Building Name

Telephone Exchange 21 Chapel Street Salford

1926 - 1930
Chapel Street
GMCA, England
Commissioners of His Majesty’s Works
New Build
J Gerrand and Sons Swinton

Built by J Gerrard and Sons of Swinton and deemed the world’s largest Telephone Exchange when it became operational early in 1930, Dial House was designed to house Manchester’s new automatic telephone equipment. With a frontage of 110 feet to the river, a depth of 265 feet from the river to the Chapel Street front, the Exchange occupies a total site area of 3,250 square yards. The building rises nine storeys above the basement.  reaching 162 feet above the normal river level on one side and 138 feet above street level on the other. (By comparison, Ship Canal House reaches 141 feet above King Street). Its space content - five acres of floor space and 3,382,137 cubic feet content - far exceeded that of any similar city building at the time. The exchange towered above its Chapel Street neighbours - a mere two storeys on the right and a four or five storey block on the left. Most of the side elevations were therefore exposed from the outset, and it is curious that these should have been given so different an elevational treatment to those of the Chapel Street and river frontages.Perhaps the success of Dial House should be measured by its unobtrusiveness; that so large a building has existed almost unnoticed by the vast majority for over 80 years.

Nominally, the architect was Sir Richard John Allison, chief architect, HM Office of Works, London, although it was no doubt designed by members of his staff. Being a Crown Building (as were all Post Offices and GPO Telephone Exchanges up to at least the 1960's), it was never subject to local planning regulations,  the Commissioners of H M Office of Works, being answerable only to Parliament.

NEW TELEPHONE EXCHANGE CHAPEL STREET SALFORD - Manchester's highest and biggest commercial building is now on the point of completion. Its address, however, will not be found in any Manchester directory for it is actually in Salford. The sister city's phenomenal good fortune or perhaps adroitness in securing physical possession of so many of Manchester's most valuable properties has not deserted her yet. So it comes about that the great new Telephone Exchange, which is to be the headquarters of Manchester's automatic telephone system, is situated on the Salford side of the Irwell. A minor consolation is afforded by the fact that Manchester can see much more of the building than can Salford, on account of the river's width and Chapel-street's lack of width. The Exchange is understood to be the largest of its kind in the world. The immense proportions of the new building are not generally realised because of its unobtrusive position.. Yet the Exchange is definitely higher than the Ship Canal House, reaching 162 feet above the normal river level on one side and 138 feet above street level on the other. Its actual space content - five acres of floor space and 3,382,137 cubic feet content - far exceeds that of any similar city building. The site, which is practically midway between Victoria and Blackfriars Bridges, has a frontage of 110 feet to the river, a depth of 265 feet from the river to the Chapel-street front and occupies a total area of 3,250 square yards. The building rises nine storeys above the basement. Some idea of the remarkable telephone development of the city area is afforded by the fact that so huge a building should be needed to bring the telephone work under one roof. There will be no floors to  let in the new Exchange - every inch of space will be needed for plant and staff. Already the filling up process is under way, several floors are crammed with intimidating "dumps" of shrouded machinery, suggestive of all sorts of curious things from giant toast racks to battleship decks.

The exterior of the building, efficient and admirably proportioned sets the tone of "strictly business". It does not neglect the obvious fact that all four sides of the building can be seen. The river frontage is quite a pleasant one, the long flank walls are neatly rendered in cement and even the top of the building is finished off with a strongly designed iron railing. The main facade to Chapel-street is faced with red brick dressed with cast stone, cast iron panels and architraves giving balance to the scheme at the base. There are three entrances, the one on the left is for general use, opening into small tiled hall and so to the lifts and staircases. The central entrance is for lorries, communicating by hydraulic lift with the basement; the entrance on the right is also for goods, and gives on to a loading way running nearly the whole length of the building.

The interior, at once communicates a sense of cavernous space and terrific strength of structure. Everywhere is solid concrete, solid metal, huge thicknesses, unyielding strength. The vastness of each floor is such that artificial light will have to be used all day on the two lower floors - the higher ones are amply lighted from two sides by a large area of window space. The building is, of course of steel frame construction, but there is surprisingly little evidence of the pillars in the interior.  The general scheme is as follows: basement - heating plant and stores; ground floor - stores, telephone main distribution frame, linesmen and mechanics quarters; first floor - automatic telephone equipment and battery rooms; second and third floors - extensions; fourth floor - district manager's offices; fifth floor - service and dining rooms, kitchens and lavatories; sixth floor - commercial department, Post Office Engineering offices, telephone equipment; seventh floor - manual switch room; eighth floor - schools and lecture rooms and sick room for emergencies.

Except for the landings on the street side (which are in black and white tiles) and the kitchen and sanitary blocks, the flooring throughout is in wood blocks. The windows throughout are metal frame, with wired glass in certain parts where extra protection is needed. The building is heated on the usual hot water system with gravity pumps - and it will be appreciated that to maintain the pressure throughout such a height and area has necessitated an installation of exceptional quality. The lighting is efficiently arranged, and special protection is afforded to the electric bulbs where necessary. The lift installation comprises six large electric passenger lifts, a service lift for the kitchens, and two hydraulic goods lifts. There are two main staircases running the whole height of the building.[Manchester City News, Saturday, November 9, 1929. Page 8]

Reference    Manchester City News, Saturday, November 9, 1929. Page 8
Reference    Manchester Guardian 7 January 1930. Page 12: Photo of switchboard room