A new series of short films on Manchester landmarks lost, imagined and existing
Presented and written by our editor-at-large, Jonathan Schofield, this is the first in a series looking at the past, the present and the imagined city.
This short film reveals the story behind one of the great 'lost buildings' of Britain: the spectacular Assize Courts on Bury New Road which was bombed in 1940 and 1941.
Alfred Waterhouse (architect of Manchester Town Hall, the main University of Manchester block and Strangeways Prison, which lies immediately behind the site of the Assize Courts) won the competition to design the building at the tender age of 29. His largely Gothic design helped popularise the style nationally.
The fantastical skyline of the Assize Courts, the clever interior planning, the quality of finish and the rich detail in applied arts all made it an immediate hit. It was huge too, with the Great Hall a sensation that attracted international travel.
Heavily damaged in World War II this stunning building was demolished while other shattered buildings such as the Free Trade Hall were restored and re-opened. Why that happened is explored in the film. There was city trickery at play.
The film also looks at the character of Alfred Waterhouse, his extraordinary family and his prophetic wife.
As for the Assize Courts, there is at least one part of the building remaining on the original site. The fancy perimeter wall facing the road is now the boundary wall for that least grand of city elements, a surface car park.