Inside the Manchester landmark left abandoned for 40 years - that nearly became a Britannia hotel

London Road Fire Station opposite Manchester's Piccadilly Railway Station
-Credit: (Image: © 2022 Bloomberg Finance LP via Getty Images)


At one time, it would have been unthinkable that such a magnificent and important part of Manchester's history would one day be abandoned lie crumbling for over 40 years.

London Road Fire Station is a fine example of Edwardian Baroque architecture. The handsome terracotta and red brick building opposite Piccadilly Train Station has stood at the gateway to the city since its construction was completed in 1906.

Designed by Woodhouse, Willoughby & Langham, the Grade II*-listed building also housed a police station, an ambulance station and a coroners' court. There were also around 40 spacious on-site apartments, where firemen lived with their families, in the days when premium accommodation was hard to come by and most ordinary people rented their homes.

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A training tower kept the firemen fit, and, in its heyday, the station also boasted its own library, stables, bank and gymnasium. During the year of its opening, the Manchester Evening News said of the imposing new building: "The structure is commonly described as the new fire station, but as a matter of fact it is far more than that, for it includes a bank, a coroner's court, a gas meter testing department and a police department. Really it is a most important addition to the municipal equipment of the city, and an addition, moreover, which has long been required."

London Road Fire Station the year its construction was completed. April 21, 1906
London Road Fire Station the year its construction was completed. April 21, 1906 -Credit:@Manchester Libraries and Local Archives

On its completion, the station's opulence was in stark contrast to the neighbourhood it was part of. Chorlton-on-Medlock, or 'Little Ireland' as it was also known, due to its huge Irish Catholic population at the turn of the 20th Century, was very poor and awash with pubs, pawnshops, mills and factories.

But it was during the Second World War, that the station's crews faced their most desperate tasks of all. Night after night they were called to put out hundreds of ravaging fires caused by German bombing raids on key commercial and manufacturing centres.

London Road Fire Station at the start of the Second World War. June 4, 1940
London Road Fire Station at the start of the Second World War. June 4, 1940 -Credit:@Manchester Libraries and Local Archives

One stray bomb destroyed St Augustine’s Church, in nearby York Street, and claimed the life of the parish priest. At the height of the Blitz, the firemen rescued thousands of people trapped in their homes, performing incredible acts of bravery as crucial as those fighting on the front line.

The area immediately around the fire station also suffered severe damage including a direct hit, with part of the roof blasted off and several chimneys destroyed. The bravery of the firemen was recognised when King George VI and the Queen (later the Queen Mother) visited the city.

Firefighters tackling a blazing building during the Manchester Blitz. December 1940
Firefighters tackling a blazing building during the Manchester Blitz. December 1940 -Credit:Mirrorpix

Some of the post-war tragedies that the station's fire crews were called out to included a blaze included the twin disasters of the China Lane fire in 1977 and the Blaze at Woolworths in 1979. Together they claimed 17 lives within a quarter of a mile of London Road.

London Road Fire Station was so important to the smooth operation of the city, at one time it would have been inconceivable that the building would one day become redundant. By the end of the war the ambulance station had gone while the police who occupied the Whitworth Street side of the building left in the early 1980s.

Manchester fire fighters inspection at London Road Fire Station. July 1949
Manchester fire fighters inspection at London Road Fire Station. July 1949 -Credit:Mirrorpix

My the mid-1980s, the station's fire brigade school which trained fire fighters from all over the world, switched to a new headquarters in Thompson Street. And in March 1986, the last fire fighter slid down the brass pole and the landmark station building closed its doors for the final time.

The building had been bought by the Britannia Hotels Group, who published ambitious plans to turn it into a hotel. But since the coroner's court closed in June 1998, the London Road site has faced an uncertain future.

For the next 30 years after Britannia Hotels bought the landmark, a series of complex and frustrating planning applications meant that the building lay abandoned and crumbling for decades. In 2001 the building was placed on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk Register, and while Britannia wanted to convert the building into a hotel, campaign group Friends of London Road Fire Station (FLRS) called for it to be used as a community space.

The London Road Fire Station was given Grade II* listed status in 1974
The London Road Fire Station was given Grade II* listed status in 1974 -Credit:Sam Mellish via Getty Images

In 2015, the historic Manchester city centre building was finally back on the market again after years of wrangling between Manchester council and owner Britannia Hotels. In November of 2015, current owners Allied London purchased the building and announced a complete restoration of the landmark back into public and private use.

In 2017, councillors gave the green light to plans for Grade II*-listed building transformed to host an array of attractions, including a boutique 91-room hotel, offices, apartments, a cinema, a luxury spa and bars and restaurants. While it was initially reported that the facility could be open by 2019, work remains ongoing on the site.

New photos taken of London Road Fire Station offer a fascinating glimpse into the landmark's past

Recently, photographer Pam Parish was given access and took pictures of the ongoing construction to bring the building the Manchester landmark back into use. Pam, 54, who is a Coroner's Officer from Bolton, told the M.E.N: "I've always been fascinated with the London Road Fire Station. When I was given the opportunity to look around I was delighted - and was especially interested in the old Coroner's Court, due to my job."

As well as vital work to bolster the building's construction, Pam's photos reveal the fire station's surviving ornamental features as well as the old dungeons that were part of the police station on Whitworth Street.

The Manchester Evening News has contacted Allied London asking for a progress update as to when work on the fire station building is expected to be completed.