Manchester Historical Architecture Tour, Manchester

Manchester Historical Architecture Tour (Self Guided), Manchester

Manchester’s architecture is rich in styles. Throughout centuries, the city has evolved in phases, each of which left its peculiar imprint on the city's architectural tapestry. Here, you can see medieval red-brick buildings coexisting harmoniously with concrete-and-glass structures from the modern era.

One notable landmark in Manchester is the Statue of Prince Albert, a regal monument erected in the mid-1800s to honor Queen Victoria's beloved husband.

The Manchester Town Hall, an imposing Neo-Gothic masterpiece adorned with intricate carvings and ornate features, has long been a symbol of civic pride and governance in the city.

Another Gothic edifice in the vicinity is Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church, a testament to the city's religious heritage.

Further ahead on this tour, the John Rylands Library, another Gothic gem, houses an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts, making it a haven for scholars and history enthusiasts.

The beautifully restored Victorian-style Barton Arcade, adorned with decorative ironwork and glass ceilings, is an architectural landmark in its own right.

A fine example of neoclassical architecture, Saint Ann's Church has stood as a place of worship for centuries, providing a sense of tranquility amidst the bustling city.

The Royal Exchange Theatre, housed in a historic cotton exchange building, marries the old with the new, offering a unique cultural experience.

Meanwhile, the Old Wellington Inn is a charming half-timbered Tudor building that transports you back in time with its cozy atmosphere. Similarly, Hanging Bridge, an ancient stone overpass, speaks to the city's medieval past and its importance as a crossing point over the River Irwell.

At the same time, Manchester Cathedral, an exquisite medieval temple, serves as a spiritual anchor and a testament to the city's enduring faith, while Manchester Castle, whose physical remnants have disappeared, is still palpable in the form of another medieval building that took its place.

Manchester's past is alive in its architecture, inviting you to explore and appreciate the evolution of this vibrant city. Don't miss the chance to acquaint yourself more closely with its architectural landmarks and delve deeper into their stories on this self-guided walk.
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Manchester Historical Architecture Tour Map

Guide Name: Manchester Historical Architecture Tour
Guide Location: England » Manchester (See other walking tours in Manchester)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Author: alexander
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Statue of Prince Albert
  • Manchester Town Hall
  • St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church
  • John Rylands Library
  • Barton Arcade
  • St. Ann's Church
  • Royal Exchange Theatre
  • The Old Wellington Inn
  • Hanging Bridge
  • Manchester Cathedral
  • Manchester Castle
Statue of Prince Albert

1) Statue of Prince Albert

The memorial to Prince Albert is the largest and most distinctive of the many statues and monuments that stand in Manchester's Albert Square. A green square of open space facing Manchester Town Hall, the public gardens hold statues of locally and nationally significant figures, and a fountain built to celebrate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband was a popular member of the royal family, held in particularly high regard for his anti-slavery campaigning. The Queen famously mourned the death of her husband until her death some forty years later, in 1901. The surrounding square, amongst countless other places and buildings in the UK, also bears his name.

The statue depicts the former Prince Consort in military regalia, designed by Matthew Noble, and was erected in 1867. Victoria herself approved the statue of her late husband, Prince Albert, who died of typhoid fever at just 42 years of age. The statue is surrounded by an unusual, ornate stone archway, known as a ciborium. The surround was conceived by architect Thomas Worthington, possibly inspired by the similarly ornate Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh. The carved figures on the arch represent the four arts, the four continents of the world, the four agricultural seasons and the four sciences – mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and mechanics.
Manchester Town Hall

2) Manchester Town Hall (must see)

Manchester Town Hall was built in 1877, at the height of the city’s industrial expansion, and is one of the UK’s finest examples of neo-Gothic architecture, designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse.

The history of this industrial northern city is intrinsic to the design and creation of this building. Waterhouse used hard-wearing ‘Spinkwell stone’ to create a structure that could survive the heavy air pollution found in Victorian Manchester. In addition, Waterhouse’s design was chosen due to its clear contrast to the neoclassical architecture found in Liverpool, Manchester’s local rival during the industrial age. The frontage of the Town Hall and Bell Tower form one of Manchester’s most recognisable images, and is covered with ornate sculptures depicting the history of the city.

The extension building was completed in the 1930s to cater for Manchester’s growing need for a larger council office. Together, the Town Hall and its iconic Bell Tower have been described as resembling a miniature version of London’s Palace of Westminster, and even have been used as its substitute in film and TV, including recent productions “State of Play” and “The Iron Lady.”
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church

3) St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church

Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church can be found on Mulberry Street, a quiet cul-de-sac between Deansgate and Albert Square, in the middle of Manchester’s city centre. The church has earned the more familiar local nickname of The Hidden Gem. As you approach and enter the building, the reasons for the name become apparent. Fashioned from unremarkable Victorian red brick and wedged into a typical Mancunian terrace, the church could easily be mistaken for a Victorian factory or mission building. Once through the elaborate entrance door that punctuates the uniform frontage of the building, you are greeted by the exceptional interior of the church.

