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.
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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