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When Demolition Makes Sense: MCR's Palatine Building

Chetham's Library explores an old and faded landmark

Published on September 20th 2014.


When Demolition Makes Sense: MCR's Palatine Building
 

This article was originally published on Chetham's Library website (19/09/2014). It explains the need to demolish a large nineteenth century building in the heart of the city so the medieval buildings can be revealed. Confidential whole-heartedly agrees this is desirable for all the reasons explained below. The yellow info box below the article was written by Confidential. 

THE Palatine building which stands on the west side of the Chetham’s site was not originally built as one single structure, but was constructed in three distinct parts between 1837-45 by the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company.

These consist of the south building nearest the Cathedral, which operated as livery stables and offices, the middle building, which was offices and shops, and the most significant section, that to the north of the site next to Hunt’s Bank, which was built as a railway hotel. This was designed by J.P. and I. Holden, architects, and constructed in 1842-43 as a railway hotel for the newly opened Victoria Railway Station - one of the earlier hotels of its kind, although not the first. 

Chetham's Aerial From The Thirties

 

Chetham's from the air in the first half of the twentieth century showing how the view of the medieval buildings is totally blocked by the tripartite Palatine

Tight squeezeTight squeezeThe Palatine buildings, then, were not constructed as part of the School and Library and were not part of the site either of Chetham’s or of its predecessor, the College of Manchester. The buildings have not been granted listed status, unlike the medieval buildings to which the Palatine buildings are attached, which are Grade I-listed. Nowadays it would be inconceivable for a building to be placed right up to a Grade I-listed building, but the Palatine building not only runs right up to the medieval building but is physically joined to it at one point, with the sandstone wall embedded within it. 

Too close for comfort

Too close for comfort

Putting a hotel next to a school created problems, and Chetham’s was forced to build enormous wooden hoardings to prevent hotel patrons from overlooking the school. By 1911 the Palatine Hotel had closed for business, and the buildings were converted for retail use. Since then, the buildings have undergone many changes to accommodate a variety of different uses and have been stripped externally and internally of their original architectural features. All the original glazing and all the chimney stacks have been removed. 

Blocking the view from hotel to school

Blocking the view from hotel to school

The Palatine buildings were acquired by the Trustees of Chetham’s Charity in 1969 and were intended to provide accommodation and school rooms for the newly founded Chetham’s School of Music. They were converted by the architects Thomas Worthington and Son as a temporary refurbishment intended to last no more than ten years.

The buildings were completely unsuitable for their new purpose: they had no sound-proofing and they provided very poor residential space. They were also extraordinarily expensive to maintain. The basements regularly flooded and the roof leaked.

But Chetham’s made use of them not for the ten years they imagined but for over forty years until they were eventually vacated in favour of the new school building, opposite Victoria Station, which opened in 2013. In 2009 Chetham’s trustees put the Palatine buildings up for sale to see if a developer or builder would take them on, but the proposed sale attracted no interest. They are now completely empty and are unsustainable, and are scheduled for demolition in the next twelve months. 

The new school building on the right, the older buildings on the left with a corner of Palatine's bare wall peeping out

The new school building on the right, the older buildings on the left with a corner of Palatine's bare wall peeping out

We recognise that taking down the Palatine buildings is only justified if the results are a significant improvement on what was there before, and in this instance there is no question that the demolition has two huge positive outcomes.

Firstly it opens up what is arguably the most important archaeological site in the city: beneath the Palatine buildings lie the House of Correction, the great tithe barn, the inner ditch and the castle, and some of the lost buildings of the medieval town. Our aim is to ensure that by removing the Palatine buildings we are able to open up the archeology that remains beneath them to the community. We have been in discussions with archaeologists for some time to make sure that these sites are sensitively and appropriately investigated.

Fox Courtyard

Fox Courtyard - one of the most charming spaces in the North of England

Secondly, their removal opens up the medieval College House to Manchester and Salford, a view that has been hidden since the 1840s. We have no wish to open up the site to improve our own view, which will be of a car park, and, if proposed developments take place, two large tower blocks, but we do think that opening up one of Manchester’s very few remaining medieval buildings to public view is important.

By taking down Palatine we are able to open up the medieval College House and the Library as a proper visitor attraction, and we are working in consultation with the City, the Cathedral and architects to put this site to the best possible use. 

The view of Chetham's before the Palatine got in the way by John Palmer in 1815

The view of Chetham's before the Palatine got in the way by John Palmer in 1815

We are currently in the process of making an application for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to update and improve the medieval buildings as well as to restore and adapt the Grade II-listed nineteenth-century Alfred Waterhouse building which is currently hidden from public view by Palatine.

It is our intention to create new public space as well as improving accessibility to the medieval buildings, and we welcome constructive suggestions for future developments. We are also working with artists-in-residence as well as photography students from Bolton University on a project to properly record the building and document the regeneration of the site.

