Top architect dubs Rochdale the ‘Venice of the North’

Date published: 22 October 2018

Rochdale has been compared to one of the world’s most visited cities by a leading Professor of Architecture.

Sally Stone, a Reader in Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture*, thinks that the gothic architecture of Rochdale Town Hall and its surrounding buildings compares to major landmarks in Venice like the Doge’s Palace.

After visiting Rochdale as part of a project that will see 45 students from the university’s masters programme work with the council on the Heritage Action Zone, Sally said: “Venice and Rochdale have some splendid examples of gothic architecture and a strong connection to water, with the Rochdale Canal and the newly re-opened river in Rochdale and the Grand Canal in Venice. They also both have lots of fantastic public open space, particularly the area around the town hall and the re-opened river.”

Students from the world-renowned architecture school, which is the seventh best in the world, will be working on theoretical projects to improve Drake Street and its surrounding areas, which is one of just 18 Heritage Action Zones across the country.

And Sally reckons that Rochdale also has more than a few things in common with Venice’s close neighbour, Vicenza.

She added: “Vicenza and Rochdale are secondary, smaller towns, close to big cities, like Manchester and Venice, but they both have really important architecture surrounded by more modest architecture.

“Vicenza has some really impressive buildings, built by the architect Palladio, like the Teatro Olimpico theatre and the public hall Basillica Palladiana. Rochdale has some equally impressive buildings like the town hall, the old fire station and the St John the Baptist Roman Catholic church. The newer buildings like Number One Riverside are also really striking, as are individual structures like the town hall clock tower.”


Rochdale Memorial Gardens
Rochdale Memorial Gardens

The project, which has been named ‘Rochdale by way of Venice’, will see the students working on a year-long project to bring fresh ideas to key areas around the Heritage Action Zone. As part of this, they will create a guide with recommendations for how any new buildings in the area should be designed, including building heights and forms and relationships to other buildings in the street. They will also conduct surveys on key buildings like Champness Hall.

Sally said: “The students can put forward really creative ideas and suggestions because they’re not constrained by a brief. They will look at really inventive ideas like cooperative housing and multi-generational housing and around 40 per cent of them are overseas students, from places like China, India and Malaysia, so they will bring a totally different prospective.

“We are really excited about working in Rochdale. What’s nice about it is that it can accommodate both the old and the new and the ambition is what ties it all together.”


St Mark's Square in Venice
St Mark's Square in Venice


Scores on the doors - Rochdale v Venice

Average temperature in October

Rochdale: 13c high
Venice: 18c high

Local (ish) delicacy

Rochdale: Rag pudding: A savoury dish consisting of minced meat and onions wrapped in a suet pastry which is then boiled or steamed

Venice: Sarde in saor: This sweet-sour dish consists of fried sardine fillets marinated in vinegar, onions, raisins and pine nuts

Local football team

Rochdale: Rochdale Football Club - currently in league one

Venice: Venezia football club. Not as famous as its canal. Currently residing in Serie B, the Italian second division

Claim to fame

Rochdale: The worldwide co-operative movement started with the Rochdale Pioneers in Toad Lane in 1844

Venice: This city on water boasts countless beautiful bridges and waterways, many of which are superstars in their own right

Most famous faces

Rochdale: Gracie Fields – international singing star, actress and comedian. Gracie, The highest paid film star in the world in the 1930s, was born in Rochdale in 1898. A statue dedicated to her was erected in Town Hall Square in 2016.

Venice: Not many household names from Venice which would be recognised today, but Hollywood actress, Amy Adams, star of films like Enchanted, Arrival, American Hustle and Nocturnal Animals, was born not far away in Vicenza in 1974.

Do you have a story for us?

Let us know by emailing
All contact will be treated in confidence.

To contact the Rochdale Online news desk, email or visit our news submission page.

To get the latest news on your desktop or mobile, follow Rochdale Online on Twitter and Facebook.


Support Rochdale Online

Rochdale Online provides local community news and a local community events diary, as well as local business and community listings. To continue providing these services we are asking for your help and support.

Find out more