Manchester Arndale

Manchester Arndale (known locally as The Arndale Centre or just The Arndale) is a large shopping centre in Manchester, England. The centre was built during the 1970s when many other cities were also constructing large malls. Manchester Arndale is the largest of a chain of Arndale Centres built across the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. It was originally constructed in phases between 1972 and 1979, at a cost of £100 m.

The centre was redeveloped after the Provisional Irish Republican Army bombing in 1996. The centre now has a retail floorspace of just under 1,500,000 sq ft (139,000 m2) (not including the large Selfridges and Marks and Spencer department stores it is connected to via link bridge), making it Europe's largest city-centre shopping mall. It is one of the most popular shopping centres in the UK with 38 million visitors annually, ahead of the Trafford Centre which attracts 35 million.


The Manchester Arndale was built in 1971–9 on Market Street, Manchester's main shopping street. The developers were Town & City Properties, the successors to the Arndale Property Trust, with financial backing from the Prudential Assurance Company and Manchester Corporation. It was the largest of about eighteen Arndale Centres.

Arndale Property Trust

The Arndale Property Trust was formed in the early 1950s, taking its name from its two founders, Arnold Hagenbach and Sam Chippindale. Hagenbach was a Yorkshireman of Swiss extraction at the head of a chain of baker's shops who had been investing successfully in retail premises since before 1939. Chippindale was an estate agent and former civil servant from Otley. Arndale was unusual, but not unique, amongst property companies in being based outside London and specialising in shops. Of the pair, Hagenbach invested more and was the quieter. Chippindale formed a reputation for being blunt and outspoken and capable of persuading sceptical northern councils to accept Arndale's plans, where London-based developers could not. Arndale began buying property north of Market Street in 1952.

City Council's plans for redevelopment

The city authorities recognized before the end of the Second World War that the area around Market Street was in need of redevelopment, and a plan that formed the basis for much of what followed was drawn up in 1942–5. Their position was set out by the city surveyor in 1962. "Manchester crystallized in its Victorian setting ... A new look for the city has been long overdue. ... Its unsightly areas of mixed industrial, commercial and residential development need to be systematically unravelled and redeveloped on comprehensive lines. Only in this way can a City assume its proper place as a regional centre." The corporation had by then used the power of compulsory purchase to speed redevelopment at the bomb-damaged Market Place (between the Corn Exchange and the Royal Exchange—the development has since been demolished), at the CIS buildings, and at Piccadilly. In the view of the surveyor, "These schemes have greatly improved the appearance of the central area of the City ...". The corporation's preferred form of building was a tower above a two or three storey podium, the form used in all three developments, and later that of the Arndale. Corporation planners added the land and buildings they owned to those already acquired by Arndale to increase the size of the available plot.

Retail centre

Manchester was traditionally the dominant retail centre of the conurbation and region, and Market Street had been the main shopping street since about 1850. However, Manchester's position weakened during the 1960s as the range of goods available elsewhere increased. Salford had concentrated its three main retail areas into one, with the express aim of eliminating the need for residents to travel to Manchester to shop. The town centre of Stockport had been cleared of cotton mills to improve its appearance, and a major through route had been closed to build the Merseyway Shopping Centre, which had the consequence of doubling local retail spend. In quantitative terms, while in 1961 Manchester's retail spend was 3.7 times that of the next biggest shopping area in the conurbation, by 1971 this had fallen to 2.8 times.

Plan of 1965

A 1965 version of the scheme, costed at £15M, was bounded by Market Street, Corporation Street, Withy Grove and High Street. It was intended to be the UK's biggest single shopping centre from its inception. The only change to the boundaries (as of 2009) was in 1973 (i.e. before opening) onto the site of the former Manchester Guardian offices on the opposite side of Market Street. Boots took the 110,000 square feet (gross) extension in its entirety, their biggest store at the time.

Town & City Properties

Arndale Property Trust was acquired by Town & City Properties in April 1968. A public enquiry into the redevelopment of the area started on 18 June 1968, with a submission that the existing street pattern, while historic, was "hopelessly inadequate for modern requirements". The city planning officer gave evidence that "the development would be comparable with the best carried out in North America and Scandinavia" The scheme was to include seven public houses and a 200-bed hotel. An economist gave evidence that spending in central Manchester would double by 1981. The enquiry finished on 8 July 1968 and reported in early November 1969. The inspector approved the scheme, noting that the region north of Market Street needed redeveloping, and it was sensible to redevelop the frontage too. Manchester corporation compulsorily purchased a further 8 acres (3 ha) of property in 1970 using money raised by selling land outside the city purchased for overspill housing.