Inside Chetham's Library

 

Inside Chetham's Library

We recognise that the heritage of the site on which Chetham’s stands is of great significance and is valued by many, and it is our full intention to take each decision about its future intelligently and sensitively. Naturally, the loss of an early nineteenth-century railway hotel is regretted by all who have worked in and around it as well as by members of the wider community and those who care about its architectural importance, and we understand that any decisions made regarding its future will have detractors as well as supporters. 

Palatine Building and its blank, mucked about with, facade

Palatine Building and its blank, mucked about with, facade

We are, however, confident not only that all possibilities for the realistic survival of Palatine have been exhausted, but that the decision to demolish it will make way for developments and improvements which will have a very positive effect on this part of the city and all who love and appreciate it.

Chetham’s Library 
Chetham's Library is free to visit and is open Mon-Fri, 9am-4.30pm.
Chetham’s Library - and the School of Music linked to it - form the oldest complete structure in the city, dating from the 1420s, when both were erected as a single building to house clergy. After the Reformation, the premises gained a new lease of life when they were purchased through the will of local merchant Humphrey Chetham in 1653. He wished to set up a charity school for 40 poor boys and a free public library for the ‘use of scholars and others well-affected’. Only the library has daily public access. The buildings not only look ancient but feel ancient. You will have to press the bell on the library door to call an attendant. Most of the library fixtures and fittings are original and date from the mid-1600s. The books are shielded behind 18th century gates and were formerly chained to the shelves. Down the side corridor is the main Reading Room with its wonderful carvings. The collection is beautiful and the role call of visitors amazing; Daniel Defoe, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Disreali, Winston Churchill. Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx studied together at the bay window in the reading room. This is Manchester’s most charming building.
Long Millgate, M3 1SB. 0161 834 7961. Website 

Jonathan Schofield

Chetham's - more people should be able to see into the siteChetham's - more people should be able to see into the site

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

AnonymousSeptember 20th 2014.

The universities and educational establishments of Manchester are only motivated by money,so there must be a financial calculation involved here,in wanting to take this building down.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGSeptember 22nd 2014.

And your statement is based on what facts?

Dave CroftJanuary 11th 2015.

Universities and Educational establishments in Britain are all motivated by money, as are all things Public. If they weren't they would become derelict. Mr Osborne has decreed it.

AnonymousSeptember 20th 2014.

Who wrote this article in the first place,it only says where it was originally published?.We keep being told how important this medieval site is,but is there any evidence of widespread public interest to see more of it?.Personally I prefer the Palatine building,and rather Chethams was demolished.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Barry MaginnSeptember 20th 2014.

Are you serious? Have you got eyes?

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 20th 2014.

Anon, that is one of the more stranger rants on this site. Look at the pictures above. You must be mad. And define public interest for me again?

Barry MaginnSeptember 21st 2014.

I'm personally really looking forward to Chethams opens up. I knew it was impressive but these pictures are amazing. The space has massive historical and architectural merit. Plus it will be a really popular tourist spot. Surely that defines public interest??? In fact i think pretty every much well kept medieval building in the UK is in the 'public interest'. Particularly a newly open one in the centre of one of the country's most important cities.

Chris HawkeSeptember 21st 2014.

I to would also really like it to open up. I've heard its great but have never been able to get in. Previously the guard would not let me in without proper business, fair enough I suppose, but neither have I been available during the library hours discussed above. At least I've seen a few photos now.

AnonymousSeptember 20th 2014.

I couldn't believe that new building when I first saw it coming out of Victoria, I thought it was a 60s car park ready for demolition, shocking they were allowed to build this in the city centre.

Trevor GrennSeptember 20th 2014.

Barry's correct. Look at the pictures, read the words. The Palatine is dead, the future is the revelation of the past through the new plans.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 20th 2014.

The new school is superb and one of the most exciting additions to Manchester architecture in decades.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 20th 2014.

Agree it is an interesting and satisfying building but it's so tucked away it's rarely seen. Unless you use Chethams or Victoria Station you would never come across the building.

AnonymousSeptember 21st 2014.

Maybe you should visit Stockport, several brown faceless buidlings there too

JoanSeptember 21st 2014.

Apart from the Beetham Tower and one or two others, most buildings are unseen unless you're passing. I imagine it's fairly handy for the Chetham's students though, and it's superb inside, great for concerts.

AnonymousSeptember 21st 2014.

Not if you work proactively with landowners and developers to integrate open space such as Bridgewater Hall. Chetham's is a major part of the city's cultural life. It's a shame to see such an important building tucked away and also a shame that it obscures the facade of Victoria station.

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

It a shame that Walker’s Croft wasn’t retained as raised urban park/square in front of the Grade II Listed Victoria Station facade; opening up a viewing area to the Medieval Chetham’s and potentially a reopened River Irk to reinstate the historic setting. That could have enabled the retention of the Palatine Building as another architectural layer of the city history. Typical economic pragmatism, disconnected ownership issues in the city and the preference for destroying green space over numerous brownfield alternatives nearby means that, for all its modernist architectural merits, the new school is woefully sited within the oldest quarter of the city, adjacent to two truly magnificent heritage buildings. Ps. Here is a link to the proposal for the area minus the Palatine Buildings: bit.ly/1uesJC8…

AnonymousSeptember 21st 2014.

