It’s an iconic landmark that welcomes visitors to Manchester as they arrive at Piccadilly Station, yet the beautiful London Road Fire Station building, has experienced a complex history that has seen it standing derelict for the last 30 years.
November 2015 marked a significant change in the building’s fortune. The fire station was purchased by Allied London and plans are underway to transform it in to a multi use development combining boutique hotels, restaurants, concept retail stores, cafes, workspaces, apartments, galleries and events spaces.
Allied London opened the fire station doors to the public this morning, offering a chance to see what the building has become and the plans for development. I have been fascinated by this building for years and couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a nose around.
History of London Road Fire Station
The fire station was described by Fire Call magazine as “the finest fire station in this round world” before construction even began. It was designed as an iconic building to celebrate and serve Manchester’s emergency services.
Faced with the familiar red brick and terracotta of early 20th century buildings in Manchester (examples of which include the Midland Hotel, Manchester University’s Sackville Street Building and Victoria Baths), the building was easy to clean and able to resist the pollution and acid rain caused by local industry.
The fire station first opened in 1906. The mixed use municipal development housed a police station, coroner’s court, bank and social club as well as the fire station. It provided residential accommodation for firemen, their families, and the horses, which drew the original fire appliances when the station opened.
The fire station was visited by royalty in 1942 to recognise the brigade’s efforts during the Second World War, when the basement was used as an air raid shelter. At the end of the war it became a training centre and in 1952 the control room was the first in the country to be equipped to record emergency calls. Sadly, the building was becoming expensive to maintain and organisations started to leave. In 1986 the building was sold when the fire service moved to new premises.
A series of planning applications were made to convert the fire station in to a hotel and in the meantime the building was mainly used for storage. The coroner’s court was the last official organisation to leave, moving out in 1998. By 2001 the fire station had been placed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register as it waited for it’s owners, Britannia Hotels, to move forward with development plans.
For reasons not entirely known, Britannia’s aim of converting the fire station never came to fruition. In a drawn out battle with the Council and a failed attempt at a compulsory purchase order in 2010, the group Friends of London Road Fire Station formed in 2013 to campaign for the building’s future.
Manchester breathed a sigh of relief when Allied London, which is already responsible for substantial development in Manchester, including in the Spinningfields area, purchased the building. The occasion was marked with a party and conga line round the fire station then, from the public perspective, things fell quiet while plans were drawn up.
The future of London Road Fire Station
Opening the fire station to the public fits well with Allied London’s aim to involve the people of Manchester in the development plans.
The company’s vision is that, “London Road will leave an impression. It will be energetic, spirited, atmospheric and real. Old and new are juxtaposed to create a unique atmosphere and people will flock to London Road to experience, create, think and learn.”
I am pleased to report that the plans for redevelopment remain sympathetic to the building and its heritage. Changes will respond to the building’s original architecture rather than adapting the building for a new use.
From poking around it seems that there is a lot that can be reused or restored. It sounds likely that as many of the original features will be retained as possible.
I doubt that I’m alone in thinking that after 30 years of gradual decline, any development at London Road Fire Station is better than the alternative. I can’t wait to follow the progress and hopefully have the opportunity, in the not too distant future, to wander round the whole development and be greeted with a sense of the building’s interesting and important past.
Keep up to date with developments at the fire station through the London Road Manchester website.