Pre-1971 streets and buildings

The area was a patchwork of mostly Victorian buildings on a 17th and 18th century layout of streets, alleys, and courts. A map prepared for the 1961 meeting of the British Association shows shops fronting Market Street and Cross Street, with mainly warehousing behind (the opposite, south, side of Market Street was again fronted by shops, but was mostly office buildings behind).

Opinions vary as to the quality of the architecture. Neither Stewart's The Stones of Manchester (1956) nor Sharp et al.'s survey Manchester Buildings (1966) describe the area in general or any buildings in particular. Stewart is generally strong on Victorian architecture, and none of its sixty "principal buildings" lie in it. Sharp et al. covered both older and (then) new buildings; of the many described, from across the city, over fifty are in the city centre but none are in the cleared area.Pevsner, writing in 1969 when clearance was due, found nothing of note.H. W. D. Sculthorpe, the town clerk, described all the buildings as obsolescent in evidence to the public enquiry.The Guardian (whose Cross Street offices had been next door) wrote in 1976 that Market Street had been "depressing and decaying" for 30 years.

Later descriptions are more complimentary. Spring (in 1979) wrote of "... monstrosities that have ousted the city's grand heritage of nineteenth century commercial and industrial architecture—if the recently completed mammoth and distinctly lavatorial Arndale Centre is anything to go by." Hamilton (in 2001) wrote that the area reflected Manchester's wealth and leadership in the middle of the 19th century, with buildings designed by leading UK architects (though names are not given). Moran (in 2006) called it a "maze of characterful streets".

The area had been home in the early 1960s to several of the establishments that made Manchester, in Lee's description, a rival to Hamburg as the "fun city of Europe". Coffee bars were gathering places for people to listen to live and recorded music. As they did not serve alcohol, they were unlicensed and effectively outside the police's control. A police report of 1965, based on observations by plain-clothes cadets known as the "mod squad", found them to be unsanitary, dimly-lit drug dens, often run by "men of colour", where young men would be fleeced of their money and young women trapped into prostitution. The Manchester Corporation Act 1965 was passed following the report and had the effect of closing most of the bars. The Cinephone Cinema on Market Street was the first in Manchester to show, and concentrate on, 'continental' X-rated films mostly erotica movies. Several second-hand book stalls and what Lee described as "Manchester's very own Carnaby Street" had opened by the early 1970s. The Seven Stars on Withy Grove was one of Manchester's oldest pubs, with a licence dating back to 1356; Redford claimed it to be "oldest licensed house in Great Britain", though this was probably not the case.

Design and construction

The architects were the partnership of Hugh Wilson and Lewis Womersley. Their other work together included Hulme Crescents and the Manchester Education Precinct. Womersley, as Sheffield city architect, was responsible for Park Hill.

The developers and the corporation did not allow the architects a free hand with the design of the centre. The developers demanded a closed building with little natural light and rejected a more open, roof-lit, design. The corporation insisted on a bus station, a market, car parking, an underground railway station, and provision for deck access to later developments. Cannon Street, which ran through the middle of the site, was to be kept open, and there were to be no shop fronts on it. Similarly, Corporation Street and High Street were main routes and only allowed shop fronts on the returns to Market Street. Market Street was then a busy thoroughfare, but was allowed shop fronts as it was due to be closed to traffic (though this did not happen until 1981). The three parties—architects, developers, and city—did not communicate well. As display windows were forbidden on most of the external parts of the centre, it followed that they had to be internal. The architects realised that "the brief given ... would produce a very introverted building. And we said this would not be attractive".

Construction started in 1972. The building opened in stages, with the Arndale Tower and 60 shops opening in September 1976; followed by Knightsbridge Mall (the bridge over Market Street) in May 1977; the northern mall in October 1977; the market hall, Boots, and the bridge to the Shambles (over Corporation Street) in 1978; and finally the bus station off Cannon Street and the two anchor stores of Littlewoods and British Home Stores (close to the Market Street/High Street junction) in 1979. On opening, the centre contained 210 shops and over 200 market stalls.

The cost, estimated at £11½M in the public enquiry in 1968, had risen to £26M by 1972, and to £30M by 1974, forcing the formation of the Manchester Mortgage Corporation, a partnership of Town & City, the Prudential Assurance Company, and Manchester Corporation. The trio remained convinced they were building "the finest shopping centre in Europe". The joint company, effectively run by Manchester Corporation, raised £5M on the stock market, (a first for a company formed by a local authority), after the Prudential admitted it could not fully fund the project. Town & City came close to bankruptcy, forcing them into a reverse takeover of Jeffrey Sterling's Sterling Guarantee Trust in April 1974 and a £25M rights issue in 1975–6. Costs reached £46M by 1976, of which £13M came from the council. The final cost, described as "enormous" by Parkinson-Bailey, was £100M, made up of £11.5M for land, £44.5M for the building, and £44M for fitting out.