With its marble altar, Victorian era carvings and life size statues of several saintly figures, the Hidden Gem is one of Manchester's most remarkable religious buildings. The church is Manchester’s oldest surviving Catholic place of worship. Consecrated in 1794, the church has been restored multiple times, most notably in 1833 when the church roof collapsed shortly after a church service. The church is still active and holds mass each weekday at 12.30pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays at midday. Saint Mary’s is a welcoming city centre church that allows access for worship and prayer from 10am until 4pm each weekday.
John Rylands Library

4) John Rylands Library (must see)

The John Rylands Library is housed within a Victorian Gothic building, located on Deansgate in Manchester City Center. Opened to the public in 1900, the building was designed by Basil Champneys, at the request of John Rylands’ widow. Rylands himself was Manchester’s foremost textile manufacturer, and became the city’s first multi-millionaire. The philanthropy of businessmen like Rylands greatly aided the development of the city at the turn of the 20th century.

Since its creation, the library has been extended and enlarged seven times, and is now operated by the University of Manchester. The most valuable special collections found in the university library have been moved to John Rylands Library, so as to allow the public greater access to them. The most notable of these artifacts is the earliest discovered manuscript of a New Testament text. The library also contains personal effects of public figures such as Elizabeth Gaskell and John Dalton.

The stunning, ornate Gothic interior of the library has made it a popular tourist attraction in its own right, and the university offers regular tours, allowing visitors to peek behind the scenes of this famous building.
Barton Arcade

5) Barton Arcade

Barton Arcade is a winding covered arcade that runs from Deansgate to Saint Ann’s Square in the heart of Manchester’s fashionable shopping district. It makes a worthwhile diversion to any walking tour of the city centre’s best architectural sights. Hidden from view by a façade in front of its main entrance, the arcade offers customers a remarkable view as they enter the arcade from Deansgate. Built in the Victorian era, the arcade curves in a U-shape, with arcing balustrades on the upper floors giving the arcade an unusual, almost otherworldly feel. The roof of the arcade is an ornate multi domed construction, composed of glass and wrought iron.

Barton Arcade is one of Northern England’s most elaborate and well preserved examples of the Victorian passion for arcades. The concept of these covered shopping streets, often winding and topped with ornate glass roofs, was imported from continental cities in the Victorian era. Barton Arcade was constructed in 1871, and extensively restored in the 1980s. It currently houses a number of offices on the upper floors, and boutique clothes stores, bars and restaurants in the ground floor retail units. Famous designers Ed Hardy and Jeffrey West both have outlets in the arcade.
St. Ann's Church

6) St. Ann's Church

Saint Ann’s Church is a Grade I listed, 18th century temple located in front of Saint Ann’s Square, at the heart of Manchester’s shopping district, where the fashionable shopping avenues of New Cathedral Street and Barton Arcade converge. The church was consecrated at this spot in 1712, when Manchester was little more than a rural parish town. Named after Saint Anne, the church’s shortened name is a reference to Lady Ann Bland who was its first patron. The building was redeveloped during the Victorian era, with its red Collyhurst sandstone exterior replaced with harder wearing stone, and stained glass windows installed.

The completion of the church marked the rise of Manchester as an urban centre. Within ten years, Saint Ann’s Square had been laid out in front of the church, based on the fashionable squares found in Bath and London. The church thus became so central to the city’s development that its bell tower is still considered the centre of the city. The benchmark which surveyors used to measure distances to Manchester’s satellite towns can still be seen at the base of the tower. A Church of England place of worship, Saint Ann’s Church welcomes visitors and still holds regular Sunday services.
Royal Exchange Theatre

7) Royal Exchange Theatre

Located on New Cathedral Street in Manchester’s bustling city centre, the Royal Exchange building houses a theatre and shopping arcade. Whilst the building has stood on this site since the late 18th century, it has only been used as a theatre since the 1970s. Built in the Georgian era and upgraded in Victorian times, the Royal Exchange building formed the heart of Manchester’s commercial district, and was the venue for the trading of textiles manufactured in the city’s famous cotton mills. By 1931, the main hall was the largest trading room in the country. The building’s heyday as a trading centre was brought to an abrupt end by the Blitz, when the trading hall was badly damaged. The building was left empty after World War 2.

Facing possible demolition, the Royal Exchange was saved and converted into a theatre and shopping centre. The Royal Exchange Theatre was opened in 1976 by Sir Laurence Olivier. The main theatre space is designed ‘in the round’, meaning that the stage and performers are completely surrounded by the audience. It is the largest theatre in the round in the UK, and hosts up to 350 productions each year. The bulk of the theatre’s schedule is built around stage classics from Shakespeare and Chekhov, although touring foreign theatre groups and musicians play there regularly. The theatre has a box office, contained within the Exchange building.
The Old Wellington Inn

8) The Old Wellington Inn

This unique half-timbered pub in Manchester city centre, steeped in history, has been around since 1552. Originally built next to the Market Square, on what is now Market Street, the building was moved 300 metres (980 feet) from its original site towards Manchester Cathedral, to form Shambles Square, as part of the redevelopment programme completed in 1999.

