Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

Steel workers’ resting place 3

City Road Cemetery, Sheffield: Catholic Chapel of St Michael (2014)

When the very last Sheffield tram came off the streets in October 1960 an assiduous member of its load of enthusiasts made sure that, as the gates of Tinsley Tram Sheds closed behind it, its destination indicator showed ‘CEMETERY GATES’.

The cemetery gates at which Intake trams sometimes turned back was City Road, established by the newly-formed Sheffield Burial Board on a site east of the town-centre purchased from the 15th Duke of Norfolk in 1881. 

The original buildings – Church of England and Nonconformist chapels, a gateway and lodge on Manor Lane and a gatehouse and offices on City Road, all in late Perpendicular style – were designed by the Sheffield architects Matthew Ellison Hadfield & Son.

The initial apportionment of land was between the Church of England (slightly over 20 acres), the Nonconformists (13 acres) and the Roman Catholics (7 acres), leaving 9 acres to allocated as required in future.

There was no Roman Catholic chapel at the cemetery until 1898, when the Duke of Norfolk commissioned a design with a hexagonal sanctuary and a central lantern above the altar, 60 feet long, by Matthew Ellison Hadfield’s son Charles.  Dedicated to St Michael, the foundation stone was laid on July 22nd 1899, and it was consecrated on October 11th 1900.

A subsequent resolution by the Burial Board allowed the space in front of the chapel to be used for burials of Catholic clergy, and it became known as the Priest Vaults.

In 1901 Sheffield Corporation, having taken over the functions of the Burial Board the previous year, gained legal powers to construct one of the first municipal crematoria in Britain, and commissioned Charles Hadfield and his son Charles Matthew Ellison Hadfield to design an octagonal structure alongside the Nonconformist chapel, based on the Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury so that the steel exhaust from the cremator could pass through the Gothic lantern which provided light and ventilation to the space below. 

Charles M E Hadfield’s bronze catafalque was constructed by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts and installed in the chapel, and a columbarium was installed in the south side of the City Road entrance range.

The crematorium opened on April 5th 1905.  The first cremation was of Eliza Hawley of Upperthorpe, on April 24th 1905, in the presence of her family, the architect and the Town Clerk.  A further six cremations took place in the following six months to November 1905.

The Church of England chapel was demolished in 1982, having been made redundant by the construction of a modern chapel to the north of the crematorium.  All the other original buildings on the site remain, though the Catholic Chapel has been derelict for years.

City Road Cemetery is included in the itinerary of the Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (September 17th-21st 2020) tour. For further details of the tour please click here.

Everton landmarks

Everton Library, Liverpool: entrance (2019)

One of the destinations on the Unexpected Liverpool (June 1st-5th 2020) tour is the iron church of St George, Everton, which I first visited so long ago – in 1978 – that I could photograph on the opposite side of the road the Catholic Church of Our Lady Immaculate, the only vestige of Edward Welby Pugin’s Catholic Cathedral to be built in 1853-6.

Our Lady Immaculate was knocked down in the early 1990s but there are still other significant buildings to see in the vicinity of St George’s.

Almost directly across the road on a triangular site is Everton Library (1895-6), a bold, varied but taut freestyle design – a blend of Jacobean and Arts & Crafts – by the versatile Corporation Surveyor Thomas Shelmerdine (1845-1921) who, between 1871 and 1912 built several other branch libraries and the grand Hornby Library in the city centre, the ponderous gates to Sefton Park, the fire station and tramway offices at Hatton Garden, another fire station at Kirkdale, several schools and a couple of colleges and a tactful extension to the Town Hall.  He laid out St John’s Gardens once it was decided that the Anglican Cathedral wouldn’t be built there.

Everton Library closed in 1996 and is now in a parlous state because of vandalism and neglect alike:  [https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/stop-rot-plans-evertons-jewel-10961779 and https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/signature-living-plans-transform-decaying-15342770].   Repeated efforts to convert it into a community hub and enterprise centre have foundered, and it figures in the Victorian Society’s 2019 list of endangered buildings:  https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/everton-library-liverpool.   

