Manchester’s magnificent Old Fire Station – soon to be renovated

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

The Old Fire Station, London Rd Manchester in sunny weather

Over a period of many years, London Road Fire Station has been without doubt Manchester’s most magnificent disused building. Every day, thousands of people pass by it on the bus or going in and out of Piccadilly Station, but not everyone notices its faded grandeur.

To me it has been a potent symbol of Manchester’s failure to make the best of its architectural heritage. It was given Grade II* listed status in 1974.

At night I often visualise how it would look if its shiny, butterscotch-coloured exterior were illuminated by floodlights. There would be an upmarket restaurant behind the doors that were once used by fire engines. Inside the main entrance would be a hotel reception by the main entrance and there would be an art exhibition inside the inner courtyard.

The exterior of the Old Fire Station in afternoon sunlight

The best time to photograph it is on a sunny morning when the sun is shining from the south east along Fairfield Street, lighting both its main facades. It’s also possible to take it in the afternoon when the light reflects off the smooth, reflective surface of its tiles.

London Road Fire Station was built in 1906 around the same time as the Victoria Baths. The Victoria Baths is often called Manchester’s Water Palace. The fire station also looks like a palace but it’s devoted to another element – fire. On the exterior there above the door there is a frieze with women symbolising the elements fire and water.

Fire Maidens - sculptures on the exterior of the Old Fire Station

It served Manchester for most of the 20th century, including two world wars and the uncertain post war years.

It was vacated by the Fire Service in 1986 and most of the building has been empty since then.

Former owners Britannia Hotels had planned to redevelop the building but for various reasons they were unable to proceed. They were criticised for allowing the building to deteriorate, though I have heard that they carried out some work on parts of the building to prevent further damage.

In late 2015, the building was purchased by Allied London who have plans for restoration. Shortly after purchasing it, they announced a new name: ‘Manchester Fire House’.

The Friends of London Road Fire Station have been campaigning for long time to save and restore the building, and are said to be very happy that the building has been sold to Allied London. As I understand it, the Friends would like it to be restored as a combination of a hotel and perhaps an arts centre, with other possible community uses. Manchester City Council would like it to be re-opened as a hotel.

Manchester coat of arms Old Fire Station

Standing in the shadow of the Old Fire Station is the site of the building that from the early 70s to 2012 was the home of the legendary Twisted Wheel night club, famous for Northern Soul. Club nights took place in the basement with its arches, similar to the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

With their irregular facades, the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam. With the approval of Manchester City Council the buildings were demolished in 2012 to make way for a modern style hotel. In my opinion, they should have been retained.

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - After

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – After

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Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs photography walks in Manchester and Liverpool.