Timescales: what we've been doing
The impact of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown presented the Our Town Hall Project team with the same complexities faced by sites up and down the country.
In order to assess how to ensure the safety of everyone working on the Our Town Hall Project, and maintain a stringent adherence to Government regulations and guidance, the site was temporarily shut down for two weeks. This closure gave our management contractor the ability to make detailed assessments about what works could still be undertaken safely and in accordance with Safe Working Protocols.
Re-programming a variety of contracts in the middle of a national lockdown was certainly not easy, but colleagues were eventually in a position to re-open the site to a small group of contractors, with strict limits on how many staff are allowed on site at any one time.
The hoardings, which envelop the Town Hall and Albert Square on all three sides, offered us a fantastic blank canvas to design onto. There’ll be mostly imagery and photographs on the stretch along Princess Street where the tram goes by, but the space around the hoardings on Albert Square is a great opportunity to tell some of the Town Hall history and stories that we’ve come to know, as well as detail of the improvements that will be made to how the building will function when it reopens.
January 2020 saw preparation in the moat areas surrounding the Town Hall that would enable the vast network of scaffolding that’s required for the work to proceed. As of April it’s mostly covering the front of the building across Albert Square and only the roof and clock tower stand above it on that facade. Once the scaffold is complete, it will cover the entire building, making it the largest single scaffold project in Europe; we’ve been capturing progress from across Albert Square for a bird’s eye view, using a timelapse camera.
The inner courtyard of the Town Hall has always been hugely popular as a filming location, because its largely untouched features lend themselves well to Victorian city scenes such as those recreated for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, or the Houses of Parliament in wartime for Darkest Hour.
It’s easy to see why, with original gas lamps, smut stained stonework and intricately leaded windows overlooking the original 19th century cobbles, edged by fantastic - and untouched - original york stone paving around its edges.
A specialist team was brought in to survey, assess and finally lift the entire courtyard, painstakingly and row by row. After numbering, the sets were carefully loaded into labelled crates which were then catalogued before removal from site for safe storage. As the york stones were lifted, they were also numbered and mapped, so that their eventual return will see the courtyard faithfully restored.
The size and proximity of Albert Square makes it the perfect position for the Our Town Hall Project site offices, and also allows the vital space required for logistics such as deliveries and access.
Work has already been carried out to survey the Grade 1 listed Albert Memorial, which will also undergo repairs and partial restoration as part of the overall project.
The stones in the patterned cobbled areas, laid when the road outside the main entrance was closed off and the square partly pedestrianised in the 1980s, have now been lifted, bagged and removed for storage. Our Public Realm team are looking at proposals to make excellent use of these, in several of the city’s open spaces. The old-fashioned style lamp-posts that were such a feature in the square will also be reused by the team at Heaton Park’s Tram Museum.
Organ - contract and plans
The plans for the Cavaille-Col organ in the Great Hall are now finalised, and the contract for the work awarded to two firms, who tendered jointly. Find out more on the dedicated organ webpage.
Our first cohort of six M Futures apprentices graduated in August 2019, and the two that started their two year programme in September 2018 are now mentoring the new intake of seven, who joined the project in September 2019. They're now working on a rotation around the Design Team.
Plans for Albert Square
Proposals have been made public for pedestrianising more of Albert Square, so that the only traffic would be on the Princess Street side. This will increase the capacity of the Square, improve safety and turn it into one of the finest civic spaces in Europe.
The Town Hall Collection includes about 80 large scale oil-paintings and watercolours - the largest is 3m wide! These have all had to be carefully taken down from the walls of the State Rooms and public spaces in the building. Some conservation work has already been done on some of these, and more is likely to follow. The paintings have been packed away in individually built wooden boxes and put into storage for the duration of the Our Town Hall Project. See some of the photographs of this work in our flickr album.
Working with eight secondary schools / colleges, we created an education package that will best serve the young people of Manchester for work experience and learning. The first Work Experience Week took place in October 2018, when we hosted 11 students for five full days of on-site learning, experience and teamwork; it was a great success. Another week was completed in March 2019 by a further 11 students, and another took place in July 2019.
Manchester School of Architecture
In May 2018, and again in 2019, we worked with students from the Manchester School of Architecture. Three groups worked on individual design projects, using the Town Hall as their inspiration, and then exhibited at the School of Architecture End of Year Show. See some of the 2018 group's photographs online.
Sculpture cleaning, conservation and relocation
Artworks, statues and sculptures needed to be taken away to keep them safe and out of harm’s way during the building works. After a few months of cleaning and restoration, 34 of the sculptures and statues have now been relocated to other venues around the city and beyond, all chosen for their relevance to the individual sculpture. You can see pictures and more details of all these sculptures, including their new homes, in our Flickr photo album.
We appointed Lendlease as our management contractor: full details are available in our press release, which you can read online.
Over the late summer and winter of 2018 / 2019 we had contractors on site to undertake a programme of intrusive surveys. This included interior work, such as taking down false walls and ceilings to investigate what's behind, and running checks on utilities such as water and electrical supplies throughout the building.
The work saw expert conservators brought in to the building for their advice on how best to proceed with unique aspects of the building, such as the condition of the paint on Ford Madox Brown's 12 murals in the Great Hall, and the 'slab' that the mosaic floors are set into. Their reports are vital to planning the work that will see the building through the next century or so.
External work has been done too: Albert Square's foundations were assessed, as were external parts of the building. This has been done to check levels of stonework damage in key areas
Official 'closing' ceremony
After a series of initial surveys and inspections, the decision was made to close the building in order to properly address the repairs and renovations required to make the building fit for modern requirements. All offices needed to be relocated to other council buildings and allow full access for detailed assessments and surveys. The Town Hall closed its doors after a rousing send-off on Sunday 14 January 2018, in advance of the six years of work to safeguard, repair and partially restore the building. 3,900 people attended, having claimed the free tickets that allowed residents and visitors free rein to explore the courtyard, magnificent state rooms, Great Hall and the famous Bees mosaic floor. The day ended with the Lord Mayor of Manchester Cllr Eddy Newman symbolically handing over the building’s keys to the Our Town Hall Project team.