This weekend marks the 18th anniversary of the Manchester bomb which exploded on the morning of June 15th 1996 causing substantial damage to Manchester city centre.

The bomb was detonated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army who were waging a war against the British Government through the use of terror tactics. Their aim was for the UK Government to give up control of Northern Ireland so a unified Ireland could come into existence. In the 1970s the IRA started their campaign of terrorism on both the British mainland and in Northern Ireland. In mainland Britain they detonated the following bombs over a period of 25 years killing 88 people, injuring hundreds and causing millions of pounds worth of damage:

  • Aldershot Barracks

  • M62 coach bombing

  • Houses of Parliament

  • Guildford pub bombings

  • Birmingham pub bombings

  • Hilton Hotel, London

  • Brighton Bomb

  • Harrods

  • Deal Barracks

  • Hyde Park and Regents Park

  • Victoria Station, London

  • Warrington town centre

  • Baltic Exchange

  • Bishopsgate

  • Canary Wharf

There were also countless other bomb attacks in which there was no loss of life, such as the 1974 bombing of Manchester Magistrates’ Court and the two bombs that exploded in Parsonage Gardens and Cateaton Street on 3rd December 1992 injuring 64 people.

By the 1990s the IRA had increased the size of the bombs they were using in their attacks which saw a huge rise in the amount of damage caused to buildings but luckily not much of an increase in fatalities, this is partly due to the fact that the IRA had a policy in which they usually gave a warning of any impending attack by telephoning a big corporation in the vicinity of the bomb before it was detonated. It seems almost civil in the age of the suicide bomber who strike without warning.

This procedure of pre-warning an attack was carried out in Manchester on the morning of June 15th 1996. At around 9:20am a red and white Ford Cargo was captured on CCTV parking on double yellow lines on Corporation Street before two hooded men are seen walking away from the vehicle. A short while later at 9:40am Granada Studios received a telephone call from an Irishman who gave an IRA codeword and warned that there was a bomb on the corner of Corporation Street and Cannon Street which was set to explode within the hour. The warning was quickly passed onto the authorities and a policeman soon found the Ford Cargo truck and noticed that wires were running from the dashboard into the back of the wagon.

It was now evident that this was the real deal and not just a bomb scare, emergency plans were kicked into action with a bomb squad being called from Liverpool whilst an evacuation of the city centre was started. Despite it still being early in the morning it was estimated that 75,000–80,000 were already shopping and working in the centre of town at the time of the evacuation, it was a beautiful day and at that time England were hosting Euro ‘96 with a game due to be played at Old Trafford the following day. The bomb squad arrived in the city and sent in their robot to try and deactivate the bomb, however efforts would prove to be futile when at 11:17am the bomb exploded:

The Ford Cargo truck contained a 3,300 pound bomb made of Semtex and Ammonium Nitrate Fertiliser, it was the largest bomb ever detonated in Great Britain during peacetime. The bomb was highly destructive and caused extensive damage. The police had done an excellent job in evacuating people from the area and not a single life was lost, but 212 people were injured by the explosion. As we can imagine the bomb caused a lot of panic and chaos in the moments after it exploded, images were captured of people bleeding heavily after being hit by flying glass. An image that got a lot of attention in the immediate aftermath was that of Mandy Hudson, a bride who had just got married who was captured running through town with her groom Franklyn Swanston and the bridesmaid, who was also her sister.

Corporation Street then

Corportation Street

Blast Damage 3

Blast Damage

Exchange Square

Aeriel Shot

Images courtesy of  Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archive

The cost of the damage caused by the bomb blast was estimated to be £700 million and it put 530,000sq ft of retail space and 610,000sq ft of office space out of use. One such businessman whose business was affected by the destruction was John Ardern of Really Useful Research & Development who had an office at Cateaton Street and remembers the event well:

“We were bombed twice, first in May 1993 when a bomb planted in the bushes across the road blew up with no warning, this is now the site of Harvey Nichols. Luckily my partner wasn’t sitting at her desk at that time, otherwise she would have been covered in shattered glass. One person on the opposite side of the road suffered severe injuries from a shard of glass falling onto his neck – we never did find out what happened to him afterwards. Then again in June 1996. Although the bomb was planted outside Marks & Spencer on Cross Street/Corporation Street, the blast sucked out all our windows, suspended ceilings, electrics, etc. with damage to all our electric and electronic equipment. The guys who planted the bomb were caught on CCTV leaving in a car parked on Cathedral Street just around the corner, but there was insufficient evidence to charge them with the bombing. Fortunately on this occasion, it was a Saturday morning, and there were no staff working there. What had been our wonderful offices for 9 years were severely damaged and they are now the visitor centre for Manchester Cathedral.”

Several buildings were damaged beyond repair and had to be demolished, one of them was Longridge House which was the headquarters of British Engine Insurance company and was virtually destroyed by the bomb. Other buildings were closed for a long time whilst structural repairs were carried out. By the end of 1999 most of the rebuilding work had completed, the total cost of repair work came in at £1.2 billion.

Corporation Street Today

bridge2

All was not lost however, this terror attack was certainly a terrible thing happen at the time and it was a miracle that nobody lost their life that day. For those who were there and especially those who were injured it will be an event they will never forget. But once the initial dismay of the large scale damage had gone and the initial gloom had lifted it became clear that moving forward Manchester had been presented with a great opportunity for change. The bomb attack turned out to be the catalyst of a huge transformation for Manchester. It started a regeneration of the city centre that gave the Manchester a new breath of life and helped it to become the vibrant and exciting place it is today.