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Albert Square Boutique Hotel and Restaurant On Way

Jonathan Schofield talks to Roger Ward on his purchase of one of the best buildings in the city

Published on April 2nd 2012.

Albert Square Boutique Hotel and Restaurant On Way

THE MEMORIAL Hall was finished in 1866 and designed by Thomas Worthington. It was built to mark the moment in 1662 that Non-conformists (and thus all those later Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and so on) formerly asserted their identity and left the established Church of England.

Now those Manchester’s temples of food and drink worship, the Chop Houses, have bought the beautiful nineteenth century building. Sam’s and Thomas’s Chop Houses, collectively known as the Victorian Chop Houses, are moving in.

 The Memorial Hall is a wonderful building in a wonderful  place. Albert Square should be full of thriving businesses and independents, it should represent the best of Manchester.

In the fullness of time we’ll have Manchester’s most boutique of boutique hotels with six sharply appointed bedrooms.

That's for next year.

Before that and by Thursday 1 November there'll be a two floor restaurant and pub with between 140-180 covers. Above this there'll be a couple of first floor meeting rooms that can be converted into a single larger room for 105 diners or a drinks function of 150 people.  

Purchase and fit out costs amount to £3.5m.

The food will be, as with the other Chop Houses, a modern interpretation of traditional British food.

Ward Chatting Through One Of His Completed Projects, The Statue Of Ls Lowry In Sam's Chop HouseWard Chatting Through One Of His Earlier Projects, The Statue Of LS Lowry Now Sat At The Bar Of Sam's Chop House

Victorian Chop House boss Roger Ward explains what happened.

“I was approached to see if we might be interested in taking the lease of the Memorial Hall by the developer Bill Wrather of Wrather and Co, a real gent. He wanted us to run a version of the Chop Houses in the building and he’d put office space above. A lift was going to be imposed in the Albert Square elevation and access to the restaurant would have been from Southmill Street.

“I didn’t think this would work for us. A restaurant and pub needed Albert Square access. I started to get ideas and then I started to fall in love with the building, so I asked Bill if he would sell it us instead.

"That was in January, we’ve now completed on the sale, we’ve got planning permission in at the moment, and if all goes well ( and we've talked to lots of people including English Heritage) I want to open in time for the Christmas markets which begin on 17 November, hence the 1 November deadline.”

So where is the business sense in this?

“The location first of all, then the fact the building fitted with what we do already. We’re frequently asked at the Chop Houses if we can put on events, weddings, business meetings and so on. This will give us the room to do that.

"On a more general note it was too good a site to lie fallow. The Memorial Hall is a wonderful building in a wonderful place. Albert Square should be full of thriving businesses and independents, it should represent the best of Manchester. Of course," says Ward pausing in full flow, "I’m also confident about getting the investment back.”

Memorial HallMemorial Hall

Ward is a Midlands man sensitive to the history and traditions of Manchester. He will be ensuring the heritage of the building is underlined and emphasised where possible.

The architect Thomas Worthington will have a suite dedicated to him while photographer Paul Wolfgang Webster has been taking pictures of every remaining Worthington building for a permanent exhibition of this master Manchester architect’s work.

After lying lifeless for the best part of ten years since the closure of the faded and dismal Square Albert pub, its heartening to see new use being given to this jewel of Manchester design.

As Ward speaks you can hear the pride in his voice as he repeats the words of English Heritage’s Julian Holder.

“He said it's certainly the most important building of its type in the North of England and possibly in the whole of the UK. Isn't that something?” 

You can take a look at the Design Statement from architects HurdRolland here.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

The Genius Of The Memorial Hall

Some buildings are landmarks and only work like that - Manchester Town Hall, the Imperial War Museum North.

Others have a quieter quality.

The Memorial Hall is a model of how to enrich a streetscape without dominating it, of how to dress well, stand out, without being vulgar or threatening.

Taking all the best qualities of the Venetian Gothic, as espoused by visionary, art critic and nutter, John Ruskin, Worthington effortlessly gathered these together and slotted them into an awkward site. He makes it look as though the style had been made for a Northern sky.

