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The Good, the Average, the Ugly: City Buildings and neighbours

Jonathan Schofield scrambles amongst rats, ruins and filth at an old offices, shops and and charity school

Written by . Published on May 27th 2009.


The Good, the Average, the Ugly: City Buildings and neighbours

Category: Knackered

What and where?
City Buildings, the old Cathedral Day School and the Cathedral Female Charity School. An island site of three distinct buildings behind Urbis, next to Victoria Station and bounded by the tramlines, Corporation Street, Long Millgate and Todd Street.

What’s the condition?
A right mess; part demolished following a fire and completely abandoned. The site is owned by Maghull Developments from Liverpool, which doesn’t have two brass coins to rub together and has caused controversy with schemes in our architecturally rich near-neighbour. A plan to demolish and replace with a mix of car park, retail, offices and residential uses seems dead in the water.

When were the buildings put up?
Hard to say exactly. The ruin on Todd Street, now consisting of a low wall surmounted by hoardings, is the only one where the architect seems traceable. This was the Cathedral Day School for boys and built by the Church of England to provide education for a small fee to the male kids in what was becoming a grossly over crowded slum area. It was finished in 1832 by Richard Lane. Lane also designed the Friends Meeting House on Mount Street and the Town Halls at Chorlton-on-Medlock (All Saints – now part of the MMU) and at Salford (now the Magistrates Court). He was also the man who tutored Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of Manchester Town Hall. The smaller brick building, more recently a post office, was the Cathedral Female Charity School from around 1835, and also by Lane (probably), in a similar Tudor Gothic style to the first building. It performed the same function for girls as the earlier school. The curriculum would no doubt have been different, preparing those girls for wifedom and motherhood.

And City Buildings?
Puzzle this one. The architectural guides all ignore it; God alone knows why it deserves this, it’s not that bad. The main architectural guide by Clare Hartwell in the Pevsner Architectural Series completely cold shoulders it. Others say it’s late Victorian and built as offices and shops. I agree with latter but given the style would probably put it 1860s, 1870s, in a vaguely French Gothic style, especially where it turns the corner and has the fancy metalwork and the clock gable. The architect is elusive. Given the solid stone if uncompromising design it looks like City Buildings should be in a West Yorkshire town, Halifax or Huddersfield, rather than Manchester. Appropriately Victoria Station was operated by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Did a Yorkshire architect have an away day in Manchester? There’s a nice bit of streetscape looking down Todd Street towards Victoria Station with the empty clock of City Building echoed by the still functioning clock of the station.

What have been the subsequent uses of the buildings?
All sort of mad stuff has gone on here. The Cathedral Day School on Todd Street for instance hosted Club El Bossa Nova in the fifties and sixties featuring 'Victor Bullock’s Broadcasting Quartet' and 'Spanish roulette'. It also housed one of the very first Chinese restaurants in the city, the Chung Ying. Following Club El Bossa Nova, came the Top Cat Club. As a sixteen year old on the hunt for an illegal drink I can remember getting some gassy ale there with some mates on the way back to Rochdale. It was a shocker with sticky carpets and that rank smell of damp. We’d gone in not just for the drink but for the advertised stripper - turned out she wasn’t on that afternoon. Not sure the original owners, the Cathedral, would have approved of such entertainments. If the stripper had been on we’d probably have run a mile.

You mentioned rats and filth?
Ah yes, a bit of historical continuity. There’s a notice on the buildings, pictured here from the City telling the owners, said Maghull Developments, to clean the place up to get rid of the rats and mice. This is 2009 calling. Look in the old Court Leet records from October 1552 and we get this. ‘A burgess who has a field in Toad Lane (the old name for Todd Street) has allowed the ditch to become unpleasant, and he is therefore admonished to sklannse (clean) it.’ Plus ca change – across four hundred and fifty two years. Genius. Todd Street is one of the oldest streets in Manchester, with Long Millgate, Cateaton Street, Fennel Street, Hunt’s Bank, Hanging Ditch and Deansgate. So the graffiti is very fitting.

What graffiti?
The Banksy style-stencil on City Buildings shown below. 'Forever Temporary'. A particularly apt tag given the millennium-plus human occupation of this site and the changes it’s witnessed. This is graffiti as art, carrying a meaning far deeper than that on the surface. Someone put it in an art gallery.

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

LeeMay 27th 2009.

At last these buildings are being brought to people’s attention! I can not believe how the council have allowed these buildings to rot, City Buildings is listed for god's sake! and as for the former girls school, this is the only remnant still existing from the Medieval streetscape of Todd Street and Long Millgate, the latter is one of the City's earliest streets. This area of Manchester hasn’t held onto its early built heritage very well, it would be a total crime if these buildings were to be replaced by yet another modern building, as if architectural and historical heritage can be replaced so easily. City Buildings is a fantastic key building holding the corner of the street its a great eye-catcher, by all means replaced the demolished structures but restore what is existing.

leeMay 27th 2009.

