A lot can happen in 142 years, as captivating images reveal…

From its employment of Lendlease - the Australian property giant who was embroiled in a bitter row with Salford residents over cladding - to criticisms that the £330m price tag could have been avoided with better maintenance, Manchester City Council has faced considerable controversy over its six-year Town Hall refurbishment.

Closed until 2024, the Grade I listed icon is currently undergoing extensive restoration to safeguard it for future generations. 

2019 07 23 Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall is undergoing a six-year refurbishment

Now, in a belated effort to engage local citizens during the works, councillors have teamed up with culture consultants Curated Place on Town Hall Tales: a new exhibition revealing some of the most captivating stories in its 142-year history.

Celebrating the people of Manchester and their relationship with the Town Hall through images by acclaimed photographer Layla Sailor - alongside memories and anecdotes curated by local writer and artist Afshan D’souza-Lodhi - the project will also see workshops and events held across Manchester’s 32 wards. 

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The Cannings received an unexpected visitor at their wedding Layla Sailor

Highlights include the tale of John and Frances Canning, whose marriage in the Town Hall coincided with a visit from the Queen - in Manchester as part of her 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations and attending a lunch hosted by the Lord Mayor of Manchester. Little did the happy couple know that arrangements had been made for Her Majesty and Prince Philip to congratulate them personally (now that’s what you call one for the photo album). 

Other snapshots and stories span 1990s masquerade balls to Halle Orchestra rehearsals and Fort Madox Brown’s evocative murals. 

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Julie Franklin, daughter of ‘Postie Lord Mayor’ Ken Franklin, moved into the Town Hall apartments from a council house in North Manchester Layla Sailor

Stephen Nuttall, Senior Producer and Project Manager at Curated Place, said: "An overwhelming sense of pride in the city comes to the forefront in each of these tales, and each captures a very special moment in people's lives - with Manchester Town Hall as the ever present stage for these tales to unfold upon."

Following the exhibition, and inspired by the city’s history of trading both goods and ideas, Town Hall Tales’ next project will be Manchester Mail. Inspired by ‘mail art’ - a populist artistic movement centered on sending small scale works through the post - this will see Manchester Youth Council work closely with local artists, including acclaimed collage and printmaker Sarah Hardacre, to share mail art with youth organisations in Iceland and Denmark. It’ll coincide with Manchester School of Art’s quirky exhibition Curious Things

2019 11 29 Manchester Mail
Supported with Arts Council funding, Town Hall Tales’ next project will be Manchester Mail

Councillor Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “The Town Hall has played an integral role in Manchester life for more than 140 years and the once-in-a-lifetime project we've embarked upon is called Our Town Hall precisely because it belongs to the people of the city - it is part of their story and they are part of its story.  

“An important strand of the project is about making the building and its treasures more accessible to the public. This project complements that goal by exploring how our iconic Town Hall and the lives of Mancunians have been interwoven during its long history.”

Town Hall Tales will be at Manchester Central Library (lower ground floor) until late December. Find out more about the Town Hall refurbishment here