Category: Excellent

What and when? Onward Buildings, 1904

Who? Charles Heathcote

Haven't we heard of him before?

He's everywhere across the city centre. He designed Parr's Bank, now Brown's Restaurant, The Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, now Rosso Restaurant, both on Spring Gardens and the old Lloyd's Bank on Cross Street. In Piccadilly he designed the textile warehouse presently hosting Abode Hotel. For twenty years in Manchester he was the man if you wanted an office. He even designed the building opposite Onward Buildings, Royal London House, at the junction of Deansgate and Quay Street. Onward is a little different though. 

How so?

Well, it's not a commercial building and it's not so bullish, bombastic and (usually) Baroque as the rest. It's almost a delicate building. 

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Go on describe it for us.

The building begins and ends with charm, it flirts with Deansgate, with playful bands of red brick, yellow sandstone and yellow terracotta. There are commercial units on the bottom, then three storeys with the windows framed by bold surrounds, the top floor has round windows jazzily linked by yellow bands, all pulled together by a massive but balanced cornice. Then there's the pair of tall elegant chimneys capped to match the cornice and framing attic windows. It's a delight how the building turns the corners with a cool curve at each end of the facade. The first floor balcony over the grand doorway crowned by its cherub under a shield shows lovely attention to detail. And take a look at the fonts used on the exterior, a melding of Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. 

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Wow. You like it. And you love fonts? 

I think the use of text on a building almost always enhances it. It also speaks of the fashions and even attitudes of the times as much as the architecture. It gives designers freedom too, allowing them to step outside the conventions of the building-style chosen - Gothic, Classical and so on - especially in that fascinating period of design as the nineteenth century became the twentieth. You also get lettering overload on the top floor inside Onward Buildings.

We've noticed that on the pictures here. What's going on up there?

First I need to tell you what Onward Buildings was all about. The text above the front door reads Band of Hope. This was an affiliation of Temperance groups campaigning against the consumption of alcohol by children. Band of Hope was formed originally in Leeds in 1847 by temperance movement leaders in this case inspired by one Reverend Jabez Tunnicliffe. Of course over time it was natural to make Manchester head office - or maybe our kids just drank more. Members, some as young as six, took a pledge of total abstinence, and were given lessons about the devil's brew. They had to attend weekly classes but there were also more fun activities such as carnivals and processions. The name of the organisation was all about the hope and joy you get from steering clear of drink - hence Heathcote's gloriously happy building. (Abstinence is admitedly not a very Manchester Confidential sentiment).

So what about that tiled room?

This was the main regional meeting room for the various Band of Hope groups. The names on the tiles mark the 'Districts, Organizations And Groups Who Made Special Contributions For The Erection Of The Band Of Hope Building'. This is one of those hidden special places of the city. It's airy, beautifully enhanced by the circular windows and given personality by the names of the donors: Bradford Good Intent Division, Nurse Hancock, Longsight 'Manchester Sons', W Crumblehulme, Chapel For The Destitute, Perseverance Division. The script matches the sign on the exterior of the building. The hoods over the radiators are worth noting too.

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Who owns it now?

The charming Barrie Bloom of Mayer Investments who bought the building in the 1980s and has been in love with it ever since. Barrie, a true gent alive with passion for his building, remembers taking trips to the Royal Exchange when it was the centre of the textile world - he's been booked for a follow-up interview, the man's a treasure trove of Manchester memories. 

Anything else?

Yes, that title Onward Buildings. If I'm having a dreary day I see the words on the side of the building and it uplifts me. It's the most positive title in the city. When I see it I have brass bands playing in my head and happy children walking in processions through sunny city streets, I forget the often sanctimonious piety associated with earnest temperance types. 

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Anything else?

Two things.Firstly, Band of Hope still exists simply called Hope and now based in London continuing to educate young people about alcohol and drug abuse. Secondly, of all the Charles Heathcote buildings I mentioned above this to me is his best. As with the Memorial Hall click here (with which it shares a non-conformist heritage) it is a perfect piece of city scape, distinctive but not domineering. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

 

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