A few yards from the Library stands the lively, turreted half-timbered The Mere Bank public house (1881), bristling with terracotta panels and plasterwork, and until recently still trading, though they haven’t updated their Facebook page since Hallowe’en:  https://www.facebook.com/MerebankPub.

In the distance, and visible for miles across the Mersey, is Everton Waterworks (Thomas Duncan, 1853-7) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTRfHTX0bJE], which consists of an underground reservoir and a Piranesian high-level water-tank, 90 feet above ground-level, holding 2,700 gallons, dwarfing the two Italianate pumphouses, built to provide a head of water in the time before 1891 when Liverpool took its water from Lake Vrynwy in mid-Wales.  Everton Waterworks has been long disused, yet a mystery buyer purchased it for £71,000 in March 2019:  https://lbndaily.co.uk/mystery-buyer-pays-70000-evertons-victorian-water-tower.  It remains to be seen what they plan to do with it.

The Unexpected Liverpool (June 1st-5th 2020) tour not only includes a visit to St George’s Church, Everton, but also to the sister iron church of St Michael-in-the-Hamlet, ToxtethFor further details please click here.

Exploring Sydney: St James’ Church, King Street

St James’ Church, Sydney, Australia

Immediately after building the Hyde Park Barracks, its architect, Francis Howard Greenway (1777-1837) was commissioned to build St James’ Church, King Street (1824) directly opposite.

It’s a classical Georgian design, essentially a preaching box with a tower and spire, repeatedly adapted in keeping with the classical dignity of Greenaway’s intention.

Though it’s not as old as St Philip’s Church, York Street (founded 1793, current church by Edmund Blacket, 1848-56), St James’ is steeped in Sydney’s history and its monuments tell powerful stories of lives lived and lost.

Indeed, it’s described as the “Westminster Abbey of the South”.

The first significant memorial was executed in England by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) to commemorate Captain Sir James Brisbane (1774-1826), who died in Malaya and was cousin to the Thomas Brisbane (1773-1860) who gave his name to the Australian city. 

Other wall-tablets relate early episodes in the violent conflict between the British invaders and the indigenous Australians, which led to the deaths of –

  • Captain Collet Barker of His Majesty’s 39th Regiment of Foot “who was treacherously murdered by the aboriginal natives on the 30th of April 1831 while endeavouring in the performance of his duty to ascertain the communication between Lake Alexandrina and the Gulf of St Vincent on the South West Coast of New Holland [ie, Australia]”
  • John Gilbert, ornithologist, “who was speared by the blacks on the 29th of June 1845, during the first overland expedition to Port Essington [in the far north of what is now Northern Territory] by Dr Ludwig Leichhardt and his intrepid companions”, accompanied by the motto “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Scientia Mori
  • Edmund Besley Court Kennedy, assistant surveyor, “slain by the aborigines in the vicinity of Escape River [near Cape York, Queensland] on the 13th of December AD 1848” and Jackey Jackey (d 1854), “an aboriginal of Merton District who was Mr Kennedy’s sole companion in his conflict with the savages and though himself wounded tended his leader with a courage and devotion worthy of remembrance, supporting him in his last moments and making his grave on the spot where he fell”

Because of its proximity to the law courts and centre of government in Sydney, St James’ Church has always played a major part in the life of the city.

It contrasts with Sydney’s Gothic Revival St Andrew’s Cathedral (Edmund Blacket, 1868) and the magnificent St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral (William Wilkinson Wardell, begun 1868, completed 2000).

Exploring Sydney: Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, Australia

My initial travels in Australia gave me a false impression that the country’s architectural history begins with the Gothic Revival.

In fact, over sixty years passed between the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 and the gold rushes that transformed the Australian economy from 1851 onwards.

I came to realise that the early architecture of Australia is Georgian – particularly the churches and public buildings of Tasmania and the surviving Georgian buildings in and around New South Wales.

Francis Howard Greenway (1777-1837) was a young Bristol architect who became bankrupt and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation for forgery.  He arrived in Sydney in 1814 and quickly made the acquaintance of Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1842;  in office 1810-1821), who was instrumental in developing New South Wales from a convict settlement to a nascent colony.

