Manchester's Grade II listed Memorial Hall to be reborn as Albert Square Chop House

A landmark Manchester building, latterly known as the Square Albert pub,<br/>has a new lease of life thanks to those Chop House people<br/>Words by RAY KING

One of Manchester’s most iconic listed buildings has had a �3.5m restoration from the owners of the Victorian Chop House Company.

This latest example of the hospitality industry putting new heart into the city’s rich heritage is not only being celebrated by conservation groups and devotees of Sam’s and Mr Thomas’s Chop Houses, but by virtually everybody who expresses a love for Manchester.

Roger Ward, chief executive of the Chop House Company said: ‘There is so much goodwill being shown to us for bringing back this building to life it’s incredible.’

The building in question is the Memorial Hall in Albert Square. It was built in magnificent Venetian Gothic style by local architect Thomas Worthington between 1863-66 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Act of Uniformity. The Act is also dubbed ‘the Great Ejection’, under which 2,000 dissenting Church of England clergy were driven from their livings. It was, in effect, the birth of a number of non-conformist movements, not least the Unitarian Church.

The Grade II listed Memorial Hall, which would not look out of place overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, has lain derelict for a decade. But Roger and his finance director of the last seven years, Alister Cook, aim to unveil The Albert Square Chop House and Function Suites in time to take advantage of Manchester’s popular Christmas market in the square outside. Work is on course for the opening in November of a dining pub, 70-seat restaurant in the semi basement, and function suites.

The opening of a boutique hotel featuring eight luxury suites on the top two-floors - created from the original meeting hall itself - is planned for 2013.

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Said Roger, who has worked closely with English Heritage: ‘With the Memorial Hall derelict, Albert Square has been like a smile with a missing tooth, so putting a living business back in enhances the fabric the most important location the city. And the Christmas market is vitally important to us – it’s the biggest tourist attraction of its kind in the north apart from the Edinburgh Festival.

‘This is probably the finest building of its type in the country and I am really excited to be bringing it back to life and I want this to be a catalyst to bring more life into Albert Square.’

The style of the dining pub – Roger insists it will be a pub, not a brasserie - and the restaurant will be in keeping with that of the building but blended with contemporary facets. The food offer will echo that which has proved so successful in Mr Thomas’s and Sam’s; a modern interpretation of traditional British dishes made from local, seasonal ingredients.

The provision of the function suites, the Thomas Worthington Boardroom for business meetings and the larger Memorial Hall, which can accommodate a range of events from sales conferences and private parties to weddings – the nearby town hall is a popular venue for tying the knot and the city’s Register Office is virtually next door – is a key part of Roger’s strategy.

‘We often get asked whether we can cater for events like weddings at the chop houses, but they are not really suitable. The new venture gives us the space to do it.’

If ever there was a case of history repeating itself, this is it. The vision and the finance for revitalising the Memorial Hall is coming from Sam’s Chop House in Chapel Walks, off Cross Street. On the other side of the narrow, pedestrian street is the latest incarnation of the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, first built in 1694.

And it was from here, during the 56 year ministry of the Rev William Gaskell – whose wife Elizabeth is one of the giants of English literature – that the vision and the finance came for Thomas Worthington’s construction the Memorial Hall in the first place.

Events separated by 150 years...and just a few yards.

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