Unicorn Hotel


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
26 Church Street, Manchester, M4 1PN


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Statutory Address:
26 Church Street, Manchester, M4 1PN

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Manchester (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


An improved public house with accommodation, of 1924 with minor alterations, by Graves and Ellerton.

Reasons for Designation

The Unicorn Hotel, an improved public house with accommodation, built in 1924, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* its progressive planning as an improved urban public house, illustrated by the limited internal subdivision and the good levels of surveillance for staff;

* the good quality fixtures, in particular the remaining glazed doors, fireplaces and wall tiling;

* its good overall level of survival, unusually including the accommodation areas on the upper floors, as well as bell pushes in the smoke room and dumb waiter to all floors;

* the Unicorn is a rare example nationally of an inter-war pub which is well-preserved both externally and internally, enhanced by the greater rarity of the type in Manchester.

Historic interest:

* a good example of an improved public house, a movement of national social and cultural significance, which is reflected in the internal planning, range of facilities provided and the restrained decoration.


The current Unicorn Hotel was built in 1924, revised drawings being approved by the city council in July that year. It replaced the earlier Unicorn Hotel which is marked on the 1:1,056 Ordnance Survey (OS) town plan published in 1851. This is shown on subsequent maps up to 1922, when the 1:2,500 OS revision of 1915 was published. The 1931 survey (published in 1933) shows the current building, and Pall Mall House which is adjacent to the west. That taller building was erected in 1928 and its eastern wall incorporates upward extensions to the chimneys of the Unicorn, so they would continue to draw. The 1933 map does not show the splayed north-east corner but this is corrected on the 1948 1:1,250 OS map.

There are areas where slight divergence from the approved plans seems to have taken place during construction, but the plans are a good indication of the original layout. Comparison with these (together with examination of the fabric) suggests that the pub retains the majority of its plan-form, with a central servery serving bars to the east, and a waiter-serviced room to the west beyond a small drinking lobby. Discrete areas were created within the large rooms without subdivision. The good levels of visibility and seating, with very limited vertical drinking area, are characteristic of the reform movement in pub design which was prevalent in the inter-war period. Much of the fixed seating appears historic, and the survival of all the bell pushes for service in the smoke room is notable. The upper floors also retain the majority of the original plan-form, including guest bedrooms, bathroom and toilet, dining room with servery, and kitchen with larder and scullery. It is probable that the dining room also served as a function or club room.

Plans were approved in 1934 for covering over the former lantern at the south end of the smoke room (the long western room), and it is assumed that the artificially-lit skylight of leaded and coloured glass now in the centre part of the room is the relocated original which sat beneath the lantern. Possibly also at this time or very soon after the pub opened, the office to the south of the bar was incorporated into the bar. This involved knocking though a passage from the (originally private) southern entrance on Joiner Street, to leave a small vestibule. The internal entrance to this passage, to the south of the servery, survives with its coloured overlight, and the upper parts of the passage walls remain in situ.

Perhaps associated with this change, the northern entrance from Joiner Street (originally serving the luncheon bar) has been converted to a window, with the vestibule removed (perhaps reused at the southern entrance). The separate door from the main entrance hall into the luncheon bar, and adjacent passage into the servery, have been removed to create a single wide opening. The screen to the smoke room survives without its glazing and doors (there are three openings rather than the two shown on the approved plans, probably operating some sort of in/out system), and an inserted glazed screen demarcates the northern end of the room.

On the ground floor, a ladies’ lavatory has been inserted over secondary steps down to the cellar. A doorway has also been inserted leading into the covered yard (probably reusing the door which once accessed the blocked cellar steps). At first floor, two windows which once overlooked the smoke room lantern have been converted to doors, accessing the room created when it was roofed over. The floors are mostly carpeted, but decorative tiled or wooden finishes might survive below. Unfortunately, historic wall light fittings on the servery and in the former office were replaced in the recent past, although the replacements have a similar appearance. The exterior is little-altered, retaining most original windows and glazing, and cast-iron rainwater goods.

Inter-war ‘improved’ or ‘reformed’ pubs stemmed from a desire to cut back on the amount of drunkenness associated with conventional Victorian and Edwardian public houses. Licensing magistrates and breweries combined to improve the facilities and reputation of the building type. Improved pubs were generally more spacious than their predecessors, often with restaurant facilities, function rooms and gardens, and consciously appealed to families and to a mix of incomes and classes. Central island serveries with counters opening onto several bar areas allowed the monitoring of customers and also the efficient distribution of staff to whichever area needed service. Approximately 5-6,000 pubs were built in the period, the vast majority of them on ‘improved’ lines. Neo-Tudor and neo-Georgian were the favoured styles, although others began to appear at the end of the period.


