This year marks 20 years since work started on the relocation of the Old Shambles pubs, Manchester. To mark the occasion, we look back at the project and the complex task of moving two centuries old buildings, piece by piece.
In 1996, an IRA bomb tore through Corporation Street in the heart of Manchester city centre. The largest to be detonated on UK soil, the bomb destroyed neighbouring shops and commercial space with damage totalling hundreds of millions.
The destruction however, paved the way for a new vision for the city. A masterplan was developed to repair and redevelop the centre, and create new quarters connected by new routes. One of the principle aims of the masterplan was to re-connect the cathedral with the city centre, previously cut off by the 1970’s Market Place shopping development. These buildings also surrounded two Grade II lited historic pubs; the 16th century Old Wellington and the 18th century Sinclair’s Oyster Bar .
A new pedestrian street was proposed to make this connection whilst the Market Place shopping area was to be swept away, and the area transformed with new developments including a flagship Marks and Spencer store.
To make way for the redevelopment however, it was necessary for the listed pubs to be relocated. A vacant site adjacent Manchester’s Grade I listed Cathedral was identified as the most appropriate location, providing a more sensitive setting for the two historic buildings.
Plans were then set in motion to dismantle the buildings and reassemble them true to the original, 300m north of their existing location.
In 1997, Buttress was appointed to carry out accurate recording and survey work prior to and during the dismantling, and to prepare information for reconstruction.
Senior Technician, Steve Welsh, was based on site for three months to oversee the meticulous labelling, recording, measuring, and photographing of both pubs’ timber frame and roof construction. This way, like pieces of Meccano, every single joint, peg and piece of timber – totalling more than 10,000 items – could be reconstructed piece by piece as accurately as possible in their new location.
It was vital the reconstruction was authentic and faithfully reproduced the ‘wear and tear’ expressed by the historic buildings, including uneven floors and gaps between oak beams. Where repair was needed traditional methods of construction were used.
Over a two-year period, the pubs were carefully re-assembled and re-opened for trade in September 1999. Over the past twenty years, the Old Shambles have become intrinsic part of Exchange Square, while the story of their relocation has become a well-known tale in Manchester’s history.