The third instalment as part of an ongoing series for Haunt Manchester by Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA, exploring Greater Manchester’s Gothic architecture and hidden heritage. Peter’s previous Haunt Manchester articles include features on Ordsall Hall and the Mancunian Gothic Sunday School of St Matthew’s. From the city’s striking Gothic features to the more unusual aspects of buildings usually taken for granted and history hidden in plain sight, a variety of locations will be explored and visited over the course of 2020. In this article he explores the history behind Thomas Worthington’s Memorial Hall in Manchester city centre – where The Albert Square Chop House is now located.

Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA is a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of English and History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published widely on Georgian Gothic architecture and design broadly conceived, as well as heraldry and the relevance of heraldic arts to post-medieval English intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic culture. Last year, as part of Gothic Manchester Festival 2019, he co-organised an event at Chetham’s Library Baronial Hall with Professor Dale Townshend titled ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’. This involved discussing the mysterious George Shaw (1810-76), a local Upper Mill lad who developed an early interest in medieval architecture and heraldry, going on to create forgeries of Tudor and Elizabethan furniture for a number of high-profile individuals and places at the time, including Chetham’s!

Currently Peter is completing his Leverhulme-funded research project exploring forged antiquarian materials in Georgian Britain, and also working on the recently re-discovered Henry VII and Elizabeth of York marriage bed, which itself was the inspiration behind many of Shaw’s so-called ‘Gothic forgeries’.

The history behind Thomas Worthington's Memorial Hall 

Fig 1

Above - Fig.1: The Memorial Hall Façade facing Albert Square. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Thomas Worthington (1826–1909) was born in Salford to a Unitarian cotton merchant, left school to be articled to the Manchester-based architect Henry Bowman (1814–83), and today is known for a number of high Victorian Gothic buildings in and around Manchester, as well as in Liverpool and Oxford. A number of subsequent blog posts will cover a selection of Worthington’s most important and interesting architectural projects in and around Manchester, assess the scope and nature of Victorian Gothic design, and demonstrate the legacy of his style.

The first building to be considered in this run of posts on Worthington is The Memorial Hall, Nos 1 and 3 Southmill Street, which borders the south-west corner of Albert Square at the heart of Manchester (Fig.1). The Hall’s importance was recognized by English Heritage in February 1972 when it was listed Grade II* (1254637)[1]—the grade awarded to particularly important buildings that are of very special interest. It was erected to commemorate the 2,000 nonconformist clergy who seceded from the Church of England in 1662 as a result of the Act of Uniformity.

Fig 2Fig.2: View of the Quadrangle and Chapel, Keble College, Oxford. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Whilst a modest Gothic addition to the square, which is dominated by the Town Hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse between 1863 and 1877, Worthington’s Memorial Hall nevertheless demonstrates a number of stand-out features that define and differentiate his particular variety of Gothic.

Firstly, one of the major themes of Worthington’s architecture is the use of different materials on the exterior façades. In this instance red brick contrasts with yellow sandstone. These materials are used in a specific way to create alternating bands of colour—polychrome—including horizontal bands throughout each of the floors, and also in the arch heads of the windows. Demonstrating the potential of such polychrome schemes is Keble College, Oxford, designed by William Butterfield and erected from 1868, including its monumental Chapel (Fig.2). Like Butterfield’s geometric use of polychrome detail, Worthington’s Memorial Hall is ultimately based upon the recommendation of John Ruskin (1819–1900), one of the great Victorian writers on art and design. Ruskin had published his Seven Lamps of Architecture in 1849, and in it he celebrated the artistic freedom that Gothic architecture offered, and he recommended architects follow the style of Gothic that he discovered and explored in Venice—Venetian Gothic. Another of his recommendations was the use of polychromed façades. Writing in Seven Lamps he advised that:

'All arrangements of colour, for its own sake, in graceful forms, are barbarous;  and that, to paint a colour pattern with the lovely lines of a Greek leaf moulding, is an utterly savage procedure. I cannot find anything in natural colour like this: it is not in the bond. I find it in all natural form—never in natural colour. If, then, our architectural colour is to be beautiful as its form was, by being imitative, we are limited to these conditions—to simple masses of it, to zones, as in the rainbow and the zebra; cloudings and flamings, as in marble shells and plumage, or spots of various shapes and dimensions. […] The zone may become a delicate line, and arrange itself in chequers and zig-zags. […] The most exquisite harmonies may be composed of these simple elements: some soft and full, of flushed and melting spaces of colour; others piquant and sparking, or deep and rich, formed of close groups of the fiery fragments.'[2]

This accords with the use of colour on the façades of both Worthington’s Memorial Hall, and Butterfield’s Keble College.

Fig 3Above - Fig.3 Doge’s Palace, view from the Grand Canal. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Also following Ruskin’s recommendation, Memorial Hall’s top floor adopts a particular form of Gothic tracery and window design that is quite distinct from English medieval examples. It is, instead, entirely consistent with Venetian Gothic as exhibited by some of the most famous Venetian buildings, including the Doge’s Palace (Fig.3), Ca’ d’Oro (Palazzo Santa Sofia), and Ca’ Foscari (Fig.4), all of which are on the Grand Canal.

Below - Fig.4: Interior view towards the Grand Canal of the Venetian Gothic Windows, Ca’ Foscari. Cafoscaritour (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Fig 4

Below - Fig5: detailed elevation of the Memorial Hall, showing the different types of window forms. © Peter N. Lindfield. 

Fig 5

Plate VIII from Seven Lamps (Fig.6) illustrated this peculiar type of repeating window form with cusped ogee arch lancets crowned by encircled quatrefoils. Worthington applied this Venetian Gothic form repeatedly along the top register of the Memorial Hall, consequently making it an example of High Ruskinian Gothic in central Manchester. Whilst following the form of Gothic approved of by Ruskin, the building is also undoubtedly influenced by what Worthington saw on his second Italian tour, from which returned to Britain in 1858.

The following posts explore other buildings by Worthington, demonstrate other leitmotifs of his style, and also how the definition of Gothic could stray in the Victorian period away from what we consider to be the defining feature of the medieval style—the pointed arch.

Below - Fig.6: Plate VIII from Ruskin’s Seven Lamps (1849). Image in Public Domain.

Fig 5Images - credited in the captions 

[2] John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (London, 1849), p. 129.