One of the most fascinating buildings I have researched this year has been the London Road Fire Station, in central Manchester. The building is a rare Grade II* example described in its listing description as “Ebullient Edwardian Baroque”. In recent years this beautiful building has been sadly neglected but is now seeing a new future, hopefully as an hotel. A great deal of restoration is required, but a significant amount of its original exterior and interior features are still in situ and will be retained.
The building, completed in 1906, was the design of architects John Henry Woodhouse, George Harry Willoughby and John Langham of Manchester. It set the standard for quality of building design and technological innovation in fire stations around the world. In addition, one of the most eye-catching features of the building are the beautiful Art Nouveau sculptures that adorn the exterior. These are by the artist John Jarvis Millson and if it wasn’t for the technology setting this building apart, then the sculptures and reliefs certainly would.
The construction took two years and by early September 1906 forty men, thirteen horses and six engines had moved in. But it didn’t just serve the firemen, it was also home to their wives and children. The building incorporated a laundry, gymnasium, billiard room and children’s playroom. Flats were provided for thirty-two firemen and their families and for six single men. The Chief and Second Officers were provided with lavish accommodation too. Electric bells and lights in the flats alerted the men in case of a turnout and they were able to reach the engine house by means of poles which lead directly from the flats above.
The fire station served as the headquarters for Manchester’s Fire Brigades in the first half of the 20th century. It also accommodated a bank, police station and coroner’s court. It finally closed all civic functions in the late 1990s. But in its heyday it was considered by its first chief officer to be “The Finest Fire Station in This Round World”.