Early days

The early centre was split by two roads, Market Street and Cannon Street. South of Market Street, on the site of the old Guardian buildings, was a branch of Boots. Market Street was bridged by a mall, then called Knightsbridge and later Voyager Bridge. The part between Market Street and Cannon Street was mostly two-storey and contained most of the anchor stores and access to the office block. Ground-level entrances were at the upper level from High Street and at the lower level from Corporation Street, taking advantage of a slope of about 24 feet (7 m). A centrally-placed entrance from Market Street entered via a mezzanine into Hallé Square, a full-height open space. These parts of the centre remain fundamentally unchanged in 2009. North of Cannon Street, the lower floor was mostly taken up by a bus station, with the upper floor shops, and sixty flats over the shops. At the High Street end was a two-floor market area. Cannon Street was bridged by a mall at the Corporation Street end (i.e. lower) and underpassed by a tunnel at the High Street end (i.e. higher). Thus, there was a continuous pathway around the centre, but not at a single level. At the High Street end a multi-storey car park was sited above the market centre and over Cannon Street. In all there were 1,360 yards (1,240 m) of mall. Underneath the centre was a full-circuit full-height service road, ½ mile (0.8 km) in overall length, with access from Withy Grove. By taking advantage of the change in height, the architects hoped to solve the often-seen problem of persuading shoppers to use the upper shopping area. While the northern part had no anchor stores, the placing of the car park and bus station meant that there would be foot traffic through the area. Hence, the architects hoped, there would be no quiet spots.

The final building was considered excessively large. The Guardian described it in 1978 as "an awful warning against thinking too big in Britain's cities", and "so castle-like in its outer strength that any passing medieval army would automatically besiege it rather than shop in it ...". The underground railway scheme was abandoned in about 1976 and the only requirement for deck access was across Corporation Street to another Town & City development in the Shambles. Its appearance has always attracted comment. At the official opening, one of its champions, Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, Mayor of Manchester, commented, "I didn't think it would look like that when I saw the balsa wood models". The "unrepentant" architects responded that they had provided what they had been asked to provide. Kenneth Stone said in 1978 "We're not responsible for everything in there, but we're not sorry about the decisions we took as opposed to those which were forced upon us." The critics' opinion did not mellow with time, and it was described as "aggressive externally" in 1991.The Economist noted in 1996 that it had "long been regarded as one of Europe's ugliest shopping centres. ... the epitome of lousy modern architecture ... was hated". The Financial Times in 1997 called it, with Birmingham's Bull Ring, "outstandingly ugly" and in 2000 "one of Britain's least-loved buildings".

The main cause of its poor reputation (in the long term) was its external appearance. Most of the centre was covered by pre-cast concrete panels faced with ceramic tiles. The tiles were made by Shaw Hathernware in a colour, T1980, that is technically "deep buff" but is usually referred to as yellow. Variants include "bile yellow" "putty and chocolate" (some parts were brown) and "vomit-coloured". These tiles inspired the epithet "the longest lavatory wall in Europe" (and variations), poking fun at the developers' claims. According to The Guardian, the description was coined by Norman Shrapnel, the paper's political columnist.


A backlash against comprehensive development in general was underway before the centre opened. Amery and Cruickshank's critical The rape of Britain, with a foreword by John Betjeman, was published to mark European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975. The book describes the redevelopment of about twenty towns under the heading "scenes of rape" and uses the Arndale as an example of "brutal obliteration" undertaken by "the mind that seriously believes that the centre of Manchester should look like a futuristic vision or a barbaric new city borrowed from Le Corbusier". In the same year the pressure group SAVE Britain's Heritage was formed, in part to discourage the wholesale demolition of unremarkable industrial buildings in the north of England.

Several other factors, including the property slump of 1974–6, changes to local government in 1974, and changes in the law following scandals such as the Poulson affair (in which developers corrupted politicians to expedite schemes against the wider public interest) acted against further developments of the size and type of the Arndale.Built Environment noted that while Arndales are "an asset to any town", this scheme "smacks of opportunism beyond the general interest of the city as a whole".