Nicknamed ‘The Old Welly’, this is the oldest building of its kind in Manchester and, in 1554, is was made part of the draper's shop, owned by the Byrom family. It was here that in 1692 the writer John Byrom, inventor of an early form of shorthand, was born. In 1830, the building became a licensed public house, first known as the Vintners Arms, and later the Kenyon Vaults. By 1865, the ground floor of the building was taken up by the Wellington Inn, while the upper floors were used by makers of mathematical and optical instruments. In 1897, the upper floors accommodated a fishing tackle shop, which was called very much so – "Ye Olde Fyshing Tackle Shoppe".

In the 1970s, along with the Old Shambles, the Inn was raised by 1.4 metres. In the aftermath of the 1996 Manchester bombing which left the building damaged and took nearly a year and £500,000 to repair, it was decided that it should be dismantled and rebuilt anew nearby. Today, The Old Wellington delights visitors with a rich choice of great pub food, real ales and exciting range of premium gins. If all this sounds like your kind of fun, make sure to pop in and check out this ancient monument of a pub, while in Manchester!
Hanging Bridge

9) Hanging Bridge

Manchester’s Hanging Bridge is one of the city’s oldest surviving structures. The first known reference to the bridge is in a manuscript dating back to 1343. This bridge was replaced a century later by the present structure, which can still be seen today. The bridge gained its name from its location over the Hanging Ditch, a trench which linked the Rivers Irk & Irwell, close to where Manchester Castle once stood, in the northern quarter of the city centre. Historians have speculated that material from the castle may have been used in the construction of the bridge. The River Dene is believed to have passed along the trench. This mystical river, now disappeared, lends its name to Deansgate, one of Manchester’s most popular streets.

The Hanging Ditch and its namesake bridge may have existed since Roman occupation of the city, when it was known as Mamucium. This is believed to be the origin of the term Mancunian, which is often applied to the city and its residents. The bridge fell out of use in the medieval era before being excavated in the Victorian era. A double arched bridge constructed from sandstone, the bridge has been preserved as a museum piece, and can be seen within the Visitor Centre at Manchester Cathedral, close to where the Hanging Bridge was first constructed.
Manchester Cathedral

10) Manchester Cathedral (must see)

Manchester Cathedral, located in Manchester holds the formal name Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Mary, Saint Denys, and Saint George. This historic edifice serves as the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, the seat of the Bishop of Manchester, and acts as the city's parish church. Positioned on Victoria Street in the heart of Manchester city center, the cathedral is recognized as a Grade I listed building, denoting its significance and heritage.

Originally established as a parish church, the structure underwent significant reconstruction in the Perpendicular Gothic style beginning in 1421, following the establishment of the collegiate body. By the end of the 15th century, under the direction of James Stanley II—who served as warden from 1485 until 1506 and subsequently as Bishop of Ely until 1515—the nave and collegiate choir were rebuilt. These additions featured high clerestory windows and were complemented by exquisite late-medieval wooden internal furnishings. These included the pulpitum, intricately carved choir stalls, and a nave roof adorned with angels bearing gilded instruments.

In 1847, this collegiate church was elevated to cathedral status with the creation of the new Diocese of Manchester. The cathedral underwent substantial Victorian-era renovations, where it was refaced, restored, and extended. Further repairs and restorations were necessitated after the building suffered bomb damage during World War II.

The structure of the cathedral showcases a diverse use of materials, with its original walls and internal piers constructed from dark purple-brown Collyhurst sandstone dating back to the Early Permian period. However, significant parts of this original stonework were later encased in Roman Cement in the early 19th century, a process that eventually led to extensive damage requiring most of the internal and external stonework to be replaced with buff-grey Fletcher Bank Grit from Ramsbottom during later 19th-century restorations. Additionally, since the 1960s, the nave floors have been relaid with limestone sourced from the Peak District, notable for containing crinoid fossils.

Manchester Cathedral stands today not only as a central spiritual hub but also as a testimony to the architectural and historical evolution of Manchester, being one of fifteen Grade I listed buildings in the city.
Manchester Castle

11) Manchester Castle

Manchester Castle once stood on a spot just north of Manchester Cathedral, adjacent to the River Irwell. The castle no longer stands, having been replaced in the medieval era by Chetham’s School of Music, which remains in this spot. This medieval building may carry original features of the former castle, and is available to hire as a venue for weddings and conferences. Manchester Castle has been referenced in manuscripts dating from 1184, and was described as a fairly unremarkable fortified timber manor house. Three rings of ditches have been found close to the site, suggesting a network of moats may have once surrounded the castle.

The site of Manchester Castle gives an indication of the reason for Manchester’s enduring success as a settlement, from Roman times to the present day. Military historians have identified the local geography, where several rivers cross paths at the feet of the Pennine hills, as one of the strongest areas of land in England to defend. This may well be the reason for the castle’s location, at the confluence of two rivers next to the medieval township of Manchester. England’s largest city, London, possesses similar geography, which made the site easy to defend from invasion in the medieval era.

Walking Tours in Manchester, England

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Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
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During the reign of King Edward VII, which spanned from 1901 to 1910, Manchester experienced a significant boom in architectural development. This period saw a shift towards more ornate and...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles

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