The Governor commissioned Francis Greenaway to design and build the first Macquarie Lighthouse at South Head, Watson’s Bay (1817;  replaced 1883).  When this project was satisfactorily completed Macquarie emancipated Greenaway and made him Acting Civil Architect under the Inspector of Public Works, Captain J M Gill.

Francis Greenaway’s most important surviving work is the Hyde Park Barracks (1818-19) for male convicts at the head of Macquarie Street in central Sydney.

Built by convicts for convicts, the Barracks was more like a hostel than a prison.  In order to make use of their labour, the colonial government had to provide a measure of physical freedom to transported prisoners who worked, in gangs or on attachment to free employers, in the already crowded town.

The central three-storey dormitory block stands in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by domestic and administration buildings and the deputy superintendent’s residence.

Convict transportation ended in 1840 and eight years later Hyde Park Barracks was converted to a female immigration centre, part of a government initiative to recruit single women from Britain and Ireland to counterbalance the preponderance of men in the colony.

In the decades that followed the former barracks underwent repeated changes of use, and gathered numerous extensions which are now made evident by a detailed series of models of the site.   There is a succinct summary of the site’s history at https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/hyde_park_barracks#ref-uuid=2779d140-faa9-2aa0-ad8d-f4230aca4590.  

In recent times the accretions have been cleared away and the whole site subjected, like the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart, to detailed archaeological investigation, interpreted in a similar minimalist light-touch manner that at the same time informs the visitor and requires imagination to reconstruct what has gone:  https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/hyde_park_barracks_archaeology#ref-uuid=2779d140-faa9-2aa0-ad8d-f4230aca4590.

Temples of Sanitation – Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester

Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester Museum of Science & Technology

While Burton Corporation was building Claymills Pumping Station to rid the town of brewery and household effluent, sending the ordure and the smell to the unsuspecting village of Egginton across the county border in Derbyshire, their colleagues in Leicester were also catching up with the effects of rapidly expanding population on their town’s limited sanitation.

Sewage-disposal had been a problem for the expanding borough from the 1850s onwards. 

The civil engineer Thomas Wicksteed (1806-1871) designed a scheme for his Patent Solid Sewage Manure Company to drain the town and purify the resulting solid matter as manure. 

Though the scheme markedly improved the condition of the River Soar, the manure failed to sell and the enterprise failed. 

Indeed, pail closets continued in the poorer districts of the town and the removal of ordure by carts, canal barges and railway wagons was a continuing nuisance.

A new scheme was devised in 1885 providing two arterial sewers linking to a sewage farm on the outskirts of the borough and the Abbey Pumping Station was constructed between November 1887 and May 1891 to pump sewage 1½ miles to Beaumont Leys. 

The imposing Elizabethan engine-house, begun in 1889, was designed by the Leicester architect Stockdale Harrison (1846-1914).

The four pumping engines, very like the slightly earlier ones at Claymills and by the same local firm of Gimson & Company, are now the largest surviving Woolf compound steam-engines in the United Kingdom, and Abbey Pumping Station is one of the few places where four steam pumping engines can still be seen within one engine house. 

The high-pressure cylinders are 30in × 69¼in, and the low-pressure cylinders are 48in × 96in.  Each flywheel is 21 feet in diameter, and the beams are 28 feet long.

Leicester’s population grew more than threefold between 1861 and 1901 and continued to expand through the first half of the twentieth century. 

At Abbey Pumping Station settlement tanks and an electric pump were installed in 1925, and capacity was reinforced by the installation of a ram pump in 1939. 

The station continued to steam until the opening of the Wanlip Sewage Treatment Works in 1964.

The site was then converted into the Leicester Museum of Science and Technology which opened in 1974.  

The original eight Gimson Lancashire boilers had been replaced in 1925:  of these replacements only one survives, and the boiler house now contains other museum exhibits.  Two of the engines are restored to working condition, though limited boiler-capacity prevents them both being steamed simultaneously for longer than a very short time. 

There are other sewage-related experiences in the Museum. 

The site railway, first installed in 1926 and operated by a small petrol locomotive, has been adapted for passengers.  Trains are hauled by a restored steam locomotive, Leonard, from the Birmingham Tame & Rea District Drainage Board’s Minworth sewage treatment works.

