Albert Hall, 27 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5QR – Visit Now
We explore The Albert Hall’s journey from chapel to nightclub and, now, its starring role in Manchester International Festival.
An ornate 2,000-seat hall, complete with pipe organ and stained glass windows that sat undisturbed above a nightclub for years? Yes, it’s a story of old Manchester. In the new Manchester, we’re quickly running out of undiscovered bits to find, fix up and fill with music, art and people. It seems we live in a time when every Northern Quarter basement is an underground venue, every deconsecrated church is a secret theatre, and every disused rail station is likely to be commandeered by an orchestra accompanied by dancing bone dust. Hallelujah!
But let’s talk about The Albert Hall. It’s the latest in our series about unusual venues around the North West, and like its predecessor, the Mayfield Depot, the Hall is one of MIF’s venues for 2013. Built as a Methodist chapel in 1910, the Grade II-listed building is notable for its Gothic and Baroque decorative features. Its two lower floors were most recently home to Brannigans, a bar and nightclub that was a mainstay of Manchester’s Quay/Peter Street “Straight Village” in the 1990s and 2000s before finally calling last orders in 2011. Upstairs on the first floor is a hidden marvel – a gracefully curved main hall, with stepped seating, intricately carved walls and ceiling, that seats 2,000 people. At the centre is a beautifully preserved pipe organ. The place is massive, with a further floor of disused rooms and topping it all, a cupola tower with magnificent views of the city.
The beauty of this building will be enjoyed in less abstemious circumstances by generations to come
The building has a fascinating history. Thanks to vigorous evangelical work among the poor and working classes in the city centre during the late 1800s, the Methodist Central Hall on Oldham Street became so crowded that the church was forced to hold services in the Free Trade Hall. The building of The Albert Hall gave them a place to hold services and entertainments targeted at drawing the young and spiritually vulnerable out of neighbouring music halls, with room for classrooms, social work and meetings. In later years, the Hallé used it as a base when the Free Trade Hall was bombed in the Second World War, and it eventually fell out of use as a Methodist place of worship in 1969.
Post-MIF, The Hall will close to be fitted out as a bar, restaurant and music venue in the Trof empire, opening again in 2014. We say it’s a very good thing that the beautiful features of this building will be enjoyed by generations to come even if it will be in somewhat less abstemious circumstances than those envisioned by its original occupants: the Manchester and Salford Wesleyan Methodist Mission, whose sole aim was, in its own words, “to evangelise the outcast and to arouse to religious earnestness the crowds in city streets.” Jokes about knocking back beers in a temperance hall aside, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the crowds for Maxine Peake’s performance of The Masque of Anarchy, Shelley’s poem commemorating the nearby Peterloo Massacre, were aroused to a near-religious earnestness. Not one little bit.