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The Good, the Standard and the Ugly: Peter House

Jonathan Schofield admires a fine shape in the city centre but wonders about the man on the roof with the beer

Written by . Published on November 23rd 2009.

The Good, the Standard and the Ugly: Peter House

Category: Very good


Who were the architects?
Ansell and Bailey, who it appears did little else in Manchester. Indeed, it's hard to find much mention of them anywhere.

What’s so good about Peter House?
It's lovely discipline. It’s a crafted piece of good taste with perfect manners. A large building of 12 floors with a sharp and a site-specific take on the International Modern......

Stop a minute, tell us again: what is the International Modern style?
I’ll quote you the Penguin Dictionary of Architecture: ‘The style is characterised by asymmetrical composition, unrelievedly cubic general shapes, an absence of mouldings, large windows often in horizontal bands, and a predilection for white rendering.’ It was created in Europe a century ago but became popular in the UK only after the Second World War.

The description fits, except Peter House isn’t asymmetrical?Nope, but I did say it was site specific. The shadowy Amsell and Bailey obviously wanted to defer to the classical Central Library. So they went for symmetry as the Library had to by being classical and round. At the same time the architects matched the Central Library’s external surfaces by facing the building in Portland stone – a very un-'Modern' material. In 1958 all the smart architects were indulging in orgies of concrete, metal, glass and tile.

Anything else?
Of course. Although Peter House defers to the public architecture of Central Library it has a real street presence itself. With its gentle curve to the south that main frontage looks like the bridge of a ship from a great ocean liner, it’s got power and grace, a rich functional dignity. At the same time the curve echoes the street pattern here with Oxford Street and Peter Street bending back like a bow tensed along the arrow of Lower Mosley Street and Mosley Street. The sturdy front extensions don’t damage that grace at all, but add almost a element of humour, looking, as they do, like two chunky thighs. The shop units on the ground floor are grafted on with great care.

Hasn’t it been refurbished recently?
It has. And this is a fine job internally, especially in the foyer pictured here. The cleaning has really spruced it up on the outside too. Not sure about the glass extensions on the stairwells on each end, which break the streamlining, these were an error, but overall the Regus owned property, still retains its power to appeal. You can even win an office here in a Confidential offer on the Homepage.

Why have you got a picture of a man with a pint?
I found him in my collection of old photos and books on the city. This must have been at the topping out of Peter House circa 1957. He should be the developer standing proudly on the top of the new building, but look at his shoes, his coat, his fag in hand and his manic grin. He’s a fifties builder without hi-vis jacket or helmet. He looks pissed. I like him, although his beer looks a bit watery. Why the picture was taken is anybody’s guess. Maybe it was a promotional campaign to encourage the taking of alcohol in thrilling locations.

What can we see behind him?
Well the buildings on the left stand on the site of the present Peace Gardens with the Town Hall Extension smoke blackened behind them. The square lacks the animation (or the clutter) of the trams. It also lacks those railings which have so annoyed readers, see the Shelter Shocker Fence Farce article on the Property Homepage.

That’s a point, what was here before Peter House?
The plot had been empty since WWII, but before that it was a theatre; Prince’s Theatre. This was opened in 1864 by the city’s most famous actor-manager of the day, Charles Calvert. According to Terry Wyke and Neil Rudyard in their book Manchester Theatres, Princes Theatre pioneered two theatrical innovations. They instigated the practice of ‘early doors’ whereby a more expensive ticket could be purchased so a customer could enter the theatre early and avoid queuing. More charmingly the theatre pioneered the tip-up seat to make access into and maintenance of the auditorium much easier.

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

Jonathan SchofieldNovember 23rd 2009.

He's definitely on Peter House. I carefully checked and the memorial below gives it away.

EvertonNovember 23rd 2009.

I love the little balconies on your 'thighs' as well. Very typical of the period.

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

A good read. I've always liked this building too. Good massing and presence without being over bearing and with due deference to its classical neighbours. Adds to the big city vibe - acid test: would you find a building like this in Swindon?

Charles Shorland Ansell & BaileyNovember 23rd 2009.

You may be interested to hear that Ansell & Bailey is alive and well and living in London and Manchester.Peter House was designed for our first ever client - the National deposit Friendly Society who remain our client to this day - how is that for a framework agreement!We have won four awards in the NW for schools at Navigation Primary, Altrincham and the Junior School at Manchester Grammar School.We may be a well kept secret but we had our most successful year ever ending 30 Apr 09 - healthcare and education predominating, and yes we do have a website. anb.co.uk

lesleyNovember 23rd 2009.

Are we going to have to join Mancon - I mean pay - to acess these articles in future?

MatNovember 23rd 2009.

Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this piece and the comments it provoked. Keep up the good work!

Jonathan SchofieldNovember 23rd 2009.

Eddy, agreed, one should not indulge in throw-away comments. As for Ansell and Bailey I wondered about that. Parkinson-Bailey puts Amsell as do others but then I'd heard of Ansell too. Will change. Thanks for that. What else have this lot designed in the area and elsewhere.

JeremyNovember 23rd 2009.

Lovely building. One of these articles every week please.

LeeNovember 23rd 2009.

Great bit of 50's architecture! However the one area that always makes me shudder when i walk past if the bloody dredful plastic double glazing! it should have metal framed windows to compliment its design not modern 80's crap, just takes the edge off it having bad design in amongst the good (love the old building that used to stand where the Peace Gardens are, wish that was still there now, its a shame the gardens cant be leveled up to footpath level and landscaped in with the bit of road in front of the Town Hall, some trees, a nice path and some grass would really make the approach to the Town Hall so much better, its too hidden and "back ally" at the moment, needs a bit of ummff!