"[The Palatine] was designed by J.P. and I. Holden, architects, and constructed in 1842-43 as a railway hotel for the newly opened Victoria Railway Station - one of the earlier hotels of its kind, although not the first. " - If not the Palatine, which one was the first and when did it date from? Anyone know?

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 21st 2014.

The Commercial Hotel (really a pub with rooms) opened at the same time as the first passenger (and hugely successful) railway on Liverpool Road in 1830. It was built with a certain type of traveller in mind as the name suggests to service the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Since it had rooms that must be the oldest surviving 'hotel' but it is hardly grand.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 21st 2014.

Thanks JS. We really do not shout about these things half as much as we should. But I do now recall an article on here about that pub.

AnonymousSeptember 21st 2014.

It's a pity the Palatine Building can't be relocated elsewhere in the city. Maybe crammed into Spinningfields to show people what a real building looks like.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Angela HiltonSeptember 22nd 2014.

I was thinking the same. While it's not a patch on the old Chets buildings it is still a building of note and it would be best if we could move it somewhere. I'm guessing the cost would far out weight the advantage though.

Ghostly TomSeptember 22nd 2014.

It would look dreadful in Soinningfields. And it's not a particularly attractive building anyway where it is. Wil be good to see medieval Manchester revealed. Many don't know it actually exists.

Poster BoySeptember 22nd 2014.

How odd. An article without ownership soliciting support for a general proposal on a listings and review website.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

Yawn.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 22nd 2014.

Poster Boy when have we only been a listings and review site? Have you not been looking at all the articles about constitutional change on here in the last week or two.

Poster BoySeptember 22nd 2014.

It was a generic description. The point remains.

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

I suppose we should be grateful they are actually talking about the demolition before it takes place. Unlike the illegal removal of Piccadilly Gardens (Mike Harding is still chasing that one by the way).

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomSeptember 22nd 2014.

The plans show a landscaped area designed to open the medieval buildings to the public fir the first time in centuries. This Victorian Philistines had no time for older buildings. Let's not forget that they destroyed a beautiful Georgian market town to create their Victorian industrial city. We are just putting a bit of it back the way it was. It's not as if we're tearing down the Town Hall is it?

Ghostly TomSeptember 22nd 2014.

Sorry about the spellings, damn predictive text!

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

Who is Mike Harding? And what was illegal about refurbishing Piccadilly Gardens?

Ghostly TomSeptember 22nd 2014.

It wasn't illegal to refurbish the gardens but what they did to them should be made a criminal offence.

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

Incidentally I tried to post by signing in there but the site wouldn't let me. Regards, Brian

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

If it's demolished is the land never going to built on?,can we be sure of that?,or will Chetham erect some tall building on one side and still claim to be opening up the site.

Matt BradySeptember 22nd 2014.

No images of how it will appear when the Palatine is demolished? Raises my suspicions. The 1815 image makes Chethams look a bit like a prison - is the new view just going to be a high wall with a roof above? All the other shots are good but they will be the same with or without the Palatine.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomSeptember 22nd 2014.

There you go, a couple of pictures of what they intend to do on here.....www.toms-travels.net/…

Geoffrey EntwistleSeptember 22nd 2014.

I'm not in favour of the demolition of the Palatine Buildings: they are just as much 'historic' in their own way as Chethams. I understand that in the opening up scheme there will be a new entrance from the south side of the site, thereby breaking the 'historic' link with the library's many visitors over the centuries who have approached it from the gatehouse.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

The Palatine was a historic building,but not for the rich,so seems easy to dismiss.While Chethams is a posh school with wealthy benefactors and seems to be able to get its own way as a result.

GimboidSeptember 22nd 2014.

"Not for the rich"? What are you on about Anon? Do you think railway hotels were built for poor people in the 1840s?

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2014.

It was a hotel,but hardly one for the rich of the time.If it was a grander posh,hotel more effort would be made to save it being knocked down.

GimboidSeptember 22nd 2014.

There were ONLY hotels for the rich back then. Any hotel was posh, by definition.

Peter CastreeSeptember 23rd 2014.

This will be an improvement which will enhance the whole 'medieval quarter'. The excavations following demolition should reveal a great deal of interesting information about the medieval period. Just don't tell the city council about the new public space to be created - they will want to fill it with a Ferris wheel or some other inappropriate junk!

Philip PainterMarch 2nd 2015.

I appreciate the reasons for wanting to demolish the Palatine Building but I happen to like it.. I really do! The way it lines the street does it for me, and I don`t want that street line broken up.. If renovated properly it would look pretty good. In my humble opinion.. I think it should stay, but I suppose its fate has already been decided. Shame, it has history!

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