The presence of over a million square feet of retail space distorted shopping patterns in Manchester city centre and many of the established retailers and retail districts struggled to adapt. Nearby Oldham Street lost some large stores from their long-term sites and it was soon clear that the area would suffer. The closures, coupled with the redundancy of former textile warehouses similar to those cleared for the Arndale, meant the area quickly became run-down and in Bennison et al.'s eyes "almost fossilised". The district remained unfashionable until it was remarketed as the Northern Quarter in the late 1990s.Piccadilly Plaza, only completed in 1966, lost trade after the opening of the Arndale and was put up for sale for £10M in the middle of 1979; as a shopping centre, it never recovered.

Stocks argues that this combination of factors lay behind the Greater Manchester County Council's (GMC's) strategic view that the county had too much retail capacity. From about 1977 onwards the GMC consistently opposed further development, and took the position that it would not support any before 1986. Trade increased in the early 1980s, though GMC policy against development and for retaining the relative importance of the retail centres remained. By the mid 1980s, fashion in retailing had moved from city-centre schemes to out-of-town. The opening of the out-of-town Meadowhall Centre at Sheffield (40 miles from Manchester) in 1990 had the effect of blighting the entire city centre.

The GMC was abolished in 1986, by which time, in Stocks' terms, "applications for major shopping schemes began to slop over the unmanned dam". An immediate consequence of pent-up applications was that the adjacent newly-created authorities of Salford and Trafford found themselves in a "prisoner's dilemma" over competing out-of-town schemes at Barton Locks and Dumplington of broadly similar size to the Arndale. By 1989 planning applications for almost five million square feet of retail space in Greater Manchester were unresolved. A public enquiry (followed by action in the appeal court, and a case in the House of Lords) approved the Dumplington proposal (the Trafford Centre). Construction began in 1995.


Wear and tear and the vagaries of fashion mean the typical life of a shopping centre is about 10–20 years. Given a free hand, the owners must decide the most profitable choice between demolition, refurbishment, or doing nothing. In the Arndale's case, refurbishment began about six years after opening. The constant artificial lighting and undistinguishable malls, with multiple dead ends and no obvious circular route meant that shoppers were, in Morris's words, "bewildered by its maze-like intensity". Parkinson-Bailey describes the centre in this period as "never the pleasantest place to shop in ... hot and stuffy". Criticisms were addressed in a £½M upgrade in which roof lights were inserted to allow in daylight, which also meant pot-plants could be grown. To improve shoppers' navigation and to tone down the appearance, the flooring of each area was given a distinct colour scheme, decorative ironwork was added, a fountain was placed at one corner, and a double-floor height aviary placed at another. The Arndale's own radio station, Centre Sound, was installed. Hallé Square housed a food court by day, and could be used as a concert area by night if required. Beddington describes the results as "workmanlike but unromantic".

Town & City reverted its name to Sterling Guarantee Trust in 1983, and in February 1985 merged with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (universally called P & O), also run by Jeffrey Sterling.P & O decided to refurbish Knightsbridge (the bridge over Market Street) with the aim of doubling the rents. The work took place in 1990–1, with the most visible change being the opening of a £9M food court (Voyagers) in an area not previously open to the public. The refurbishment was a success and the addition increased the popularity of the centre as a whole. Other refurbishments took place in 1991–3, despite the opposition of local traders who objected to any changes that might take the centre 'up-market'. The northern part of the centre saw little investment for years, and the market hall in particular was seen as ripe for improvement.

The bus station became Manchester's busiest, handling 30,000 passengers and 1500 bus movements per day by 1991. It was unpopular with travellers, especially women. Described as "dirty and horrible", its poorly lit interior was identified by Taylor as inherently threatening and a "landscape of fear".

As a shopping centre it was outstandingly successful, and the critics' opinions were not universally held – especially by its owners. By 1996 the Arndale was fully let and raising £20M a year in rents, was the seventh busiest shopping area in the UK in terms of sales, and was visited by 750,000 people a week. The poet and author Lemn Sissay wrote "The Arndale Centre was always just the Arndale Centre. A palace of Perspex and people. A light extravaganza. ... a shopper's heaven on earth. In all its gargantuan glory I love it. Whether it is ugly or not is a purely subjective opinion. It is wonderful inside."

1996 IRA bombing

The centre's profile, and the presence of several national chains, made it a target for terrorists. Arson attacks in April 1991 were followed by several firebombs in December 1991 which caused extensive damage to four stores. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was blamed for both incidents, in which the devices were placed in soft furnishings during shopping hours. After the second, Christmas shopping continued much as normal the following day in the unaffected stores. One unnamed fireman noted "What bugs me is if there's a big one planted there's a lot of glass around here, and a lot of people will be killed".

