Updated: Apr 4, 2021
Antwerp Mansion was built as a private home as part of the Victoria Park estate, the world's first gated community for the new super-rich industrialists of the Victorian age. Its hard to trace exactly when the house was built. It appears in 1837 plans as grey/shaded as if it has begun but not completed production. It appears finished in 1841 plans. It was built in a very early version of the Gothic style which became very popular with the Victorians in later years.
The first version of the house appears to have been two semi detached houses, back to back along the long roofline. These appear to have been extensively renovated and turned into one large house in the 1870's. The original name of the House seems to have been Shrubbery Bank.
There is a rumour the we were once the Belgian consulate but I can find no concrete evidence of it. Nor at the time of writing have I been able to find any evidence of the original purchasers of the house. This is in itself a little odd. Antwerp House is undisputedly one of the first houses to be built in Victoria Park. There were meetings held by the early inhabitants of the park to get to know each other and be assured that they were all wonderful folk, but as far as I can tell, whoever claimed Antwerp House did not attend or was not listed.
Antwerp House broke at least one of the rules of Victoria Park. It had a private entrance and its own gatehouse. Its possible that a wealthy business owner had already started work on a grand villa just as the Victoria Park company came along and was 'swallowed' by the park by default. The private entrance was clearly planned from the beginning. The house faces the wrong direction for anything else. It was a Victorian standard that the grandest side of the house would face the main entrance so that visitors would be suitably impressed. Carriage doors were on the left side of the carriage. A visitor arriving at the Rusholme Grove entrance would have seen the expensive tennis courts with a formal garden behind them and the large windows of the reception room before pulling up at the grand porch and exiting the carriage. It is only the cheap nature of the building work, and its inclusion in early plans of the Park that inclines me to think that Antwerp House was indeed built by the bankrupt Victoria Park Company at all.
In 1922 the building was bought by the local conservative club and massively extended with a ballroom and snooker hall. It became a private members club for the elite gentlemen of the area. For many years it was one of the most important Conservative clubs in Manchester and it is thought Winston Churchill visited on at least one occasion. It was from this point that the main house was no longer lived in. The Main house became club space and the servants wing became offices on the lower floors and caretakers living quarters above. The kitchen was moved to the red bedroom and the dressing room became a fancy patisserie serving the ballroom on the upper floor.
There were at least two fires during its time as a club. Traces of the first one can be found under the floor of the red bedroom, where some older beams have scorch marks but were judged sound enough to remain in place. We suspect it dates from the 1950s. The other was arson in the late noughties and tore through the servants wing leaving a hollowed out shell.
The influence of the conservatives began to wane in the 1970's and the wealth of the club declined. It survived by being the only club in the area to operate (unofficially) after 11pm, becoming a paid car park for local events and by starting to sell off assets.
Picture of Antwerp House, sometime in the 1970's. Taken before the bowling green was sold off to become kent court flats.
Luckily it didn't end up getting knocked down to become kent court part 2.
In 2009 Antwerp House became a home for much of the new musical and artistic talent of Manchester. It was at this time it was renamed Antwerp Mansion and eventually became one of Manchester's most notorious rave venues. That phase of its life ended in 2018 after a year-long wrangle with the council.