The Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, was, for many years, a focal point, for public debate and cultural activity in the city. Built in 1853”“56 to the designs of Edward Walters, near the site of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, on what is today Peter Street (formerly St. Peters Fields), it has historically been seen as a symbol of free trade and the wealth that it helped to generate for Manchester during the Industrial Revolution. It was also used as a concert hall. The Hallé Orchestra first performed there in 1858, and continued to do so, until its move in 1996, to the Bridgewater Hall. There have, in fact, been three buildings known as the Free Trade Hall on the same site. The first two were built to host meetings of the Anti-Corn Law League, during the Corn Law debates of the 1830s and 1840s. The first building was a wooden structure, followed by a more solid stone construction. The third, the facade of which still stands today, was completed in 1856, as a permanent monument to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws ten years previously. Heavy bombing during the Manchester Blitz severely damaged the building, and it was reconstructed by Leonard Howitt, eventually re-opening as a concert hall in 1951. As well as housing the Hallé Orchestra for many years, it was also used by pop and rock acts, including The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ABBA, Yes, Wings, Queen, KISS and The Police. In 1997, the building was sold by Manchester City Council to private developers ”“ despite resistance from local groups such as the Manchester Civic Society, who viewed the idea as inappropriate given the historical significance of the building. After the initial planning application was refused by the Secretary of State, a second and drastically modified planning application was submitted and approved. The reconstructed building retains the original facade but has been otherwise completely rebuilt as the Radisson Edwardian Hotel. The building is grade II* listed.

Famous events
In 1905 the WSPU activists, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were ejected from a meeting in the Hall addressed by the Liberal spokesman Sir Edward Grey, who repeatedly refused to answer their question on Votes for Women. Christabel immediately began an impromptu meeting outside, and when the police moved them on, with some difficulty eventually contrived to be arrested and brought to court. So began the militant WSPU campaign for the vote. Kathleen Ferrier sang for the opening of the Free Trade Hall in 1951, ending with a performance of Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory, the only performance of that piece in her career. A recording of the performance was later made into a record. Bob Dylan played at the Free Trade Hall on 17 May 1966, shortly after he "went electric" and at the height of the controversy over his perceived betrayal of his folk roots. It was here that he was famously branded a Judas by a member of the audience. A "bootleg" recording of that concert was officially released in 1998 as The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert . This was in reference to the name of the incorrect naming of the circulating bootleg before it was released. Pink Floyd played there on five occasions: on 16 June 1969 during the Man/Journey tour; on 21 December 1970 during the Atom Heart Mother tour; on 11 February 1972 during the pre-view tour of what was to become The Dark Side of the Moon , during which the power failed and the show had to be abandoned - however, the group returned to do two shows on 29 and 30 March. Genesis recorded a portion of their first live album, Genesis Live , at the hall in February 1973. On 4 June 1976, the Lesser Free Trade Hall, a smaller room upstairs from the main hall, was the venue for a concert by the Sex Pistols which has become legendary as a catalyst to the punk rock movement and New Wave. Around 40 people attended the gig although many more have since claimed to have been there . Following the success of this gig, the Sex Pistols were invited to return. This second concert on 20 July 1976, was in many ways just as important as the first as it finally saw the concert debut of Buzzcocks and was attended by many more people. Some of the people who are believed to have attended either or both shows include:
  • Tony Wilson (one of the founders of Factory Records, home to Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, among others. Also was ”“ with New Order and Factory ”“ a founder of the seminal Manchester nightclub, The Haçienda.)
  • Howard Devoto (Buzzcocks, Magazine and Luxuria)
  • Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks)
  • Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks)
  • Morrissey ( The Smiths)
  • Ian Curtis ( Joy Division)
  • Bernard Sumner (Joy Division, New Order and Electronic)
  • Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order, Revenge, Monaco and Freebass)
  • Martin Hannett (record producer for Factory records)
  • Mark E. Smith (lead singer of The Fall)
  • Jon the Postman (Mancunian musician and personality)
  • Linder Sterling (lead singer of Ludus)
  • Paul Morley - Best known as a music journalist with the New Musical Express
  • Mick Hucknall - ( Simply Red)
    • In fact Hucknall never has claimed to have been at either show- he was actually at the December gigs at the Electric Circus.
There is a film record of part of one of the gigs that makes it possible to confirm some of the audience. This footage is used alongside a re-creation of the gig in the film 24 Hour Party People . A detailed account of both gigs is given in the book I Swear I Was There: The Gig That Changed The World by David Nolan (IMP 2006). It has interviews with audience members and photos taken at both events.