Two men parked a van containing a 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) bomb on Corporation Street between Marks & Spencer and the Arndale at about 9:20 in the morning on Saturday 15 June 1996. At about 9:45, a coded warning was received by Granada TV, the local television station. The usual weekend population of people going about their everyday lives was supplemented by football fans in town for the Russia v. Germany game of UEFA Euro 1996, due to be staged the following day at Old Trafford. About 80,000 people were cleared from the area by local police and store staff using procedures developed after another IRA bombing incident in 1992, assisted by outside staff experienced in crowd control drafted in to help with the football fans. The bomb exploded at about 11:15, shortly after the army bomb squad arrived from Liverpool and began making it safe. Nobody was killed by the bomb, but over 200 people were injured, some seriously, mostly by flying glass, though one pregnant shopper was thrown in the air by the blast.

In all 1200 properties on 43 streets were affected. Marks and Spencer's and the adjacent Longridge House were condemned as unsafe within days, and would be demolished. The frontage of the Arndale on Corporation Street and the footbridge were structurally damaged. The reinsurance company Swiss Re estimated that the final insurance payout was over £400M, making it, at the time, the most expensive man-made disaster ever.

Recent developments

Over the past decade, the centre has seen large-scale redevelopment. The centre now has a retail floorspace of 1,400,000 sq ft (130,000 m2), making it Europe's largest city-centre shopping mall. It has held this record continuously since construction apart from a brief spell during the northern redevelopment when the title was held by the Birmingham Bullring. As well as retail space, Manchester Arndale also includes a 96 m tower containing office space.

Since renovation began, most of the tiles have been removed and a more modern sandstone and glass cladding introduced. Now, the Manchester Arndale is home to Next, their largest in the world and features the largest glass store frontage in the UK. It also houses the largest Office Shoe store outside London as of April 2010.

By the late 1990s the centre was no longer owned by the Arndale Property Trust. A rebranding was proposed, but subsequently abandoned. Today the centre is jointly owned by PRUPIM and Capital Shopping Centres.

Manchester wasn't the only city to build a major shopping centre in its city centre, the desire to provide modern shopping facilities was prevalent among most councils in major cities, where the old Victorian buildings couldn't accommodate modern retailers. Other examples from around the same time include the Bull Ring, Birmingham and the Merrion Centre, Leeds.


The centre was badly damaged in the 1996 Manchester City Centre bombing by the Provisional IRA and required extensive redevelopment work. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing the southern half of the centre was repaired and refurbished. The northern half was patched up with buses originally stopping on Cannon Street itself, before eventually being replaced by Shudehill Interchange in January 2006.Marks and Spencer, which was particularly badly damaged in the explosion, reopened in a separate building, linked to the main mall on the first floor by a glass footbridge which was designed by Stephen Hodder. Shortly after opening the large branch, the building was split into two independent shops. Half remained a branch of Marks and Spencer while the side facing The Triangle became a branch of Selfridges.

In Autumn 2003, as the final stage of rebuilding the city centre after the bombing, the whole of the half of the centre north of Cannon Street was closed and demolished. Over the next two to three years, the northern half of the centre was completely rebuilt and extended. The first phase of the "northern extension", known as 'Exchange Court', opened on 20 October 2005. Exchange Court features Britain's flagship and the world's largest Next store. This was followed by the second phase known as 'New Cannon Street'. This opened on 6 April 2006. Stores in this phase include a new flagship branch of TopShop and Topman.

On 7 September 2006 the third and final phase of the northern extension opened. The new Winter Garden features stores such as a new HMV (formerly Zavvi & Virgin Megastores), a Waterstone's bookshop, and a new single-level unit for the Arndale Market. The completed mall provides a link from Exchange Square and The Triangle to the Northern Quarter, and from Market Street to The Printworks.

The southern half of the centre was refurbished, and there are some major design differences between the two halves of the centre. Halle Square was modernised, including new skylights, but there is still a major difference in levels of natural light between the original malls and the northern extension. The original 1970s malls were designed to "protect" visitors from the outside, whereas the newer malls seek to maximise natural light.

Food court

Like many large shopping malls, Manchester Arndale has a food court. The Food-Chain, opened as Voyagers in 1991, is an 800-seat food court situated on the third floor above the far south-west tip of the centre. It can be reached by an escalator from Market Street and from the first floor at the south-western tip of the centre close to Argos and the first floor entrance to Boots.


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