60 KING STREET aka KINGS COFFEE HOUSE (formerly known as the Belle Epoque)
Since its construction in the early 1900s, 60 King Street has been one of Knutsford’s most prominent buildings and is a true jewel in the crown of the town’s architecture. Since 2019 the building has been vacant; initially the council sought to find a new tenant for the whole building but unfortunately due to the condition of the building negotiation with prospective tenants was unsuccessful.
The Town Council was faced with a limited number of options. We don’t want to sell the building which we believe should remain in our ownership for the town but at the same time did not wish to borrow the funds required to undertake repairs without certainty of the future income. At the same time, we looks more critically at how the building serves the town and how the large space could be better used for the community. In 2021, we reached a decision to seek major grant funding to reimagine and regenerate the building into a hybrid community/commercial space.
We have appointed Tricolor Associates, a team of expert heritage consultants, to work with us and help develop a bid for National Lottery Heritage Funding.
We have secured an initial grant of £8,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund. This is to fund an initial consultation exercise and governance review which will help us identify how the building can best serve the community. The consultation launched on 23rd March and closed on 16th May. We are currently analysing the results.
COMMUNITY CONSULTATION – MARCH TO MAY 2022
From 23rd March to 16th May we ran an open consultation to help identify how the building can best serve our community. We prepared a promotional video (see right) and held a day of guided tours which saw almost 80 visitors explore the entire building. We had 261 responses to our general survey and an additional 66 responses to our student survey – the latter was particuarly important as we really wanted to ensure the voice of the younger members of our community was heard. We are currently analysing the results and they will be shared once available.
60 King Street is the most notable creation of Victorian glove merchant Richard Harding Watt who transformed the skyline of Knutsford with his unique collection of Italianate buildings. The Kings Coffee House (as the building is also known) was designed by Watt with architect W Longworth and built between 1904 and 1909.
The building was constructed in two phases; the left side as a reading room and coffee room with the impressive Gaskell Memorial Tower was built first and Watt then acquired the adjacent Hat and Heathers Inn which allowed the building to be enlarged. The second half of the building included the use of two huge columns taken from Manchester’s St Peters Church as part of its demolition.
Watt was keen to create a memorial to Elizabeth Gaskell, the town’s famous author who immortalised Knutsford in her own Cranford. The memorial tower features the names of most of Gaskell’s books along with a bronze relief plaque of Gaksell by Archille d’Orsi and a stone bust to the front of the tower. At the entrance to this half of the building there is also a column featuring the names of all monarchs of England through to Edward VII.
Watt’s aim in creating the Kings Coffee House was to “attract the inhabitants of Knutsford away from the local inns and public houses”. The building comprised a coffee house with ground floor smoking room and a library where the town could read daily newspapers for free. The first floor included a music room, reading room and ballroom along with a number of bedrooms.
Watt died suddenly in 1913 after falling from his pony and trap whilst travelling along Brook Street; his widow, Ethel, then gifted the building to the Knutsford Urban District Council which used part of the building as its offices. The council subsequently purchased the former Prison Governor’s house for its offices in the 1930s.
From 1974 to 2019 the building was leased by La Belle Epoque Limited and operated as the Belle Epoque restaurant. This started out as French fine dining before latterly becoming a wedding venue. The company went into administration in 2019 since which point the building has been vacant.
60 King Street is one of only eight Grade II* listed buildings in Knutsford. Grade II* listed buildings account for just 5.5% of the listed buildings in the UK and are “particularly important buildings of more than special interest”.
Here’s what the Historic England entry says about the building:
Coffee house and council offices, incorporating Gaskell Memorial tower, now restaurant. 1907-1908. By W Longworth. For Richard Harding Watt. Coursed and squared rubble with flat roofs.
STYLE: Eclectic Italianate.
PLAN: asymmetrical with council chamber forming main range, the Gaskell Memorial tower projecting forward of this to the left, the entrance block of the former coffee house projecting to the right, leaving a small courtyard between them. Screen wall to courtyard to right, with pantiled roof above. 4-window range of coffee house and former ballroom facing on to courtyard, which is closed to the rear by screen of Roman Doric columns.
EXTERIOR: main entrance at corner of coffee house block, in recessed porch. The angle is carried on an octagonal column carrying inscriptions in a variety of typography, and richly carved low relief bands. Oriel window alongside with small panes, and 3-windows to first floor below stepped parapet. Tower to left with external stair, tiny bow window to ground floor, and upper window divided by a heavy transom. Domed cap carried on open lantern. Small courtyard recessed beyond tower, with windows of council offices in rear range. Gaskell Memorial Tower closes this central courtyard to the left. Its white stone changes to yellow sandstone above the first floor. Recessed bow window to ground floor, and bust in niche over. Square oriel window offset above. Randomly projecting blocks, and bronze bust on inner face. Arcaded windows to upper storey, and open upper stage articulated by pilasters. Gateway to passage adjoins tower to left, with pantiled floor above archway.
INTERIOR: the internal planning remains substantially unaltered, and much of the original interior design survives, including 2 fire surrounds with copper hoods to ground floor, Boarded and panelled walling in lower rooms and former council chamber, and a mural in the former coffee house. An interesting composition, the architect clearly expressing awareness of the bold work of other Edwardian Free Style contemporaries, most notably Holden.