Free Trade Hall

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Free Trade Hall
The Free Trade Hall, Manchester.jpg
The Free Trade Hall
General information
StatusGrade II* listed building
Architectural style Palazzo
Location Manchester, England
Construction started1853
Design and construction
Architect Edward Walters

The Free Trade Hall on Peter Street, Manchester, England, was a public hall, constructed in 1853–56 on St Peter’s Fields, the site of the Peterloo Massacre. It is now a Radisson hotel.

Manchester City and metropolitan borough in England

Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England, with a population of 545,500 as of 2017. It lies within the United Kingdom's second-most populous built-up area, with a population of 3.2 million. It is fringed by the Cheshire Plain to the south, the Pennines to the north and east, and an arc of towns with which it forms a continuous conurbation. The local authority is Manchester City Council.

Peterloo Massacre Massacre of protesters in 1819

The Peterloo Massacre took place at St Peter's Field, Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Radisson Hotels American multinational hotel chain

Radisson is an international hotel chain of the Radisson Hotel Group. Since 2016, the parent company Radisson Hotel Group has been majority owned by China's HNA Group, but as of 2018 that stake is being resold to a consortium led by Jin Jiang.


The hall was built to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The architect was Edward Walters. [1] The hall was owned by the Manchester Corporation. It was bombed in the Manchester Blitz and its interior rebuilt and was Manchester's premier concert venue until the construction of the Bridgewater Hall in 1996. The hall was designated a Grade II* listed building in 1963. [2]

The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain ("corn") enforced in Great Britain between 1815 and 1846. The word "corn" in the English spoken in Nineteenth Century Britain denotes all cereal grains, such as wheat and barley. They were designed to keep grain prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British mercantilism. The Corn Laws imposed steep import duties, making it too expensive to import grain from abroad, even when food supplies were short.

Edward Walters English architect

Edward Walters was an English architect.

Manchester City Council Local government body in England

Manchester City Council is the local government authority for Manchester, a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. It is composed of 96 councillors, three for each of the 32 electoral wards of Manchester. The council is controlled by the Labour Party and led by Sir Richard Leese. The opposition is formed by the Liberal Democrats and led by former Manchester Withington MP John Leech. Joanne Roney is the chief executive. Many of the council's staff are based at Manchester Town Hall.


The Free Trade Hall was built as a public hall between 1853 and 1856 by Edward Walters on land given by Richard Cobden in St Peter's Fields, the site of the Peterloo Massacre. Two earlier halls had been constructed on the site, the first, a large timber pavilion was built in 1840, and its brick replacement built in 1842. [2] [3] The halls were "vital to Manchester's considerable role in the long campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws. [1] The hall was funded by public subscription and became a concert hall and home of the Hallé Orchestra in 1858. A red plaque records that it was built on the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. [2]

Richard Cobden English manufacturer and Radical and Liberal statesman

Richard Cobden was an English manufacturer, Radical and Liberal statesman, associated with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty.

The Free Trade Hall was bought by Manchester Corporation in 1920; but was bombed and left an empty shell in the Manchester Blitz of December 1940. A new hall was constructed behind two walls of the original facade in 1950–51 by Manchester City Council's architect, L. C. Howitt. [4] opening as a concert hall in 1951. As well as housing the Hallé Orchestra, it was used for pop and rock concerts. A Wurlitzer organ from the Paramount Cinema in Manchester was installed over four years and first used in public in a BBC programme broadcast in September 1977. When the hall closed, the organ, which was on loan, was moved to the great hall in Stockport Town Hall. [5] The Hallé Orchestra moved to the Bridgewater Hall in 1996 and the Free Trade Hall was closed by Manchester City Council.

Manchester Blitz bombing of Manchester (UK), by German Luftwaffe in December 1940

The Manchester Blitz was the heavy bombing of the city of Manchester and its surrounding areas in North West England during the Second World War by the German Luftwaffe. It was one of three major raids on Manchester, an important inland port and industrial city; Trafford Park in neighbouring Stretford was a major centre of war production.

Leonard Cecil Howitt – often referred to as L. C. Howitt – served in both World Wars and was Manchester City Council's chief architect from 1946 until he retired in 1961.

Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

In 1997 the building was sold to private developers despite resistance from groups such as the Manchester Civic Society, who viewed the sale as inappropriate given the historical significance of the building and its site. After the initial planning application was refused by the Secretary of State, a second modified planning application was submitted and approved. Walters' original facade was retained, behind which architects Stephenson Bell designed a 263-bedroom hotel, demolishing Howitt's post-war hall but preserving the main staircase and the 1950s statues that were formerly attached to its rear wall. The hotel opened in 2004, having cost £45 million. [3]

Roger Stephenson OBE is an English architect and is the Managing Partner of stephenson STUDIO in Manchester, England.


