Free Trade Hall


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5GP


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Statutory Address:
Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5GP

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Manchester (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 83683 97930


This List entry was subject to a Minor Enhancement on 05/06/2018

SJ 8397 NE 698-1/31/276

MANCHESTER PETER STREET(south side) Free Trade Hall



II* Former public assembly hall, later a concert hall, converted to hotel in 2004.

Built 1853-6, by Edward Walters; largely reconstructed 1950-51, following war damage, by L.C. Howitt, City Architect. Sandstone ashlar (roof concealed). Trapeziform plan. Renaissance style.

Monumental two-storey nine-bay facade; arcaded ground floor with modillioned cornice, colonnaded upper floor with arcaded tympana, frieze enriched with swags and roundels, prominent dentilled and modillioned cornice with balustraded parapet. The ground floor has rectangular piers with enriched imposts and moulded round-headed arches with richly carved spandrels including shields of the Lancashire towns which took part in the Anti-Corn Law movement. The piano nobile has coupled Ionic columns with corniced entablatures, each bay containing a tall window with pedimented architrave and balustraded ornamental balcony, emblematic carved figures in the tympanum (representing the Arts, Commerce, Manufacture, the Continents, and Free Trade) and richly-carved spandrels with roundels. Plaque attached at left end of ground floor recording that this was the site of the "Peterloo" meeting in 1819. The returned sides have three bays in matching style (but blank arches at ground floor), and a continuation of sandstone rubble in much simpler style. The rear wall (rebuilt c.1950-51) has tall pilasters surmounted by relief figures in Portland stone, representing various forms of entertainment which took place in the old Hall.

INTERIOR: reconstructed and remodelled 1950-51. The Large Hall is in stripped classical style with the decorative features designed to respond to the acoustic requirements. These include sound reflectors over the platform, wall fluting and the coffered ceiling. There is wood panelling and facing in oak, walnut and sycamore. The other interiors are in a similar style.

HISTORY: built on land given by Richard Cobden in St Peter's Fields, by the Anti-Corn Law League, replacing a simple brick building of 1843 which itself replaced a timber pavilion of 1840. Home of the Halle Orchestra from 1858.

The Hall is where the British militant suffrage campaign began. The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed in Manchester in October 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and a group of women from the local Independent Labour Party (ILP). For two years it organised small meetings in and around Manchester and pressed the ILP to honour its commitment to giving votes to women. The Union changed its tactics on 13 October 1905. Two of its young members, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, went to a Liberal Party election meeting at the Free Trade Hall and hung a banner reading ‘Votes for Women’ over the balcony, demanding to know whether a Liberal government would give votes to women. After a scuffle they were ejected from the hall then arrested. They refused to pay a fine, so went to prison, starting nine years of militant direct action by women determined to get parliamentary votes.

The building stands on the site of the 1819 Peterloo massacre, in which troops mowed down crowds demanding political rights, a fact often invoked by suffragettes who saw themselves as part of a longer tradition of direct action. Suffragettes disrupted further Liberal meetings at the Free Trade Hall. As the Union grew in size it was able to fill the venue itself and held several large meetings there with speakers such as Mrs Pankhurst (December 1912). In April 1913, at the height of the WSPU’s campaign of violent militancy, a homemade bomb, thought to be the work of suffragettes, exploded under the stage of the Hall.

This list entry was amended in 2018 as part of the centenary commemorations of the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

Listing NGR: SJ8368397930


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 19 Jun 2004
Reference: IOE01/12423/08
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Brian Lomas. Source Historic England Archive
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