Buildings have often been known to sink, but very few have been known to rise.
Even fewer that are more than 600 years old!
But that was the extraordinary prospect in Manchester in July 1971 when architects designing the Arndale centre were faced with a monumental problem.
The Old Shambles, incorporating the Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, were five feet below the level needed for the new shopping centre.
They were among the last Tudor period buildings in the city and far too important to be flattened by a bulldozer.
And it would be impossible to lower the rest of the Arndale development to match their level.
So architects Hugh Wilson and Lewis Womersley came up with a novel solution.
They would pour concrete into a massive underpinning to create a new foundation capable of supporting the Old Shambles’ combined weight of 470 tons.
The whole assembly would then be raised to the required height using powerful hydraulic jacks.
Huge reinforced concrete pillars would then support the elevated Tudor buildings over a service road leading to an underground car park.
The whole lifting operation was planned with military precision. Control panels for the hydraulic jacks were installed and the first part of the tricky operation began.
It started with a lift of half an inch, monitored by workmen strategically positioned to tighten the jacks. Instruments were carefully checked at the front of the building.
The first gap can just about be seen in our photos, gradually widening as the buildings were raised.
The whole five foot is clearly visible in the picture of workmen Pat Hegarty apparently bearing the whole Shambles on his shoulders! It was taken in October 1971.
Work on the American-style Arndale itself started in 1972 – and it was constructed in phases over the next seven years.
The Arndale Tower and 60 shops opened in September 1976. The Knightsbridge Mall and Northern Mall opened in May and October 1977 respectively.
The 200-stall Market Hall, Boots and the bridge to the Shambles were completed in 1978. British Home Stores, Littlewoods and Cannon Street bus station were added in 1979.
Many considered the final building excessively large. The Guardian in 1978 described it as ‘so castle-like in its outer strength that any passing medieval army would automatically besiege it rather than shop in it.’
At the opening, Mayor of Manchester Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw said: ‘I didn’t think it would look like that when I saw the balsa models.’
The architects responded by saying that they had simply provided what they were asked to provide.
The external pre-cast concrete panels faced with ceramic tiles didn’t help. The colours were described as bile yellow, putty and chocolate. Other comparisons were more derogatory!
Gradually, however, the shopping public mellowed to the new centre even if the critics didn’t. It became an important destination for people visiting the city.
As a shopping centre it proved extremely successful. By 1996, the Arndale was fully let and was visited by 750,000 people a week. It became the seventh busiest shopping centre in the UK.
The centre’s popularity made it a target for terrorist attacks over the years. Firebombs were set off by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in December 1991. Four stores were damaged.
The IRA struck again on June 15th 1996 when a 3,300lb bomb left in a lorry parked in Corporation Street exploded at 11.17am.
A coded warning had been sent to Granada TV at 9.45am which enabled police and store staff to clear 80,000 people from the area.
Numbers had been swollen by football fans in town to watch the Russia play Germany in the Euro 96 match due to be staged at Old Trafford the following day.
There were no fatalities, but more than 200 people were injured in the blast.
Around 1,200 properties on 43 streets were damaged. Marks and Spencer’s and Longridge House had to be demolished. The final insurance payout was estimated at more than £400 million.
Large scale redevelopment has taken place since the 1996 bombing.
The Arndale Centre now has a retail floorspace of 1,400,000 square feet, making it Europe’s largest city centre shopping mall. It attracts 41 million visitors annually.
And the Tudor buildings of the Old Shambles still stand proudly at the heart of the city.