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Laurence Green converts part of his 1870s Manchester hostelry

Posted on | By Thornton Kay
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Kent, UK - A new-fangled commercial traveller in Victorian Manchester seeking a room would have been happy to lodge in one of the impressive suite of rooms at the Commercial Hotel on the Chester Road home to Insitu Architectural Salvage. It is a fine redbrick stone-dressed building built by local landlord John Eastwood in the 1870s in a seemingly northern version of the South Kensington school style. It is built on a thin triangular plot giving it’s western end the look of a U.S. flat iron building, which is how one local described it (although it predates most of its US cousins). The old Commercial Hotel gradually transitioned to a public house, latterly The Last Hop, and is now a Grade 2 listed building.

Lawrence Green started In Situ in 1984, selling reclaimed doors, fireplaces, radiators, reclaimed wood flooring, stained glass, architectural salvage, classic and mid-century design - and ‘anything that can be saved from demolition’. In 2002 a decision was taken to turn the upper storey into flats using mainly antiques, reclamation and salvage, and Lawrence began the conversion. This year he seems to have finished. Insitu is keeping the ground floor shop and basement - at least for the time being. The first floor an open event space in which there have been two art exhibitions and used for photo shoots. The flats are approached through a separate entrance with an original tiled staircase and to the top floor by a staircase that from an old Bolton pub. A one-bed duplex and bigger two bedroom flat span the top floor.

What was used in the two new flats? Lots - for example, 1930s Vitrolite shelves from Manchester University’s chemistry labs were used as tiled splashbacks in the kitchen and bathrooms, Burmese teak herringbone woodblock flooring also from Manchester University, reclaimed doors and door furniture, French shopfitting bedroom storage, old school lab top kitchen worktops, stained-glass pane from another pub, reclaimed cast iron radiators, reclaimed flooring from Heaton Moor Conservative Club, electric sockets from the old BBC offices in Oxford Road, mid-century pieces with Turkish rugs on the floor, a suite of bedroom furniture by AG Waterhouse, Murano glass light fittings and perfect bench seats and coat hooks complete the furnishing at the Insitu apartments.

“Can you imagine the stick I would have got if I’d just put in ordinary stuff,” Laurence told Jill Burdett in a piece in the Manchester Evening News. “I had always occupied big old mill buildings and was having to move out of my old premises when this building came up”, he says. “It used to be the Commercial Hotel and then the Turville and was run by Bass. I came in for a drink once around 1994 a couple of years before it closed. Back in the day this area would have been packed full of pubs serving the workers at the docks at Pomona and this was one of the last. But it got a bit rough and the customers disappeared. Ironic really, with all the new development all around that the people are coming back”, he says. “I sort of made it up as I went along! If I’d been a property developer I would have shoved in eight apartments on each floor but these spaces have sort of evolved.”

Laurence’s future use of the spaces is dependent to the vagaries of the trade which is changing rapidly in Manchester, as elsewhere. At least half the turnover of Insitu is now made from supplying the hospitality sector, commercial projects and offices, with lighting, furniture, reclaimed timber, original face cladding using the dirty side, and so on. This is up from only 10% ten years ago. The company now has a couple of warehouses of reclaimed timber to fulfil the new demands.

“I would love for the building to be a pub again”, he told Jill Burdett “A proper pub on the ground floor with the first floor serving interesting food and holding events and the flats above. With so many people now living round here again I like to think it could come full circle.”

Sourcing architectural antiques for the project turned out to be not entirely easy. “I struggled to find things like reclaimed bathroom fittings and door latches. I didn’t realise it would be that difficult,” Mr. Green said.

Manchester Evening News

Story Type: Feature