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The Good, the Standard and the Ugly: Platt Hall

Jonathan Schofield loves the sweet Georgian lines of the re-opened Costume Gallery

Written by . Published on March 12th 2010.

The Good, the Standard and the Ugly: Platt Hall

Category: Very good

What and when?
Platt Hall, Platt Fields Park, Rusholme, finished 1764. Now the delightful Gallery of Costume – for Lynda Moyo's review of the Hall as a Gallery, following its recent £1.3 makeover, click here.

Mannequins gang up on Confidential

Timothy Lightoler was the architect for John and Deborah Carill Worsley. The area around here was originally the Platt Family estate hence the name of the house and the park. One of the Worsleys was Manchester's first MP.

Which Worsley?
Charles Worsley. He supported Parliament in the English Civil War and was a favourite of Oliver Cromwell's. Manchester was very Parliamentarian too and so we got out first MP as a sort of reward. You can see a statue of him on the Town Hall, dressed in armour at the corner of Albert Square and Princess Street. As soon as Charles II came back in 1660 (Worsley had already died by then), Manchester paid for its former loyalty by being denied representation in the House of Commons until 1832.

Fancy fashion 1600's style on display: similar time to when Charles Worsley became Manchester MP

Tell me about the house?
It's a model of Palladian symmetry, a geometric game of balance and precision. Andrea Palladio (1508-80) was the first great career architect, and believed that proportion and harmony in design, following from the Romans and the Greeks, was not only pleasing aesthetically but good for the soul. For a while in the seventeen and eighteen centuries Britain obsessed about Palladio. At Platt, we've got a rhythm of walls and pavilions centred on the main house block. Lightoler wasn't the orginal architect though.

Who was then?
That was John Carr of York, one of the most famous architects of the day; you might be familiar with Harewood House and Buxton Cresent. His design is considered to be sweeter in proportion but harsher in detail. Lightoler was called into rearrange an unsatisfactory internal plan but also add a bit of interest on the exterior. Apart from varying the roofline with chimneystacks he made the portico at the entrance fancier and put a pedimented surround on the dining room window directly above it. It remains a balanced design almost 250 years later, but still suffers from being too severe, despite Lightoler's work. Shame the Worsley's opted for brick, maybe they couldn't afford stone. Inside enough remains to utterly charm the visitor though.

Curlicue detailGrape delightSweet capitalsWindow joyBanister detail

Now you're getting me excited
Just a bit. In fact parts are gorgeous. Give somebody enough dosh and it would make a great family home too. It's very liveable. You enter between Ionic columns (the ones with scrolls), then you get an entrance hall and then the staircase lit by the big arched window and two rectangular buddies. Main rooms of the Gallery of Costume lie on each side on the ground floor, but architecturally the interest lies higher up. But people, bask in the stairs, would you?

Now you're getting a bit too excited. What can you mean?
The staircase starts in one flight, then splits and curves back in two, to the first floor and what would have been the principal rooms. This is a staircase to glide up or down. It's a white swan of a staircase. It's a staircase to fall in love upon, to look up at your darling on the floor above and yearn. Nice balustrades too, with a lyre design. Then there's the lovely colours of pale blue, taupe and cream and the plaster vine motifs and the swags (garlands) in panels. The plaster style is that delicate, flamboyant variety called Rococo. Given the nature of the gallery in Platt Hall, maybe that should be Rococo Chanel. Anyway it all makes you feel very serene. And we've still got the piece de resistance to come: the dining room.

Rococo in the staircase ceiling

What's so special about it?
It's another effortlessly elegant space. This time the Rococo plasterwork picked out in gold takes the eye on a merry dance about the room. It dances round the picture on the wall too, a picture purposely designed to fit in this space. This is A Summer Evening or River View (On the Arno), take your pick, by Richard Wilson. Wilson was perhaps the first major British painter to concentrate on landscape. Often with fashionable Italian scenes as this one, which also refers back to Andrea Palladio and the design of the house. There are other Wilson's in the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery . This scene shows boys fishing in the cool of a golden twilight with, of course, a ruin on a clifftop behind them. Youth and age together, potential and the end of potential. Great themes for a dinner time conversation in the Age of Enlightenment. There's only one shame. Two really.

Richard Wilson's 1764 painting in the dining room

Name them?Well what with the changes of ownership, the removals, the conversion to a gallery and so on, these little wonders are tantalising glimpses of what the complete ensemble of Georgian Platt Hall must have been like. At least the recent renovation has been a clever and subtle one, highlighting the best of the old house and creating bright and tasteful displays for the 20,000 odd exhibits at the Gallery of Costume's disposal. The other shame is that tarmac out front. It might be low maintenance, but it's very municipal and functional, and a bit cheap looking. Maybe the City at some point could find a bit of dosh to get the original and much more appropriate gravel back.

And a last word?
Four last words. The Armour of Prudery.Best ever chapter title

Excuse me?
When Platt Hall was converted into the Gallery of Costume, after the City had purchased the costume collection of one Doctor Cunnington, a book was published. This showed off the collection and described it, illustrating the costumes by photos of Mancunian ladies wearing various items. One chapter deals with the 1880s and is called The Armour of Prudery. If I ever write a novel that will be its title. The writing in this book is a joy: 'One sees in the clothes mixtures of colours which at one moment look high spirited, at another like a nervous breakdown.'

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