficiently regarded. In connection with it, we may state that at M Jullien’s last concert, when the Free Trade Hall was crammed, the experiment was made, by opening four doors instead of two, the usual outlets, in what time the audience could pass out; and it was found that by about twenty feet in width of outlet, the whole of that immense crowd, probably nearly five thousand in number, passed out in seven minutes. The great staircase gives access to the grand tier stalls, or gallery of reserved seats, in the great hall. Its uppermost landing leads to a spacious ante-room 44 feet by 31 feet, from which corridors lead to the ladies’ and gentlemen’s cloak rooms, which are provided with all the required conveniences. From these a corridor or circular lobby leads to the grand tier.  In the entrance hall, to the left, is a sort of box office, or place for the sale or receipt of tickets; and beyond it again, a waiting room18 feet by 18 feet.

The lower or westerly entrance in Peter Street, next to the chapel (which we shall call lower, as there is a fall in the length of the building from South Street to the chapel of 2 feet 6 inches) will form the entrance to the great body of the seats on the floor of the large hall; and another outlet is provided at the opposite corner of the hall, into Windmill Street. The upper door in Peter Street, close to South Street, is the entrance to the smaller hall, with its separate staircase, lobbies, ante room, cloak room, and other conveniences. This disposition of the three entrances leaves two portions of the building on the ground floor next to Peter Street, - the lower one 50 feet by 31 feet, and the upper one 32 feet by 26 feet – which may be occupied as cafes, shops, or for any other purpose, hereafter to be determined. They will have no communication with any portion of the building, their only entrances opening directly into Peter Street

THE GREAT HALL – The only external wall of the Great Hall will be that next to Windmill Street. On the other side and at the ends it will be bounded by the internal walls. This hall, is of somewhat irregular form; its platform, at the east end being a parallelogram 65 feet wide and 45 feet deep. The public or audience part of the room approaches the circular in form; its greatest length from the front of the platform to the back wall of the hall being 77 feet and its greatest width 73 feet; the height of the hall is 50 feet. Were we describing a theatre, we should say that besides the floor, or pit, the audience part consists of a box tier, and above that, a gallery tier, both of horse-shoe form; but we believe they are termed the grand tier stalls and the gallery seats. The seats in the floor of the hall are arranged in curved or crescent-like form the hollow or concave side next the platform. The floor of the hall, with the ordinary allowance of seats and of standing room, will accommodate some 1,500 persons; but without any seats it would contain 2,000, and so the number will vary in proportion to the number of seats placed. The platform, by a peculiar adaptation, can be arranged in a few hours so as to form an orchestral platform, or one for the reception of a large number of persons at public meetings, in which case it is capable of seating not fewer than 700 persons. We have already described the access to the grand tier or reserved seats. This tier is of horse-shoe form, supported by sixteen light ornamental iron columns, having in the centre row of seats from back to front, which, with six private boxes – three on each side nearest the platform and occasional additional stalls, obtained by reducing the dimensions of the platform, would seat 600 persons, independent of the back corridor or lobby, the whole of which, on crowded nights, could be thrown into the seats, giving space for 150 more persons. At the end of the platform, next Windmill Street are various offices and small rooms to be used in the occupation of the building and in the temporary occupation of the platform.

Above the grand tier is the gallery tier, of similar form, and supported by sixteen iron columns; but it is carried back to the outer wall next the chapel, and will seat about 1,200 persons.  The total accommodation which this hall will afford may be taken at nearly 4,000 persons on ordinary occasions, or about 4,650 by the use of all its disposable and convertible space. We have already stated that it is 50 feet in height; and we should add that it will be lighted from above by a ceiling almost wholly of glass, so that it can be used in the daytime and with ordinary daylight, as well as for evening meetings, when, of course, it will be lighted by gas.

THE SMALLER HALL – This room will be placed at the corner of South Street and Peter Street, and approached from below, as already described, through a small ante-room 20 feet by 16 feet. This hall is a perfect parallelogram, 57 feet 6 inches by 38 feet; with a small elliptical platform at its west end, and a small end gallery at the east end next to South Street. It is calculated to hold about 600 persons; and being a lofty room, and lighted next Peter Street by a triple window and two others, it is thus made available for morning concerts, day meetings etc.

Above the ante-room and staircase landing on the first floor will be two long galleries, one 60 feet and the other 30 feet in length, communicating with each other, so as to give a total length of well-lighted space of 90 feet, adaptable for a picture gallery, or exhibition of works of art.

One important thing has been provided for in the plan of general construction, viz. on great occasions when a very large assemblage is to be brought together, all the rooms can be placed en-suite, by opening doors, generally kept closed, from the principal landing to the platform end of the smaller hall, and by lowering the platform to the level of the floor of the large hall, which can easily be accomplished. In like manner the whole of the upper floor, with its 90 feet of picture gallery, etc., can be used in connection with the great suite of rooms, for supper rooms, cloak rooms, or other purposes.

Both the large and smaller hall will be sufficiently lighted by day, the former from the glass roof, the latter from the range of windows in Peter Street. For evenings, both halls will be lighted by gas; the large hall by gas above or outside the glass ceiling, so as to prevent all glare, and to give a soft and well-diffused light, without even the burners being visible. Warming and ventilation will be accomplished on the principle of letting cool air or fresh air, warmed in its entrance in at each floor; and that there will be only one general shaft for the outlet of the vitiated air by the roof. The warming will be accomplished by hot water pipes.

It is intended to commence taking down the Free Trade Hall at the beginning of April, and the present determination is that the whole of the building shall be completed externally and roofed in, and that the great hall shall be quite finished for opening in September next. The cost of the building cannot be accurately known at present. It is estimated roughly at from £20,000 to £25,000. The property will still be leasehold; Mr Cobden MP being the owner of the land, and we are told the future rent payable to him will be £1,300 a year. [Manchester Guardian 2 February 1853 page 6].

Reference    Manchester Courier 29 January 1853 page 7
Reference    Manchester Guardian 2 February 1853 page 6