A Victorian Love Affair: The Inspiration Behind
Albert Square Chop House
“THE MEMORIAL Hall was built to mark the moment in 1662 that Non-conformists formally asserted their identity and left the established Church of England.
Now those Manchester temples of food and drink worship, the Chop Houses, have bought the beautiful nineteenth century building. Sam’s and Mr Thomas’s, collectively known as the Victorian Chop Houses, are moving in.”
Jonathan Schofield, 2 April 2012
A Victorian Love Affair:
The Inspiration Behind Albert Square.
THE SQUARE WAS INSPIRED BY and named after Prince Albert who died, only 42 years-old, in 1861.
He is remembered as the husband, Prince Consort and love of Queen Victoria’s life. But he was a progressive thinker in his own right. He was the President of the Society for the Extinction of Slavery. And unlike many landowners who approved of child labour and opposed Peel’s repeal of the Corn Laws, he supported moves to raise working ages and free up trade. Fittingly, given that Albert Square now hosts one of Europe’s most-visited Christmas markets, he is also credited as the person who popularised the way we celebrate Christmas today with decorated and illuminated trees following German traditions.
The plot for the square was once an area of slum housing and waste land called Hall Field near the Town Yard and the River Tib. More than 100 buildings, including the Engraver’s Arms pub, were cleared and the space laid out for the new town hall and it’s square between 1863 and 1867. Before this the Old Town Hall was located on the corner of King Street and Cross St.
The York stone paving in nearby Sam’s Chop House is said to come from this original building.
Albert Square is home to the Grade I-listed Albert Memorial, which houses Matthew Noble‘s commemorative statue of the Prince, a design approved by Queen Victoria herself. You will also find a number of other inspirational figures from the Victorian era here. These include statues of James Fraser, the second and pioneering Bishop of Manchester; John Bright; Oliver Haywood; and William Gladstone, Britain’s longest-serving prime minister.
Albert Square is dominated by another of Britain’s most distinguished, Grade I-listed buildings: Manchester’s Town Hall, which was completed in 1877. Its designer Alfred Waterhouse is regarded as the most successful of all Victorian architects, being responsible also for London’s Natural History Museum, Manchester’s Strangeways Prison, the city’s Refuge Building and numerous universities and colleges throughout the country.
Manchester’s old Town Hall (1822 -25) on King Street, designed by David Goodwin and built to replace offices previously shared with the police
The Memorial Hall: Inspired By Dissent & Free-thinking
THE ALBERT SQUARE CHOP House is located in architect Thomas Worthington’s Memorial Hall.
The building was completed in 1866 and predates both the Town Hall and the square itself. It was commissioned by the Unitarian Church to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, when some 2,000 Anglican clergy were expelled by the Church of England as Nonconformists.
The Cross Street Chapel in 1835
These so-called Dissenters opposed state interference in religious matters. Worthington created a double-height meeting place on the top floor, called the Memorial Hall. This was used to educate Unitarian ministers (acting in its early days as the de facto department of Theology for Manchester University, then known as Owens College) and as a civic meeting space.
In short, it was conceived as a place for independent, free-thinkers. It still is.
Henry Newcome created the first Dissenter’s Meeting House at Plungen’s Meadow (now Cross Street) in 1694. Wrecked by a Jacobite mob in June 1715, it was rebuilt and enlarged, eventually becoming the Cross Street Chapel.
Manchester owes much to its Unitarians.
Members of this chapel’s congergation include Elizabeth and William Gaskell, William Fairbairn, James Heywood, Eaton Hodgkinson, James Kay-Shuttleworth, Thomas Potter, John Henry Reynolds and Thomas Worthington himself.
Take the time to look up these inspirational figures and their achievements.
The Chicago historian Harold L. Platt said, “The importance of membership in this Unitarian congregation cannot be overstated: as the fountainhead of Manchester Liberalism it exerted tremendous influence on the city and the nation for a generation.”
The Cross Street Chapel gave the city its first six Lord Mayors and the country 12 Members of Parliament as well as the Manchester Guardian.
In the Footsteps of Giants:
Unitarians Whose Thoughts Have Shaped The World
Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the scientist who discovered oxygen
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95), the most celebrated potter of all time and Charles
Charles Darwin (1809-1882), who wrote The Origin of The Species, the theory of evolution
Charles Dickens (1812-70), the literary colossus of the Victorian era
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), the greatest American architect of all time
Lancelot Ware (1915-2000), biochemist, barrister and the founder of Mensa
And Sir Tim Berners-Lee (1955- ), the founder of the internet
A Building With Its Own Rich History
WORTHINGTON’S DESIGN was inspired by his travel studies in 19th century Italy, and specifically by the Renaissance Gothic architecture perfected in Venice.
The Memorial Hall went on to become one of Manchester’s most important civic meeting places. As well as catering for progressive and Liberal thinkers, it also housed a host of distinguished Victorian organisations, such as the Photographic, Statistical, Horticultural, Elocutionist and Positivist Societies. Other groups to use the building included the Unitarian Home Missionary Board and Victorian superstar Sir Charles Hallé’s choir.
Thomas Worthington modelled the Memorial Hall on the Ca’ d’Oro or Golden House on Venice’s Grand Canale, built in 1430 for the Contarini family and now a public gallery
As painted by Frederic, Lord Leighton
Architectural heritage reflected in modern joinery
‘One of the best examples of Venetian Gothic Revival architecture in the country,’
The Albert Square Chop House
The two lowest floors were originally sublet to provide income for the maintenance of the Unitarian’s Hall. The basement restaurant was once a warehouse, and has subsequently been a Kardomah Café, Consorts nightclub and a pub-theatre.
The Kardomah in Swansea was home to ‘The Kardomah Gang’, which included Dylan Thomas. Liverpool’s was used by the Beatles and many of the Merseybeat groups. Whilst the one in the Memorial Hall was LS Lowry’s favourite city centre café.
The upper ground floor bar space was previously occupied by the Square Albert pub, an iconic and much loved Manchester landmark.
Empty for almost a decade, the building was re-opened as The Albert Square Chop House in November 2012, helping to spark new interest in Albert Square as a high class leisure destination.
The owner, Roger Ward, also owns Manchester’s other two Chop Houses. Mr Thomas’s and Sam’s – founded in 1867 and 1872 respectively by two brothers, Thomas and Samuel Studd.
The Albert Square Chop House presents the surviving architectural details wher-ever they remain. The exterior is now restored and cleaned to a level not seen since 1866. Each floor reveals original cast iron structural beams. And the restaurant features a dramatic timber ceiling and related structural works. Whilst the joinery of every bar in the building is inspired by original architectural details.
The Victorian Chop House Company is dedicated to serving great British food, cooked to order with fresh local ingredients, and to preserving the special things that make Manchester unique and different.
We’re a local, independent business, thank you for your support.