Sports, leisure and the Arts Deansgate/Peter Street Conservation Area

Deansgate/Peter Street and its buildings today

The area is predominantly one of commercial buildings, but it also contains a significant number of places of assembly, such as a church, theatre, concert hall, opera house, synagogue and Masonic temple.

The Rylands Library on Deansgate is a landmark building, not only because its architectural quality but also for its important collection of historic books and manuscripts. Recognised as a Grade I listed building, it was designed by Basil Champneys, constructed from 1890, and opened in 1899. Since its merger with the Library of Manchester Victoria University in 1972, it makes available to readers more than five million books and manuscripts.

The library was built and endowed by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband John Rylands. Constructed in red sandstone, the interior contains some fine spaces adorned with excellent stone carvings. Especially interesting are the four levels of glass floors supported from the metal book-cases at the rear of the building.

The present Free Trade Hall (Grade II*) on Peter Street is the third or fourth building on the site, and was designed by Edward Walters between 1853 and 1856. The first was a temporary timber structure and the second burned down. The present building was almost completely destroyed during the Blitz of 1940 to 1941, and was reconstructed with a completely new interior, roof and rear elevations in the 1950s.

The monumental front facade is an Italianate masterpiece in Renaissance style with Ionic columns, balustrades and very fine carvings in the arched recesses. The Free Trade Hall was home to the Halle Orchestra since its first concert in 1858, but that changed when the orchestra moved to a new, purpose-built concert hall in 1996.

The classical-style Opera House (Grade II) on Quay Street was originally built as the New Theatre in banded, rusticated stucco, a form of render scored to imitate stone. The facade includes fluted Ionic pilasters supporting a pedimented gable with a sculpture in the central arched recess representing The Dawn of the Heroic Age.

Manchester's oldest surviving theatre building is the Theatre Royal of 1845 (Grade II) on Peter Street, which has a monumental portico and a statue of Shakespeare in a central recess. It has been used for various activities in the recent past and is currently used as a night club. The original building was designed by Irwin and Chester, but was altered by the prominent architect Edward Salomons in 1875.

Also on Peter Street, the Albert Hall (Grade II) was designed in eclectic style with Baroque and Gothic elements for the Wesleyan Mission by W. J. Morley in 1910, and after a long period of inactivity is now being utilised once again. A meeting hall is located on the first floor, with a horseshoe gallery, sloping floor and coloured glass rooflights. The finely detailed buff terracotta is formed into large traceried windows at gallery level, and the interior has a wealth of detail and floral decoration in plaster work and glazed tiles.

The Masonic temple on Bridge Street (Grade II) was designed by Thomas Worthington and Son and constructed in 1929 of Portland stone. It was designed in the fashionable stripped classical style, devoid of ornament, during the Art Deco period. Still with its original faience inn front, the Sawyers Arms on Deansgate has been totally altered internally, but it remains a contrasting and interesting building on the street wall.

Many other buildings of architectural interest lie within the conservation area, most of them being offices, and Bridge Street in particular is a well preserved example of a Victorian and Edwardian shopping street. The completeness of the 'street wall' with individual buildings of architectural quality, e.g. Wood Street Mission, creates a memorable piece of urban design.

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