Municipal buildings


Detail of Leeds Town Hall

The population map of Britain began to change dramatically at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution created rapid urban growth, away from the old centres of wealth. New industrial and commercial centres in the Midlands, Wales, Scotland and especially the North became prominent, and they were keen to assert their new found wealth and identity.

Chief amongst these was Manchester. The city grew at an alarming rate. The old heart of Manchester became lost amongst the new offices, warehouses and mills of the burgeoning city. Beyond back-to-backs, slums and cellar dwellings mixed with endless terraces. Extremes of wealth and poverty existed in close proximity.

Many leading citizens regarded Manchester as the new Florence. Both cities’ fortunes were based on cloth-making. At the heart of Renaissance Florence was the old town hall, with its soaring bell tower. Manchester too needed a magnificent town hall to equal, if not surpass, its historical rival, as well as its contemporary competitors, such as Leeds.

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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