A display entitled ‘Flushed with Pride’ (a title borrowed from Wallace Reyburn’s inimitable 1969 biography of the water-closet manufacturer, Thomas Crapper) includes a lavatory with see-through bowl and cistern, into which visitors can drop artificial faeces and watch them journey from the U-bend to the main sewer. 

Such rare delights are not to be missed.

Details of public openings at Abbey Pumping Station are at http://www.abbeypumpingstation.org/default.asp.

Abbey Pumping Station is included in the itinerary of the Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (September 17th-21st) tour, based in Sheffield.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Temples of Sanitation – Claymills Pumping Station

Claymills Pumping Station, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire

By coincidence two of the three pumping stations we’re visiting on the grandly but accurately titled Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness have similar steam engines – Woolf compound pumps built by Gimson & Co of Leicester.  In other respects the two sites offer very different experiences.

Claymills Pumping Station, which stands beside the Midland main line from Derby to Birmingham, was built for Burton-on-Trent Corporation in 1885.

Burton-on-Trent had begun to install effective street sewers from 1843 but did nothing to deal with the liquid waste of its principal industry.

One of the major disadvantages of the nineteenth-century brewing process was the considerable quantity of hot, foul-smelling effluent, rich in sulphate and suspended vegetable matter, that was discharged into local streams. 

A sewer constructed in 1866 to carry industrial effluent, domestic sewage and rainwater to sediment tanks at Claymills, near the village of Stretton, simply moved the problem further from the town:  the offensive material was separated and discharged into the River Trent.

The population of Burton-on-Trent – 9,450 in 1871 – was expected to produce about a million gallons a day, but when the town became a borough in 1878 the outfall was between five and six million gallons. 

The new council included a number of prominent brewers and in 1880 promoted an Act of Parliament to build a pumping station at Claymills to pump the effluent 2½ miles to a 300-acre sewage farm at Egginton – a vertical lift of seventy feet.

Though lime was added to the material, offensive smells remained a problem around the village of Egginton and as far away as Repton and Calke until the farm closed in the 1970s.

The paired engine houses each contain two mirror-image engines, designated A and B, C and D, with the boiler house between. 

The beams are each 26 feet 4 inches between their end centres, and weigh thirteen tons.  The flywheels are 24 feet in diameter and weigh twenty-four tons each. 

In normal circumstances two engines worked at a time, running at ten revolutions a minute.  In periods of high demand, a third engine would be engaged.

The five original Lancashire boilers were renewed in 1937, and the replacements incorporate Green’s economisers and Meldrum’s mechanical stokers.  Two boilers operated at a time, with a third on standby.

The steam engines were replaced by electric pumps in 1971, and when Burton Corporation’s sewerage system was transferred in 1974 to the Severn Trent Water Authority, the new owners enlisted the assistance of industrial-archaeology groups to take over Claymills Pumping Station as a preservation project. 

Once practical repairs and asbestos-removal work was completed, the Claymills Pumping Engines Trust took over the site in 1993. 

Steam was first raised in 1998 and ‘C’ engine ran in May 2000, followed a year later by ‘D’ engine.  ‘B’ engine returned to steam in 2017.

Claymills Pumping Station is magnificent in the way of such places – a grand complex of buildings, huge beam engines – but it has a special appeal to engineering enthusiasts because most of the steam-powered ancillary equipment is preserved and restored. 

Much of the auxiliary machinery was stripped out to create storage space, and has been gradually repatriated by the Trust. 

The 26-foot-long bed lathe had been scrapped, but the Trust identified and acquired a near equivalent machine from Bamford Mill, Derbyshire.

The blacksmith’s forge, which had been demolished after the station closed, was rebuilt by the Trust in 2005. 

Claymills has a welcoming atmosphere, and it’s always heartening to see young people involved in heritage industrial archaeology.

The photograph I wish I’d captured but missed was of a youth in full Victorian workers’ rig of flat cap, waistcoat and muffler, tapping into his smartphone.

Details of public openings at Claymills are at http://www.claymills.org.uk.