It is a sweet work. Eye-catching in its details, a polychromatic (multi-coloured) layering of red brick and sandstone, harmonious, lyrical, a festival of relief lettering, balconies, pointed arches and those glorious windows with the flowing tracery on the second floor, borrowed from the Golden House aka Ca d'Oro in Venice.

It's a shame that little remains of the original interior which has been destroyed in various ill-advised renovations. 

The building aside from hosting various non-conformist committees was home to the Halle Orchestra choir for many years. The lower ground floor was a Kardomah cafe after WWII and is mentioned by Manchester's Booker prize winner Howard Jacobson, 'The Kardomah Café in which a character called Russian Dave demonstrated the art of chatting up women of any age in a voice much like Rasputin's.'

As for Thomas Worthington (1826-1909) his work lies spread across the region from Monton Green Unitarian Church to the City Police Courts (now Crown Courts) at the end of Canal Street, to the central block of Withington Hospital, to the old neglected Greengate Baths off Trinity Way in his hometown of Salford, to the Albert Memorial facing the Memorial Hall. He also designed in Liverpool, Carlisle, Oxford and elsewhere.

A Unitarian by belief and committed to social reform and improvement  he was a pioneer architect for baths, hospitals and public buildings. 

Memorial Hall 001Memorial Hall 001

Memorial Hall 010Ruskinian inspiration leading to a borrowing of Ca d'Oro windows

Ca D'oroCa D'oro

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

CKRISGApril 2nd 2012.

Fantastic bringing life back to a beaut building. Hopefully is will revive the square which has never really be that buzzing,

CKRISGApril 2nd 2012.

Should be 'it' and 'been' sorry its the demon drink

Helen ThomasApril 2nd 2012.

What a great idea. I used to have offices overlooking that building and loved it so much I commissioned an artist friend to paint it for me so wherever I was I could look at that and love it! I reminds me of Venice.

Well done that man.

Helen Thomas

AnonymousApril 2nd 2012.

Fabulous news. Superb building and great food reputation combined. Looking forward to it. Hoping that this story creates a new record for Manchester and ManCon by attracting only positive comments.

JoanApril 2nd 2012.

ManCon. Why are you anonomysing me? Above?

AnonymousApril 2nd 2012.

Wait a minute, does this mean that the other two Chop Houses are shutting and moving in here?

1 Response: Reply To This...
EditorialApril 3rd 2012.


Chris PaulApril 2nd 2012.

Really excellent news this. Great building. Great food. More progress for Manchester and our capital city culture.

Never mind second city. We are the capital of the North. And led by Manchester the North is rising to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Duke FameApril 7th 2012.

I think the likes of Newcastle may have something to say about that.

Duke FameApril 8th 2012.

I think better cities in the north may have something to say about that. Manchester may win on size but cuture / history / beauty? I don't think so

Kevin PeelApril 2nd 2012.

What Chris said! Can't wait.

AnonymousApril 3rd 2012.

Excellent news. Love the building and very happy that the chop houses will look after it. With Piccolinos also expanding onto Albert Square it should really liven up the area.

AnonymousApril 3rd 2012.

With this opening and Mr Pilling's on Deansgate, we're going to be overun with Victoriana

Hayley FlynnApril 3rd 2012.

I do hope they leave the Kardomah signage as it is!

Phil GriffinApril 3rd 2012.

Phil Griffin

What a pity Mr Thomas's isn't half the pub it was. It used to have the best table service in town, overseen by one of the great bar managers. And great Timothy Taylor's. And now it is over priced, poorly staffed and really rather unpleasant. It used to feel so buzzy....good exhibitions though.

glenApril 4th 2012.

