Unseen Manchester

St Marys RC -Hidden Gem 2We walk Manchester streets, eyeing shop windows – not noticing that just round the corner is the hidden gem of St Mary’s, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Manchester. Originally built in 1794 in a poverty stricken slum area, it’s now surrounded by grander buildings – the John Ryland Library, the Town Hall and Albert Square. Its roof and tower collapsed dramatically in 1835 – no reports of any deaths, but great alarm. You can see it was rebuilt in a medley of styles – Norman, Gothic and Byzantine.  Pugin said, somewhat unkindly, ‘It shows to what a depth of error even good men fall, when they go whoring after strange styles.’


Here’s Barton Arcade, coyly hidden off St Ann’s Barton Arcade - Fe frame 2Square.

Victorian exuberance at its best – an early use of decorative cast iron with an extensive glass curtain wall, built in 1871. It has 2 octagonal domes, one of which is visible in the photo. The interior is light and airy, with 3 tiers of balconies. It’s probably one of the best examples of cast iron and glass in Britain.

Restored in the 1980s it houses shops and offices.


Watts &Co Warehouse - largest Fe stairs 2On Portland Street is the magnificent sandstone ashlar facade of the Britannia Hotel. It has only been a hotel since the 1980s and its earlier history is remarkable. It was built in 1856 as a textile warehouse for the wholesale drapery firm of S&J Watts and is the largest textile warehouse in Manchester. James Watts started his business in a small weaver’s cottage in Didsbury and eventually became Mayor of Manchester. But why not go inside? The sweeping cantilevered staircase is beautifully made of iron and lit by magnificent candelabra.Watts &Co Warehouse - WW1 2

In the portico at the entrance stands a bronze statue of a WW1 guard wearing a Tommy helmet and in battle gear, with a fixed bayonet on his rifle. This is a memorial to all the employees of Watts & Co who died then. It was designed by the sculptor CS Jagger who also designed the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London.


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