Like most Victorian cities, Manchester had more railway termini than it really needed – Victoria and Exchange, which connected end-on, London Road, latterly known as Piccadilly, and Central.
The last built was the shortest lived.
Manchester Central station was opened in July 1880, serving the Cheshire Lines services of the Midland, the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire and the Great Northern railways, which had operated into a temporary terminus, known as Manchester Free Trade Hall Station, since 1877.
Sir John Fowler’s train-shed at Manchester Central, with ironwork by Andrew Handyside of Derby, has a span of 210 feet, only thirty feet narrower than St Pancras. Unlike St Pancras, the arch is not tied beneath the platforms because of the structure of the huge brick undercroft, which bridged and connected with the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal.
The original intention to fill the station frontage with either a hotel or an office-building never came to anything, and until the station closed on May 5th 1969 its façade was no more than a temporary wooden structure.
Charles Trubshaw’s Midland Hotel (1898-1904), a bombastic but loveable essay in terracotta – “probably the most beautiful building in the whole city”, according to the initial publicity material, “a vast and varied affair” – in Pevsner’s description – was built on a two-acre site across the road looking over St Peter’s Square, linked to the station by a covered way.
After rail-services were diverted away from Central Station in 1969 it stood neglected, used only as a car-park for some years, until in 1980 the Greater Manchester Council, in conjunction with a private developer, transformed it into an exhibition hall, G-MEX, the Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre.
The architects for the G-Mex conversion were Essex, Goodman & Suggitt.
Its use as a concert venue declined after the opening of the Manchester Arena in 1995, and G-MEX was rebranded under its original name, Manchester Central, in 2007-8: https://www.manchestercentral.co.uk.
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.