Books and Banks

On our latest trip to Manchester, we dropped in on an interesting and (relatively) new bookshop in the city’s former banking area.

The House of Books & Friends is run by the Gunnercooke Foundation, a charitable offshoot of the international law firm, Gunnercooke. Its mission is to combat loneliness and social isolation by bringing people together. Aside from its social purpose, the shop is also lovely, with interesting stock and a good café. We visited on a Saturday afternoon and it was full of book browsers and coffee drinkers, giving it a real buzz.

The bookshop is on the ground floor of the former Liberal Reform Club in a huge, Venetian Gothic building in the city’s banking area centred on Spring Gardens. This was the place where the city’s politicians, lawyers and bankers would meet to do business and lunch. It was frequently visited by Gladstone and was the location where Winston Churchill chose to make his election victory speech in 1906.

The café retains the original wood panelling and other interesting features so you enjoy your coffee and cake surrounded by history.

The former Reform Club

When the Reform Club was established, in 1871, Manchester was truly on the world stage: 90% of the world’s cotton was traded through the city. This affluence is reflected in the neighbouring buildings in this part of the city, many of them connected with the time when this was the regional banking centre.

Facing the Reform Club building is 100 King Street, the Midland Bank building.

This building stands out from its neighbours, having been built in the 1930s in the art deco style. Its stone is also much lighter in colour than the surrounding Neogothic buildings. This was the regional head office for Midlnd Bank, later HSBC, and is now a 5-Star hotel. On the day we visited there was a wedding party.

The next building is currently occupied by fashion icon Vivienne Westwood but was originally the offices of Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, which became Martin’s Bank and then merged with Barclays in 1969. The Martin’s Bank crest can still be seen to the right of the entrance.

On the next corner is the somewhat older former National Westminster Bank building. Originally opened in 1902 as Parr’s Bank, the red sandstone palace is noted for its Art Nouveau interior, including green marble walls and stained glass windows. The building is now a branch of Brown’s Brasserie, a chain originating in my home town of Brighton and which I frequented as a teenager - although I think the Manchester branch definitely wins the architecture prize!

Finally, as we walked back to the car we were reminded of Chinese New Year by the hundreds of Chinese Lanterns which appear at this time of year. Manchester’s Chinatown is the third largest in the UK and its new year is celebrated across the city.

So, a day of books and buildings, cheering up a cool February weekend.