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Town Hall, Manchester, England (Where Gumbo Was)


Manchester is one of England's biggest and most important cities, but it wasn't always so. When London was ancient, and Norwich, York, Bristol and more stood with her, Manchester was an insignificant village. It didn't really start to grow until the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, but when it did, it rapidly shot up into the top tier.


So, while more ancient cities were filled with magnificent castles and cathedrals and guildhalls, Manchester had to start from scratch. And even then, when Manchester built its first Town Hall, it undershot the mark with a modestly magnificent 1822 building (above) that within 40 years seemed not enough. And so, in 1863, the city government ordered construction of a new one that would be "equal if not superior, to any similar building in the country at any cost which may be reasonably required."


The building that resulted from that order, Manchester's new Town Hall, is the subject of this week's puzzle. Three Gumbo guessers got it right, Traveling Canuck, Port Moresby, and Roderick Simpson. The building reflects both the pride and the power of Manchester's cotton industry, which seemed to spin out money as easily as fabric and yarn. Seemed, of course, because in fact the rise of the cotton merchants was based on the twin bases of mill workers whose conditions were poor, and slaves in America who grew the cotton.


How important the cotton was in that equation can be seen from the odd-looking ornament that is on top of the highest tower of the building...picked out in gold leaf, it represents a cotton boll, the raw material of Manchester's industry.

As a companion to the hall, they also built what is claimed to be the first public memorial for Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. The square in front of the hall is Albert Square.


Albert is not, of course, the only one honored by statuary at the Town Hall. There are quite a few figures on the facade, representing both historical and allegorical figures, and even more inside, honoring locally important figures, some of whom (only some) would be known by non-Mancunians.


They do include some better-known figures, including our opening clue, James Prescott Joule, pioneering physicist, and what we were told is St. George. John Dalton sits across the hall from Joule.


The beauty of the building, for me, at least, lies mainly in the richness and detail of its ornamentation. With difficulty, I let my admiration overwrite my constant question: How much better off could the workers of Manchester have been if their employers had spent less on such a lavish project. Here, then, are more of the details.

Manchester_City_Hall_Great_Hall_Foyer MichaelDBeckwithHere's the foyer of the Great Hall. That's right...just a lobby. Note the bees in the floor, Manchester's symbol.

Below, the Great Hall itself, with plenty of room for large assemblies.

For visitors, there's no access to the upper floors; the foyer picture is by Michael Beckwith and the Great Hall by Tom Page, both through Wikimedia.

Below the Hall, some more interior views.



Inevitably, of course, bureaucracy never runs out of the need for more space, and in the 1930s, a new building was added next door, connected by bridges to the original. Many departments operate out of the newer space, leaving room on the ground floor to operate a pleasant cafe, which also was featured in the clues.


And it's time for some outside detail as well. There are also a few more pictures in the slideshow below for those who want more...



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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