Eddy RheadNovember 23rd 2009.

The fella is, without any shadow of a doubt, on Peter House. Let that be the end of that please? I do, however, take issue with the assertion that "In 1958 all the smart architects were indulging in orgies of concrete, metal, glass and tile." Many of the immediate post war buildings of the late 40s and 1950s still retained some of the elements of the 'Classical Modernism' so popular in the inter war period (see our own town hall extension and library) with Portland stone being the weapon of choice. One only has to look at British cities than had a large amount of post Blitz reconstruction (Liverpool, Plymouth etc) to see lots of restrained, Portland stone clad buildings from the late 1950s. It wasnt until the cost of Portland stone became prohibitive, new building techniques and materials became available and affordable, and the young turk architects who had previously been working on worthy but restrictive post war reconstruction and civic projects were let loose on the explosion of commercial developments, that glass and steel started to prevail. This did not happen, generally speaking, until the mid sixties and, i would argue, that in 1958 Portland Stone was still pretty much the order of the day and the 'orgy' of which the esteemed writer speaks of was still a few years away.Also, no one likes a smart ar5e, but can i just point out the architects were Ansell and Bailey and not Amsell and they are still going strong - with an office in Manchester. Apart from that - the boy Schofield is cock on. Carry on.

Jonathan SchofieldNovember 23rd 2009.

The gap on the right between pintman and Century House (Classical, white Portland stone in the background) tells the story. It's absolutely Peter House that our man's waving from. Now the big question is what beer is the man drinking? Lees, Holt, Hydes, Robinsons, Wilsons, Chesters, Boddingtons..........

tomegranateNovember 23rd 2009.

Not sure about that. The perspective isn't right - if he was on that equivalent corner (i.e. closest to Mosely Street) of Elizabeth House, then from that angle the Memorial would be behind the photographer and the victorian building you mention would only be a few metres behind Mr Beer, but it's much further away than that... Have a look on the birds eye view on Bing Maps. EDITORIAL COMMENT: The link you gave tomegranate is breaking the page. Sorry but had to take it off.

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

Looking at it again more closely I may owe Jonathon an apology - tomegranate's point about perspectives might be right and he could just possibly be on the Lower Mosley St corner of Peter House i.e. facing the side of the Midland Hotel.

EditorialNovember 23rd 2009.

James you're right. Most articles such as this one will be free to read. Of course you won't get the benefits and privileges of members and heroes.

ConfusedNovember 23rd 2009.

After using the power of google maps, the man with the pint is clearly on Elizabeth House - the building at the corner of his pint is still there (next door to Elizabeth house). The old victorian building with the 3 cars infront of it is the old Mechanic's institute bulding - now the Peace Garden. And next to that is the Town Hall Extension.Sadly this builder is not topping Peter House, but Elizabeth House (soon to be demolished). Nice pic tho.

tomegranateNovember 23rd 2009.

I'm sure it has been in the pipe, only winding you up. . . Mostly. When's the piece on the Midland Bank building with your ideas for it's repurposing due? Also any chance of an in-theory speculative appraisal of Manchester Trinity station?

ConfusedNovember 23rd 2009.

Am I being a little dim, but looking at the picture of the man and the position of the monument - are you sure he's not sat atop of soon to be demolished Elizabeth House? Look at it carefully...

AnonymousNovember 23rd 2009.

Having worked in Manchester Town Hall for over 30 years I agree with Confused that the man in the picture is standing on top of Elizabeth House (which is in fact not demolished although not occupied any more awaiting re-development - I also know that because our pension fund owns it!). Although it's correct that the building in the middle right is the current peace gardens site look at the building to the right of that - it's still standing today and is opposite the peace gardens. If this man was standing on the top of the front of Peter House (the only place he could be with a view of St Peter's Square) then we would see Oxford Road to his right - which we clearly don't. Sorry Jonathon but you're wrong on this one - get out there and take a look!

JamesNovember 23rd 2009.

Lesley, this is on the job ad on the main site. I think it says it all. "So we’re becoming a membership site - not a subscription site. We’re going to blow members away with extraordinary offers, great events and lots of surprises.BUT there will be free to read access on nearly all the stories for all those who care about Manchester and the region. This way we’ll build readership and gain more members."

Eddy RheadNovember 23rd 2009.

Mostly pretty commercial stuff and public sector jobs - nothing very glamourous but lots of it here and there.Just done the Lancs Cricket Club - their office is just opposite on Talbot Road. http://www.anb.co.uk/

H BoltNovember 23rd 2009.

The entrance canopy is better than the balconies. Details ahh aren't they lovely?

tomegranateNovember 23rd 2009.

Interesting read, great old photo - I've struggled to visualise that stretch of Moseley Street before, didn't realise there had been a building there before. Just a bit concidental that this, with it's rare 'very good' rating appears two stories up from an advert piece for the company that leases space in the building. Hmmm... ;)

T WilkinsNovember 23rd 2009.

Charles good to see a response here. I humbly suggest that you should have put the full name in your address for search optimisation.

martinNovember 23rd 2009.

All fine buildings. Probably. All in the eye of the beholder though. Why not run an online poll to establish Manchester's favourite piece of architecture...and whilst you are it...the worst.Would make interesting reading.

Jonathan SchofieldNovember 23rd 2009.

Tomegranate. It's been on my list. As is the Bank of England building owned by Regus too. That's coming along in a few weeks time. Next week I'll be looking at the new entrance and ancillary works at Manchester Central.

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