Heres the listing description - www.imagesofengland.org.uk/…/Default.aspx…

EugeneMay 27th 2009.

why can't the council CPO it and redevelop? I don't want it pulling down, just improving...it's location as many have said before is a shocking one. The impression it gives to visitors coming out of Victoria is not a good one!

Egbert NorringtonMay 27th 2009.

Did you read Ed Vulliamy's account of his brush with the foul-mouthed representative of Maghull in The Observer?www.guardian.co.uk/…/architecture-heritage-liverpool-hope-street…

renshMay 27th 2009.

No Tom - I work in commercial property and spoke to Maghull on this a while ago as I was doing some digging for a client.I had it from the horses mouth

Tom HilesMay 27th 2009.

Thanks for the background info Jonathon, very welcome after I flagged up this mystery location a few weeks ago! Any chance you could find out a bit more detail about the status of the owners and the chances of refurbishment/redevelopment? Like if anyone else has shown an interest in buying the plot?

Darren ScottMay 27th 2009.

As I have said a million times on here, the city needs a creative director. Someone responsible for the architectural aesthetics of the city, and control what gets built and where. Everything from street furniture to new buildings, and public spaces. Look what Santiago Calatrava has done for Valancia, and everyone associates Barcelona with Gaudi and recognises the Art Nouveau metro signs in Paris designed by Hector Guimard. Those details are what make those cities historic and iconic. This level of design makes these cities precious and memorable. Not ‘off the shelf’ tat selected by government officials out of a catalogue. We need to stop building bland generic buildings like the green quarter (awful) and start creating our own distinctive identity for the city. We need to invest in our future, forget peter saville, get LORD NORMAN FOSTER to do it. He is Mancunian and a living legend that is more than qualified.”

NitaMay 27th 2009.

Everytime I see the City Buildings I am astounded that noone has done it up yet. Definitely with the restoration argument, as opposed to demolition as seems to be the answer these days. A while back it looked like buildings were being left to rot on prupose so they couldn't be saved, and a new-build could be put there instead. Another building that always interests me because I think it could be made to be so beautiful, is the Withy Groves Safe Specialist Store. What on earth is going on with it?!

Tom HilesMay 27th 2009.

Have you got a link with that news on rensh?

James KMay 27th 2009.

Great article. Really enjoy these types of pieces. Loved the rats story with the past context put in there.

AnonymousMay 27th 2009.

re ownership - do ManCon's resources not extend to running a land registry search? 3 quid it'll cost you.

LeeMay 27th 2009.

Like Nita says, I believe City Buildings has been left in that state on purpose so that restoration is no longer viable. If you walk past and look up at its upper storey windows you can see the sky shining through the roof! And as we all know, water ingress is the no1 must have if you want a listed building demolished! I also believe that the building, along with the former post office will be demolished in order to make the major redevelopment of shops, offices, and appartments that is currently being drawn up for Victoria station and surrounding empty/derilict ground, that is probably the only reason no one has touched City Buildings, and i bet that the council (as always) have their finger in it somewhere, jsut like that did when they were in partnership with Piccadilly Partnerships for the demolition of The Prince Of Wales Buildings on the corner of Newton Street and Piccadilly

Tom HilesMay 27th 2009.

Thanks rensh.I hope if the Co-Op do take over the plot then they'll make the ground floor of City Buildings into a Beamish-style working museum shop, to evoke the first Co-Op stores... fat chance but can but dream!

Jonathan SchofieldMay 27th 2009.

We've got a call into the Coop asking if they own the buildings. Will let you know their reply.

renshMay 27th 2009.

City Buildings has been bought by the Co-Op from Maghull

dominicanMay 27th 2009.

"given the style would probably put it 1860's, 1870's". The listing description says 'built between 1865 and 1875'. Not bad!

SharonMay 27th 2009.

So are we saying that the Coop is looking after a building invested by rats opposite its head office? That's very ethical of them: habitats for all.

Conservation OfficerMay 27th 2009.

I knew I'd seen the name "Maghull Developments" before - total www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/…/…

TheOneDecember 30th 2012.

The Building which stood at 14 Todd street,Formally known as Club El Bossa Nova,Later 9The Pussy Cat Club, Was owned by my father,Chic Taylor (Now deceased) It was destroyed by fire some years ago,As far as i know Chic was the last owner of the building and i have some childhood fond memories to boot.

Reply's welcomed.

Don .Patric.Albert.Chic Taylor

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