The facade of the Free Trade Hall Manchester Free Trade Hall (Radisson Edwardian Hotel).jpg
The façade of the Free Trade Hall

The Italian palazzo-style hall was built on a trapeziform site in ashlar sandstone. It has a two-storey, nine-bay facade and concealed roof. On Peter Street, its ground floor arcade has rectangular piers with round-headed arches and spandrels bearing the coats of arms of Lancashire towns that took part in the Anti-Corn Law movement. The upper floor has a colonnaded arcade, its tympana frieze is richly decorated with carved figures representing free trade, the arts, commerce, manufacture and the continents. Above the tympanum is a prominent cornice with balustraded parapet. The upper floor has paired Ionic columns to each bay and a tall window with a pedimented architrave behind a balustraded balcony. [2] The return sides have three bays in a matching but simpler style of blank arches. The rear wall was rebuilt in 1950–51 with pilasters surmounted by relief figures representing the entertainment which took place in the old hall. The Large Hall was in a classical style with a coffered ceiling, the walls had wood panelling in oak, walnut and sycamore. Pevsner described it as "the noblest monument in the Cinquecento style in England", whilst Hartwell considered it "a classic which belongs in the canon of historic English architecture." [4]

Palazzo style architecture imitative of Italian palazzi

Palazzo style refers to an architectural style of the 19th and 20th centuries based upon the palazzi (palaces) built by wealthy families of the Italian Renaissance. The term refers to the general shape, proportion and a cluster of characteristics, rather than a specific design; hence it is applied to buildings spanning a period of nearly two hundred years, regardless of date, provided they are a symmetrical, corniced, basemented and with neat rows of windows. "Palazzo style" buildings of the 19th century are sometimes referred to as being of Italianate architecture but this term is also applied to a much more ornate style, particularly of residences and public buildings.

Ashlar Finely dressed stone and associated masonry

Ashlar is finely dressed stone, either an individual stone that has been worked until squared or the structure built of it. Ashlar is the finest stone masonry unit, generally cuboid, mentioned by Vitruvius as opus isodomum, or less frequently trapezoidal. Precisely cut "on all faces adjacent to those of other stones", ashlar is capable of very thin joints between blocks, and the visible face of the stone may be quarry-faced or feature a variety of treatments: tooled, smoothly polished or rendered with another material for decorative effect.

Sandstone A clastic sedimentary rock composed mostly of sand-sized particles

Sandstone is a clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized mineral particles or rock fragments.

After its closure, the hall was sold and after a protracted planning process and consultations with English Heritage, its conversion to a hotel was agreed. During the hotel's construction, the Windmill Street and Southmill Street facades were demolished and the north block retained and connected by a triangular glazed atrium to a 15-storey block clad in stone and glass. Artifacts salvaged from the old hall, including 1950s statues by Arthur Sherwood Edwards and framed wall plaster autographed by past performers, decorate the atrium light well. [3]


A commemorative plaque on the side of the Manchester Free Trade Hall PeterlooRedPlaque.JPG
A commemorative plaque on the side of the Manchester Free Trade Hall

The Free Trade Hall was a venue for public meetings and political speeches and a concert hall. Charles Dickens performed here in the summer of 1857 in Wilkie Collins's play The Frozen Deep . In 1872 Benjamin Disraeli gave his One Nation speech. In 1904, Winston Churchill delivered a speech at the hall defending Britain's policy of free trade. The Times called it "one of the most powerful and brilliant he has made." [6] In 1905 the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) activists, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were ejected from a meeting addressed by the Liberal politician Sir Edward Grey, who repeatedly refused to answer their question on Votes for Women. Christabel Pankhurst immediately began an impromptu meeting outside, and when the police moved them on, contrived to be arrested and brought to court. So began the militant WSPU campaign for the vote. [7]

After Sir Charles Hallé founded the Hallé Orchestra in 1858, its home was the Free Trade Hall until the hall was damaged in the Manchester Blitz. The Hallé performed at the reopening in 1951 with the Orchestra's musical director and conductor, Sir John Barbirolli who remained until 1970. The final concert there was in 1996. [8] Kathleen Ferrier sang at the re-opening of the Free Trade Hall in 1951, ending with a performance of Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory", the only performance of that piece in her career.

Bob Dylan played here in 1965, and again in 1966, [9] the occasion of the "Judas!" shout. [10] In the late 60s Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, The Moody Blues, Tyrannosaurus Rex, (Marc Bolan) and The Dubliners played there amongst others. Pink Floyd played on five occasions as did Genesis in February 1973. [9] On 4 June 1976, the Lesser Free Trade Hall was the venue for a concert by the Sex Pistols at the start of the punk rock movement. [9] [11]

See also


  1. 1 2 Hartwell (2001), p. 92
  2. 1 2 3 4 Historic England, "Free Trade Hall (1246666)", National Heritage List for England , retrieved 13 October 2011
  3. 1 2 3 Manchester's Free Trade Hall is a building ..., Urban Realm, retrieved 13 October 2011
  4. 1 2 Hartwell (2001), p. 93
  5. The Stockport Publix One Wurlitze r, The Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust, archived from the original on 8 October 2009, retrieved 14 October 2011
  6. The Free Trade League, Winston, archived from the original on 7 October 2011, retrieved 13 October 2011
  7. "Suppression of the W. S. P. U." . Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. British Newspaper Archive. 1 May 1913. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  8. Our history, The Hallé, retrieved 2 July 2013
  9. 1 2 3 Kellie (2010), p. 175
  10. Bob Dylan is accused of being a 'Judas', The Guardian, 12 June 2011, retrieved 2 July 2013
  11. Sex Pistols gig: the truth, BBC Manchester, retrieved 13 October 2011

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Coordinates: 53°28′40″N2°14′50″W / 53.47778°N 2.24722°W / 53.47778; -2.24722