Britannia Hotel

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Manchester, Britannia Hotel, Portland Street

In the 1840s Manchester was the central market for the 280 cotton towns and villages within twelve miles of the centre, and a larger population beyond. Booming trade brought redevelopment of the centre, where commercial buildings, particularly warehouses sprang up in streets near the Exchange. Travis & Mangnall's Watts Warehouse (now the Britannia Hotel), on Portland Street, (1851-6) was the king of the home trade warehouses, and remains one of the largest and most impressive buildings of its type in the centre. Home trade warehouses served the home market with retailers visiting the premises to inspect the goods and make ordersGlossary Term. Emphasis was on display and good lighting for viewing the goods, and there would usually be an impressive hall or foyer and show rooms with mahogany counters beneath the windows where goods could be inspected. The industry encompassed made-up clothing, haberdashery and a wide range of fancy goods.

S. & J. Watts was the largest wholesale drapery business in Manchester and the owner James Watts typical of the city's new mercantile princes, a self-made man who espoused the free-trade cause. His warehouse aptly encapsulates the spirit of self-confidence mixed with a touchGlossary Term of brashness. The length is twenty-three bays or c. 300ft, the height nearly 100ft. There are four roof towers but the ranges of gables between and on top of the towers shown on C19 engravings have been lost.

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Manchester, Britannia Hotel, Portland Street

The general outline resembles the Fondaco dei Turchi in Venice. Each of the six floors is given a different treatment ranging from Italian RenaissanceGlossary Term to ElizabethanGlossary Term, culminating with wheel windows in the roof towers. This fantastic mixture is held together by an orderly rhythm and the confidence of the composition, so it is more than just a curiosity. The building had four large internal wells and a system of circulation which segregated customers, staff and porters. Inside the original sumptuous staircase is preserved, as are the generous landings with their ornate cast-iron columns.


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