Yes, they really did take afternoon tea on the roof of the Midland Hotel, when Manchester was at its sootiest
Iconic: the Midland Hotel, photographed from St. Peter’s Square, Manchester. Image by Shahid Khan (via Shutterstock).
In 2017, dining al fresco in Manchester is something we wouldn’t think twice about. The soot from nearby chimneys have gone, though partially replaced with car exhaust fumes and modern trams. To do the same in central Manchester 110 years ago would have been close to madness. Back in 1907, you could take afternoon tea on the roof of the Midland Hotel.
The Midland Hotel on St. Peter’s Square was built as a railway hotel for the Midland Railway. Their Manchester terminus for London St. Pancras trains was Central station (opposite the hotel). Today, the station is part of the Manchester Central Convention Complex. The Midland Hotel is an iconic building; on opening in 2003, it had a 1,000 seat theatre with early performances by Annie Horniman. In 1904, it was where Charles Rolls and Henry Royce met up and later formed Rolls Royce.
From 1903 to 1910, the rooftop balcony played host to tea dances. Paying guests taking afternoon tea enjoyed views of Alfred Waterhouse’s Manchester Town Hall tower and South Manchester. In theory, the idea of taking tea on the Midland Hotel roof was good. In practice, guests were exposed to the soot from mill chimneys as well as the Manchester weather (let’s face it: even with sunshine, it is hardly the Costa Brava).
In 1910, taking tea on the rooftop was no longer offered. Over a century on, the present owners of the Midland Hotel have had questions about its possible reopening. With the city’s air supposedly more breathable than in 1910 (and the smoking ban), there is great potential. What stands in the way is the height of the balcony fences. They are too low for modern-day standards.
In spite of this, the Manchester Evening News has offered its readers a sneak peak of the roof balcony. There are twenty photos of the balcony in its present guise. If it reopened, would you be happy to take afternoon tea with today’s ever-changing city? Feel free to comment.