Possibly the finest fire station in the world

London Road Fire Station, Manchester

London Road Fire Station, Manchester

At long last a practical proposal has at last been determined to find a new use for London Road Fire Station, Manchester (1901-6).

This was in fact much more than a fire station.  It was originally conceived as a combined fire station, ambulance station, police station, gas-meter testing station, public library and gymnasium, though the last two were omitted to make room for a coroner’s court and a bank.  The Wikipedia entry on the building has a very clear block-diagram showing how these facilities were arranged:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Road_Fire_Station,_Manchester.

Living accommodation was provided for 32 firemen with families and six single firemen;  other facilities included a laundry, billiard-room, gymnasium and a play area for the resident children.  For speedy response, poles were provided and the street doors were electrically powered.  The stables were fitted with rapid harnessing equipment, and there was a forced ventilation-system to prevent the smell of the horses reaching the living quarters.

All this practicality was housed in an elaborately decorated building built in Accrington brick embellished with beige and brown terracotta.  Like its exact contemporary, the Victoria Baths, Chorlton-cum-Medlock (1906), the use of terracotta provided the opportunity for an elaborate celebration of municipal pride, specially cast by Burmantofts of Leeds, with moulded reliefs depicting fire and water and allegorical figures of Courage, Vigilance, Justice and Truth.

The architects were Woodhouse, Willoughby & Potts, though the design shows the influence of the then newly-appointed City Architect, Henry Price, who designed the Victoria Baths, and it’s no surprise to discover that the adjudicator of the architectural competition was Alfred Waterhouse, the leading proponent of terracotta as a building material for grimy industrial cities and also the architect of Manchester Town Hall.

The ambulance service relocated in 1948 and the police left in 1979.  It remained an operational fire station until 1989.  Finally the coroner’s court left the building in 1998.

Since then it has been an increasingly neglected eyesore and planning problem, included in the English Heritage Buildings at Risk list since 2002. Successive proposals to turn it into a hotel have come and gone and its owners, Britannia Hotels (who restored the superb Watts’ Warehouse on Portland Street nearby as long ago as 1982) have used it for storage.  Manchester City Council, understandably, became increasingly impatient that rail travellers’ first view of the city as they leave Piccadilly Station is a huge derelict building with greenery sprouting from its roofline.

Welcome news of a serious redevelopment plan was announced in July 2017:  http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/long-awaited-rebirth-london-road-13396033#ICID=sharebar_twitter.

The Friends of London Road Fire Station MCR have a website at http://www.londonroadfire.org.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Manchester’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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