Clay Mills Pumping Station  is included in the itinerary of the Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (September 17th-21st) tour, based in Sheffield.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Park Palace Ponies

Park Palace Ponies (the former Park Palace Cinema), Dingle, Liverpool

The Park Palace Theatre in Toxteth was built for James Kiernan, a Liverpool theatre proprietor and designed by J H Havelock-Sutton, a Liverpool architect.

The auditorium is a simple rectangle, with the balcony (now removed) around three sides.  There were two boxes (also now gone), decorated with tall oval bevelled mirrors and lit with brass gas brackets.  Corinthian pilasters with acanthus-leaf bases flank the proscenium and support a broken pediment.  The proscenium is thirty feet wide.  Backstage there were four dressing rooms but no fly-tower.

Some accounts mention a gallery, and the Royal Arms mounted above the proscenium following a visit by King Edward VII in 1903, but there is no present-day evidence of either.

The original audience capacity was 1,100 (600 in the pit and stalls, 500 in the balcony) and it opened on December 4th 1893 as a variety theatre.

Though it retained its music-hall licence, the building was used as a cinema from 1905.  For a time the Sheffield cinema impresario Jasper Redfern ran it, and the Weisker Brothers took it over and renamed it the Kinematodrome in 1910.  

In 1911, Peter Dunn acquired it and ran it as cine-variety for nearly twenty years.  During the 1920s there was a seven-piece orchestra.  The variety acts and the orchestra ceased abruptly with the introduction of sound movies on January 8th 1930.  By then the capacity had reduced to 961. 

After Peter Dunn’s death in 1934, the proprietor was Miss Sheila Dunn, presumably his daughter.

The final film show – Russ Tamblyn in The Young Guns and John Payne in Hold Back the Night – took place on March 11th 1959. 

After its demise as a cinema the Park Palace was successively used as a factory, a chemist’s shop and a store for motor-vehicle spares.  For a period from 1984 it became the Mill Street Chapel. 

Subsequently the building was largely left to deteriorate. 

It was briefly revived as a performance space in 2008, and was once used as a location for the Channel 4 soap-opera Hollyoaks, but from 2010 onwards it was advertised to let. 

It remained unused until 2017, when Keith Hackett and his daughter, Bridget Griffin, set up Park Palace Ponies, to provide a riding school aimed at local children under ten, bringing them the benefits of spending time with horses and the perception that horse-riding isn’t only for the affluent.  Hundreds of children from south-central Liverpool (defined as postcodes L8, L17 and L18) have since taken part in riding lessons at the Palace:  http://www.parkpalaceponies.com

The community benefits of this scheme are palpable, and not confined to the children and their families.  The horses graze at the local allotments, where their manure is much appreciated.

Park Palace Ponies is included in the itinerary of the ‘Unexpected Liverpool’ tour, June 1st-5th 2020.  For further details of the tour, please click here.

The Florrie

The Florence Institute for Boys, Dingle, Liverpool

When Sir Bernard Hall, a Liverpool businessman and alderman, suffered the loss of his 22-year-old daughter Florence in 1887, he commemorated her by building the Florence Institute for Boys in the inner-city riverside suburb of Dingle, “in the hope that it might prove an acceptable place of recreation and instruction for the poor and working boys of this district of the city”. 

It quickly came to be known, almost universally, as “The Florrie”.

Bernard Hall’s work as a city magistrate made him aware that a lack of recreational amusements led working-class adolescents to mischief and petty crime, and he commissioned one of the earliest purpose-built boys’ clubs in Britain, providing facilities for football, boxing, baseball, gymnastics and billiards.

The Florrie was not the first boys’ club in Liverpool.  The Gordon Working Lads’ Institute in Kirkdale preceded it.  Designed by Birkenhead-born David Walker (1840-1892), it was built in 1886 at a cost of £50,000 by another Liverpool merchant, William Cliff, as a memorial to his deceased eleven-year-old son. 

In the same period, Manchester businessmen funded the Hulme Lads’ Club (1887), the Adelphi Ragged School Lads’ Evening Club (1888), the Openshaw Lads’ Club (1888), the Sharp Street Lads Club and Ragged School (c1890) and the still surviving Salford Lads’ Club (1904).

