The Old Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar are landmarks of old Manchester, a surviving group of sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century timber-framed buildings surrounded by successively more incongruous and out-of-scale developments on all sides.
Similar buildings elsewhere in the centre were obliterated from the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The cutting through of Victoria Street in 1837 transformed the area, and by the 1870s this little block in the Market Place was dwarfed by imposing four-storey Victorian brick buildings faced with stone. The Wellington Inn was for years made even more distinctive by the huge spectacle signs of Bowen’s Practical Optician and Mathematical Instrument Maker (Established 1809).
In fact only the Wellington Inn is genuinely late-medieval: the fabric of Sinclair’s is actually brick, dating from c1800, and the link-building between the two dates from 1925.
The Blitz of December 22nd-24th 1940 flattened many of the surrounding buildings, leaving this ramshackle group intact.
In 1971 the Old Shambles buildings were underpinned on a reinforced concrete raft and raised 4ft 9in to accommodate an underground access road. Here they stood, completely divorced from their historic foundations and surroundings.
The IRA bomb which devastated the surrounding area in 1996, though it did not seriously damage the Old Shambles, provided the opportunity to redevelop the area around the unlovely Arndale Centre.
This scheme included a new road, New Cathedral Street, and an enlarged Marks & Spencer store and involved moving the Old Shambles to another, empty site nearer to the Cathedral at a cost of £1.5 million.
In the process the block has been turned from a terrace to an L-plan, introducing further new material including a glass-fronted staircase and a complete new rear elevation to fill the space formerly hidden by the old Marks & Spencer premises.
The Old Shambles is indeed a link with medieval Manchester, but it’s a tenuous link.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.