A public house with accommodation, rebuilt 1924 with minor later alterations, by Graves and Ellerton.

MATERIALS: brick with faience, slate roofs, timber windows.

PLAN: aligned north-south, with a long smoke room to the west of a central hall, and a servery with bars to the east, now extended into a former office at the south end.

EXTERIOR: standing on the corner of Church Street and Joiner Lane, adjacent to Pall Mall House, a key building in the Smithfield Conservation Area.

The front faces north and is a three-bay symmetrical design of three storeys, with a further splayed corner bay to the left. The style is neo-Georgian with detailing in faience, and red brick walling in English Garden Wall bond. The ground-floor faience is blue, with cream for the string band and above. There are quoins to the left and right with a plinth, wide first-floor sill band above a moulded string band, and a dentilled cornice with coped parapet. The left and right windows have moulded surrounds with projecting sills (corbelled at first floor) and corner labels. The ground-floor windows have timber transoms with leaded casements over, while above all have mullions and transoms (the mullion missing from the first-floor left) and leaded casements over.

The central bay is all faience. Pilasters span the first and second floors with windows between, separated by the lettering UNICORN/ HOTEL. The string band forms an open pediment over the door, with attenuated keystone below. The square door surround has pilasters with capitals, entasis and bases running into the plinth. The timber double doors are three-panelled, with a leaded overlight.

The corner bay has the same detailing as the adjacent bay.

Returning to the left the Joiner Street elevation is of seven bays. Bay 1 (from the right) has the same detailing as the front and corner bays, but has two windows at ground floor (the left one a former doorway and lacking a surround, with a stone plinth below). Beyond this the eaves are exposed with an ogee gutter and a downpipe after bay 3. The plinth runs the full length and continues beyond a wagon entrance in bay 7 to a splayed corner at ground floor, the brickwork corbelling to an angle above. The string band continues from the right across bays 2 to 4, terminating over a doorway with faience jambs. The door is plain, with leaded overlight and projecting lamp. Bays 2, 3, 5 and 6 have ground-floor windows matching the front, two retaining etched lower panes. All the windows above have timber mullions and transoms, and splayed brick lintels. The first floor has leaded glazing in all panes, the second floor only in the upper panes. Various modern lights, signage and satellite aerials are affixed and the wagon entrance is closed with modern railings, through which the setted surface of the yard is visible.

Returning at the left the rear of the Joiner Street range is obscured at ground floor but has a single mullion-and-transom window at first floor with a splayed brick lintel and stone sill, and leaded glass in all panes. The verge has a faience coping. The inner walls facing the open yard have timber windows, mostly mullion-and-transom type with leaded glass.

INTERIOR: the cellar retains a lift to the ground floor bar, the dumb waiter, the wash-cellar sink on tiled stands, blocked former steps, a barrel drop and the coal drop and bin. The ground floor retains decorative black, grey and orange tiling in the porch and (truncated) on the former passage wall to the Joiner Street entrance. The floor plan is relatively intact and extensive panelling, door joinery and fittings, and seating survive, along with the servery with its patterned leaded glazing. Particularly notable are the bell pushes and the faience fireplaces with timber surrounds in the former smoke room, as well as the elaborate surround to the gents’ doorway, with pedimented lintel. The patterned leaded skylight, now relocated above the smoke room, is also thought to be original. The staircase with original balustrade survives on the ground, first and second floors.

At first and second floor the historic floor plan survives extremely well (even in the lavatories). The first floor landing is wainscoted and all of the three-panel bedroom doors and their architraves survive, together with at least one bedroom fireplace and almost all picture rails and coving. The dining room in particular retains its panelling and plaster decoration, light fittings and serving hatch (with dumb waiter in the servery), as well as the glazed doors to the dining room and ladies’ lavatory. The door to the landing has been replaced. The windows to the front rooms of the first floor have secondary glazing which appears to be historic.

The second floor is also wainscoted, with glazed doors to the lavatory, kitchen and dumb waiter area, larder shelving and a probable copper stand in the kitchen. All of the three-panel bedroom and bathroom doors survive along with four fireplaces with surrounds and hearths, two built-in wardrobes, picture rails, coving and skirting.


Building Control plans of 1924 and 1934, archived in Manchester Central Library


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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