The Florrie, designed by C Sherwood and H W Keef, is a magnificent essay in Jacobethan-style terracotta, with a concert hall, a library as well as a gymnasium.  It was completed in 1889 and the club opened the following year.  

Weekend camps at Heswall on the Wirral, a short ferry-trip across the Mersey, and summer camps in the Lake District were regularly run to give Toxteth and Dingle kids a healthy break away from the streets.

The Florrie served generations of boys and young men, some of whom achieved fame.  The Florrie is where Gerry Marsden (b 1942) learnt to play guitar and performed his first skiffle gig at the age of ten, and the club can claim to have nurtured the careers of a legion of boxers, including Dick Tiger (1929-1971), Tommy Bache (b 1938), Alan Rudkin MBE (1941-2010) and Larry Paul (1952-2017).

The 1980s were sad, bad times for the communities that make up the district of Liverpool 8, and the Florrie was a casualty of those grim days.  The funding that had kept the Florrie going ceased, so the building was sold in 1987 and its management company, The Florence Institute Incorporated Company, was dissolved the following year.

By the legal device of bona vacantia [“ownerless goods”] the premises passed to the Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of the monarch, but neglect and vandalism eventually reduced the building to a wreck which was rendered roofless and burnt-out after a fire in 1999.

A succession of saviours took on the challenge of bringing the Florrie back – pressure groups such as the Friends of the Florrie and the Dingle Community Regeneration Trust, supported by the Liverpool Echo’s ‘Stop the Rot’ campaign.  A popular, vociferous campaign prompted the formation in 2004 of the Florence Institute Trust Ltd, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones.

The trust ensured the upgrading of the ruined building from Grade II to Grade II*, and in 2010 secured a package of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£3.7 million), the Northwest European Regional Development Fund (£1.5 million) and the Northwest Regional Development Agency (£536,000).

Meanwhile HRH the Prince of Wales had visited the site in 2007, and was surprised to discover that it belonged to his mother as Duke of Lancaster.  He promised the support of his Prince’s Regeneration Trust and persuaded the Duchy to give the building to the Florence Institute Trust.  He duly returned to open the refurbished building in January 2013.

The rebuilding was problematic, for lack of original plans:  the detailed restoration was planned around existing photographs, archaeological evidence and oral testimony.  This meant that, against the wishes of the local community, much of the specialist contracting had to go outside the city.

Since its reopening the Florrie has developed as “a multi-purpose community hub”: https://www.theflorrie.org.

In human terms, this means that it serves and supports the local community, girls as well as boys, adults as well as children, earning its keep through events and conferences and providing employment, training opportunities and learning and leisure experiences.

Once again it strives to be “an acceptable place of recreation and instruction”, as Bernard Hall intended.

The Florrie is a lunch-stop in the itinerary of the ‘Unexpected Liverpool’ tour, June 1st-5th 2020.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Slaughterhouse Gothic 2

Former Refuge Assurance Headquarters, Manchester (now Principal Hotel): porte-cochère

The magnificent former Manchester headquarters of the Refuge Assurance Company is a fitting symbol of the city’s nineteenth-century prestige and prosperity, an extravagant temple to the virtues of thrift and frugality.

The Refuge Friend in Deed Life Assurance & Sick Fund Friendly Society was founded in 1858 by James Proctor and George Robins of Dukinfield, near Stalybridge, east of Manchester. By the late nineteenth century their society based on saving for the future had expanded to the extent that it needed a prominent headquarters in Manchester city centre.

For commercial buildings the architect, Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), favoured the use of moulded glazed or unglazed brick to create rich decorative effects at less expense than ashlar and carved stonework.  Some of his best public buildings in Manchester were built in stone – the Assize Courts (1859-64, demolished) and the Town Hall (1868-77) – though Strangeways Prison (1868) is brick with stone dressings.

Elsewhere, his attachment to terracotta, and its tin-glazed derivative, faience, gained prominence after he designed the Natural History Museum, South Kensington (1873-80) and became widely recognised by his work for the Prudential Assurance Company at their London headquarters at Holborn Bars (1895-1901) and at instantly recognisable branch offices across the nation.

