Saturday, 9 May 2015

Manchester Town Hall Clock Tower Tour

This is one we'd been meaning to do for a while but these tours aren't run too often. Today Peter, Malc, and me did it. We donned oxygen masks, crampons, and roped-up for the ascent of the Town Hall Tower!

Actually we caught the 88 bus to Wilmslow station, the train to Piccadilly, and the free bus to Albert Square. We were supposed to meet the tour guide at 12:45 at the Albert Memorial in the square for a 13:00 tour start. There was an athletics event being held in Manchester, including in front of the Town Hall so there was a loud commentary and even louder music. 12:45 came and went; no guide. We went looking and found him in the Town Hall with the rest of the group (what did they know that we didn't?).

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Here's the challenge. 280 feet or so of Gothic architecture; Manchester Town Hall 

Jonathan, our Guide, on a Pugin floor (reminds me of the floors in Abney Hall, Cheadle, where I had an office for many years). 

The Town Hall entrance is directly below the bell tower. The circular section above the chandelier provides access for lowering and raising the massive 'hour' bell to or from its place in the tower should that be required. Note the cotton plant motifs in the ceiling decoration, a pointer to Manchester's wealth at the time the Town Hall was built. In those times Manchester pretty much controlled world wide cotton prices making it immensely wealthy; not for nothing was it called 'Cottonopolis'! 

It's a long climb to the top of the tower, so there are several stopping off points to look at associated artifacts. This is the centre table decoration used on civic occasions, but otherwise displayed in its glass cabinet on one of the upper floors of the Town Hall.

The foothills of the ascent (the bits within the Town Hall building, before commencing the tower ascent proper) are on a wide spiral staircase 

Down the centre of this staircase is a void, used to peculate heating air to the upper floors  

There is a peal of bells in the tower, and these are the ropes the campanologists  use when bell ringing is in progress 

Ringing room explanation (click on the picture to enlarge) 

Above the main building we commenced climbing the tower. Here. the spiral stairway is narrow and steep. At each floor there is a side turning to that floor; this view is back from a side turning to the main staircase.  

Malc's unmistakable profile with his 'self sustaining' rucksack (sandwiches, coffee, bog paper, smokes, miniature of whisky, seat, defibrillator, distress fares - OK, I lied about the last two!) beside the pendulum for the Town Hall clock that swings once every 4 seconds

In the mechanism room, the clock itself!

Here it is chiming the half hour:

Half hour Westminster chime

Mechanism room explanation (click on the picture to enlarge)

The Carillon in the mechanism room requires some TLC to get it working again. A carillon plays the bells automatically according to the roll of punched paper fed into it.

Johnathan shows us one of the carillon rolls from its adjacent cabinet 

The lower bell platform in the tower, reached via a metal vertical ladder; up to this floor, then back down the ladder. Not every tour includes this, we were told, but as ours comprised a small number of participants we were offered the opportunity . This level contains the bells that chime the quarter hours using 'clappers' inside each bell, and those played by the campanologists. Those bells swing on trunnion bearings.   

The next level up is inside the four clock faces. The vertical square tube connects the clock two floors below, to the clock motor which powers the hands to display the time on the clock faces. The open 'door'  in the centre of the picture gives s glimpse of one of the clock faces.

Next level up is the balcony. Obvious here is the triangular site the Town Hall is built on. This is looking back from the main building in Albert Square over the central hall. 

Looking towards Lloyd St and the Central Library

Looking up to one of the four sub towers

Winter Hill, well known to every Barton pilot, on the horizon

Beetham Tower dominates the skyline

Albert Square

Looking north. Excellent views in today's clear visibility brought about by unstable air removing pollutants from the atmosphere.

Immediately below is the 'Runway' (what, no threshold markings!) for the athletic event taking place in front of the Town Hall 

Looking to Piccadilly, York House 'below' the ferris wheel 

CIS building dominates the eastern view

At the top level - the mighty 'hour' bell. This is the one that chimes the hours. The hammer that rings it can just be seen to the right of the bell peeking above the supporting girder. We were up here at 2pm when this enormous bell struck twice. Prior to this we could just hear the Westminster chimes of the smaller bells some distance below. There was a pause. Then the hammer drew back; and struck. Twice.
One felt rather than heard the initial bell chime, and the upper tower forms an amplification chamber so after the second deafening 'CLANG!' one could hear the slowly declining reverberations. Magic!

Here is the 2pm hour chime of the great bell:

Looking up from the 'hour' bell to the pinnacle of the Town Hall tower. We wondered later why there are no pigeons living up here; is it too high for them?

The airport control tower stands out on the southern horizon

Former Central Station stands out clearly in the compact city scene

Back down to ground level

It always looks less high looking up from the ground than looking down to the ground. Right at the top of the picture, on top of the tower, is a a spiky golden globe. It represents a ripe cotton seed, and also the Sun; symbolic of the Sun never setting on Manchester's worldwide empire!

What a great tour! Highly recommended! Many thanks to Jonathan for showing us round this icon of Manchester's heyday when the saying was "what Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow". UK was not south east-centric in those great days!


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