Just to correct the 'Wiki' stuff in the original article: Although the building is dedicated to the Great Ejection of 1662, which was basically the repeal of Oliver Cromwell's (Presbyterian) Covenant and its replacement by the Act of Uniformity by Charles II, it was really built by the Unitarians under the leadership of John Relly Beard of the Cross Street Chapel, which still exists to this day. Also, just to correct the other bits of misinformation in the article; although it is true that the building has been empty for some years, the previous owner, Bill Wrather, spent several hundred thousand pounds on stabilising its structure and carefully repairing its stonework. Those of you who live in Manchester might remember that the building was shrouded in scaffolding for a year while this was done. Sadly, because of the credit crunch Mr Wrather was unable to follow through his plans for the building. So the new owner has a got a bit of a bargain.
I am very glad that something is at last being done which might secure the future of this important grade II star listed building; my only regret being that, according to the planning application drawings, the proposals will involve the destruction of the Memorial Hall itself, which just about still exists on the second floor of the building. Apparently the remains of the grand, double height, hall are to be floored over and divided into hotel bedrooms. All with the blessing of English Heritage. Which gives you a good idea of how important EH reckons listed buildings are in our part of the world.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorApril 4th 2012.

Glenn, I'm offended, professionally hurt.

I never look anything up I write about Manchester's buildings on Wikipedia. I do research, look references up in the sources and in my own collection of material and books. But in writing articles you don't always have time or space to note every fact down as I'm sure you know.

Further I don't know whether you are aware, but there was permission to ruin the roofline and add an extra storey but thankfully this is not going ahead.

Incidentally I'll be writing an article about non-Conformist influence on the Manchester built environment for publication in a couple of weeks.

And if you want I'm doing a Tour of Uninteresting Objects this Saturday at 3.30pm. Meet outside Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, City centre, M2 3JL. £7 and we'll be stopping outside the Memorial Hall. Please come along. http://www.jonathanschofieldtours.com/

glenApril 4th 2012.

PS. Re Hayley's comment: The Kardomah sign was actually uncovered after the careful removal of several layers of render and paint only a year or so ago.

Barry CodApril 4th 2012.

Lovely building and I'm pleased that this is going forward. Given the public meeting nature of the Memorial Hall a hotel is a good idea

Trevor JApril 4th 2012.

A superb piece of charm by Worthington. If the Chop Houses do it right then this will be a great addition to the Square.

the Whalley RangerApril 4th 2012.

So the jazz club concept never stacked up then?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 4th 2012.

It didn't work out here and opened elsewhere - BlaBla Jazz club, Parsonage Gardens.

GlennApril 4th 2012.

Ok, apologies to Jonathan - the wiki reference was a bit harsh, it's just that having spent a long time researching and attempting to understand the very complicated history of the building I tend to get a bit tetchy when, on every occasion that anything is published about it, the same stuff from Tony Pass's book on Thomas Worthington is always repeated (e.g that he was influenced by the Ca D'oro)
As for the rooftop extension, you might not have liked the proposals, but the quid pro quo of that scheme was that at least the top floor double height volume (where the original 'hall' was) would have been retained.

The main reason for my comment was to attempt to give some credit to the previous owner, who spent an enormous amount of money in restoring the external fabric of the building and in stripping away decades of modernisation. You may not realise it but the top floor of the building was last used as a health club (complete with squash courts) and most of the windows facing Albert Square were bricked up from behind. You may also not be aware that there were serious structural problems involving the stability of the walls (caused by the replacement of the original roof, which was badly damaged in the Manchester Blitz, by a lightweight aluminium structure in the late 1940s) and that as a result the parapet walls were rebuilt about three years ago.

Anyway, although I am sad that I won't have any further involvement in the future of the building (all those wasted survey drawings!) I wish the new owners well, and it bodes well for the local economy that someone is willing to commit the considerable resources that will be required to ensure the future of this important building.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorApril 4th 2012.

Fine Glenn. I agree the Ca d'Oro point might be straining things but hey it's a good intro into Venetian Gothic design and defines the style pretty well - a visual reference point and all that.

I first got the analogy from Beesley and Figuierido's excellent Victorian Manchester & Salford 1988 book. Bought it the year it came out.

GlennApril 4th 2012.

Yes, that's true. I was also fascinated by the way in which Worthington inserted the symmetrical hall into an irregular building footprint. It reminded me of some of those Baroque churches in Rome and I can't help thinking that Worthington might have influenced by those too.

Ghostly TomApril 7th 2012.

I love this little building and it's good to see it being brought back to life. It's Manchester's little bit of Venice. And that it is being brought back to life by one of the best restaurant/bar/pub chains in the city is just the icing on the cake!

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