These terracotta buildings were satirised as “slaughterhouse Gothic”, which is unfair, partly because most of them are in other styles than Gothic, but furthermore because, though the outside elevations were deep red, the interiors were invariably varied and colourful, and could be kept bright because they were practically washable.

Alfred Waterhouse’s original building for the Refuge Assurance Company in central Manchester, on the corner of Oxford Street and Whitworth Street, was started in 1891 and completed in 1895. 

The architect’s son, Paul Waterhouse, continued the Oxford Street elevation, including the 217-foot clock tower, in 1910-12.  Both designs are an eclectic mix of French Renaissance style with baroque features, liberally embellished with emblems such as the bee, symbolising Manchester’s industry, and the initial ‘R’ for ‘Refuge’. 

The company owned the land further along Whitworth Street, where India House (1906), Lancaster House (1905-10) and Asia House, Princess Street (1906-9) were built, leaving room on Whitworth Street for a further extension of the Refuge headquarters, designed in harmony with the existing building by Stanley Birkett (1884-1959) in 1932.

The Refuge Assurance Company left Manchester in 1987 for a purpose-built site at Fulshaw Hall, Cheshire.  The Manchester building was considered as a replacement home for the Hallé Orchestra but instead the orchestra moved directly from the Free Trade Hall to the Bridgewater Hall in 1996.

Instead, the Refuge building was converted into a 271-room hotel which also opened in 1996.  It was named the Palace after the theatre on the opposite corner of Whitworth Street.  The hotel was reconfigured, with conference facilities separated in the 1932 Excalibur Building, and rebranded the Principal in 2016.

The main features of the Waterhouse buildings of 1891-95 and 1910-12 are the porte-cochère, originally open until the dome was inserted in 1996, the open-plan office space and the clock tower, its faces embellished with the Manchester bee.

The tower, for obvious reasons inaccessible to the general public, has a dizzy succession of staircases to the top of the cupola:  https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/refuge-assurance-building-manchester-2011.60357.  Ascending to the top is fraught with risks:  https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/man-plunged-his-death-manchester-canal-after-photo-escapade-hotels-roof-1659284.

Within, the private directors’ staircase, decorated with Cararra marble and a bronze balustrade and embellished with stained-glass coats of arms of the cities and boroughs where the company did business, leads to the director’s boardroom.

The Stanley Birkett building respects its older neighbour, but the interior colour-palette is toned down to white, and the decorative features tend towards moderne in style.

The Refuge building featured in the climax of the 1960 Hammer film, Hell is a City, written and directed by Val Guest.  An analysis of the locations used is at https://www.reelstreets.com/films/hell-is-a-city.

Tours of the Principal Hotel are provided by Jonathan Schofield, a professional tour-guide and author who knows Manchester like the back of his hand, tells good stories well, and has a voice that cuts through the city’s traffic noise like a bandsaw:  https://www.jonathanschofieldtours.com/exclusive-the-principal-hotel.html.

Keystone Crescent

Keystone Crescent, King’s Cross, London

At the King’s Cross end of the Caledonian Road stands Keystone Crescent, the London crescent with the tightest radius and the only one in which the inner and the outer terraces have identical facades.

It was built as Caledonian Terrace in 1846, at a time when the surrounding district was first developed as middle-class housing, which rapidly went down the social scale because of the industries which grew along the River Fleet and, most of all, because of the noise and smoke of the surrounding railways.

The area has been transformed by the arrival of Eurostar, and the tiny two-storey houses with a basement and an attic have increased in value tenfold since the 1990s.  They currently come on the market at over a million pounds.

The front gardens have been given over to hard standing for cars, but otherwise the crescent’s conservation-area status maintains its attractive appearance, a few steps away from the bustle of one of north London’s traffic arteries.

Keystone Crescent boasts its own basement club [http://www.keystonecrescent.com], founded by Kristie Bishop and Coralie Sleap, who also operate Drink, Shop & Do [http://drinkshopdo.co.uk], “a quirky multi-faceted cafe, bar and shop” a few yards away down the Caledonian Road.

The spectacular regeneration of the King’s Cross railway lands has generated disruption and change [https://angelacobbinah.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/all-change-at-kings-cross], but the tiny enclave of Keystone Crescent remains intact.