Revealed: the spectacular former headquarters of Manchester’s freemasons

Manchester’s glitterati turned out in force for a first look at the dramatic £7million transformation of one of the city’s most iconic buildings.

Moet and Chandon corks popped, Tanqueray gin flowed, former Hacienda DJ Graeme Park blasted out dance tracks and House of Fraser models strutted on the catwalk in a series of stunning, chandelier-lit rooms as the former Freemason’s Hall on Bridge Street revealed its secrets to 600 VIP guests.

Renamed Manchester Hall and three years in the re-making in close co-operation with English Heritage, the building, which is reminiscent of a lavishly appointed embassy, has opened as a unique all-purpose premium conference and events venue with 11 function rooms on the first and second floors, all unique and rich in architectural detail.

On the lower floor, Mason’s Bar and Restaurant is the first of three food and drink venues to open. Fable, an extravagantly decorated pan-Asian restaurant from the owners of celebrity haunt Panacea and Pintura, a Basque-influenced restaurant specialising in pintxos and gin, are due to open in the coming months.

The imposing neo-classical Portland stone building was first opened as the city’s Freemasons headquarters by the Earl of Derby in 1929. It was designed by the architect Percy Worthington who also worked on Manchester Cathedral and the Manchester Grammar School, sparing no expense for the members of the lodge, pillars of society and leaders of the business community. In 1930, Worthington was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects for his work on the hall.

With the number of masons in decline, the hall became expensive for the lodge to maintain and permission was granted in 2014 to redevelop it in order to compete with other Manchester venues.

As a Grade II listed building, the spectacularly elegant interior features have remained untouched. And as a masonic headquarters, much of the interior has remained unseen by the public since 1929. Until now.

The masons, however, have retained the whole of the building’s third floor for their meetings, functions and rituals, while many of their symbols and devices such as an all-seeing eye set into a ceiling and a chequerboard inset in a floor are still evident in what has now become the public domain.

Gowns by Philip Armstrong part of the fashion installation by Look Beyond Me

Manchester Hall can accommodate events from weddings to banquets, fashion shows to corporate conferences and parties to celebrate any occasion, all with striking backdrops ensuring no two visits will ever be the same.

“It’s been a huge undertaking, but we’re delighted,” said the building’s owner, Stephen Cliff.

“It’s amazing how few people know about this wonderful part of our city’s heritage and I think our guests will be delighted with the care and attention to detail that we’ve put into restoring Manchester Hall and making it ready for all our guests, both for our opening event on November 2 and beyond.”

Speech by Stephen Cliff

The most extravagant of the function rooms is the centrepiece of the Goulburn suite, adorned with a giant chandelier and vast domed ceilings. Antique mirrored walls give an immense palatial ambience.

The Gallery, with its balconies overlooking Bridge Street, boasts a central fireplace, oak panelled walls and ornate plaster cornices. Its long rectangular shape makes it ideal for staging fashions shows.

In the new year, Manchester Hall will boast six large and luxurious hotel rooms which can be made uniquely available for newlyweds and their wedding guests. With their elegant interiors, high ceilings and sumptuous furnishings they will represent some of the most exclusive accommodation Manchester has to offer.

Pictures Carl Sukonik. Gowns by Philip Armstrong part of the fashion installation by Look Beyond Me


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