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Attractions in Manchester: Central Station & Castlefield

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (photo by Alan Stanton - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Around the Central Station

One of the most visible landmarks in town is the former Manchester Central Railway Station, a good starting point to start exploring the city. The huge station operated between 1880 and 1969. It now houses an exhibition and conference centre named Manchester Central Conference Centre (formerly known as the GMEX centre and Manchester International Conference Centre).

200m north of the station stands the imposing Neo-gothic Town Hall, dominating Albert Square. Built between 1868 and 1877 by Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), the architect of the Natural History Museum in London, it is one of the greatest Victorian edifices in northern England. The 85m-tall clock tower has airs of Big Ben and houses a carillon of 23 bells. The superbly ornated interior features murals in the Great Hall, painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893).

St Peter's Field, where the Peterloo massacre occured (see History above) used to span the area south of the town hall. The Free Trade Hall stands at the exact location of the massacre. Built to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840's, it also served as a concert hall. The Hallé Symphony Orchestra (the fourth oldest in the world) first performed there in 1858, and continued to do so until its move in 1996 to the nearby, ultra-modern Bridgewater Hall. The new venue is built on steel springs that render it earthquake-proof and insulate it from noise and vibration from the road and metro.

Central Library, Manchester (photo by Gtosti - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The centre of St Peter's Square is occupied by the Central Library, a circular Neo-classical building inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Inaugurated in 1934, it is the largest municipal library in the country, with a stunning 32 km of shelves.

Housed in the old Manchester Athenaeum building (built in 1824), the Manchester Art Gallery is the local equivalent of London's National Gallery, an august institution displaying the works of great artists, chiefly from the 18th to the early 20th century. The building was designed by Charles Barry (1795-1860), the architect of the Houses of Parliament. The gallery got a face-lift and was extended in 2002. The English school is particularly well represented, with Gainsborough, Constable, Turner, Stubbs, as well as one of Britain's foremost collections of Pre-Raphaelite art, including such names as Hunt, Millais and Ford Madox Ford. There is a substantial collection of 17th-century Dutch artists, but also single works by Degas, Renoir, Gauguin and Pissaro, just to name the more famous. The new gallery is devoted to 20th century British artists (Lowry, Bacon, Moore, Freud, Spencer, Hockney...), while the third section is home to the Gallery of Craft & Design.

Also in the neighbourhood is the People's History Museum, housed in an Edwardian pumping station in Bridge Street. The exhibits retrace the social history of the nation's working class in the 19th and 20th century, reviewing and explaining the demonstrations, social reforms and struggles for political representation, but also the birth of labour unions and the rise of the suffragette movement. Some 1500 historic objects and photographs illustrate the lives of ordinary people at work or during their free time.

Castlefield Urban Heritage Park

South and east of Manchester Central is Castlefield, the ancient Roman part of town. The site has become the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park. A reconstruction of the north gate and a few houses can be seen at the Castlefield Roman Fort.

The world's first passenger railway terminated at Castlefield's Liverpool Road railway station. The station now houses the Museum of Science and Industry, one of Manchester's most impressive museums. Visitors will learn everything about the Industrial Revolution, steam locomotives, early telegraphs and telephones, and even the city's sewing system. The museum also features a 4D theatre experience and a science gallery for children.

Other places of interest in the neighbourhood are the Castlefield Gallery (contemporary art), the Beetham Tower (see the History section), and the cafés, bars and restaurants along the Deansgate Locks.


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