“Manchester has everything except a beach”- Ian Brown, The Stone Roses.
Some would say Manchester also lacks the nice weather that goes hand in hand with a beach and they would not be wrong! But apart from that Ian Brown is correct with his above statement, Manchester has it all. It was whilst walking through the streets of Manchester that I realised that in all my time writing I have never put any words down about the city I have lived in all my life. Manchester, a former grimy yet beautiful city that has transformed in many ways over the years. Some people like myself would even say it is on the verge of transforming too much. As the chain stores, bookies and bland architecture take over the country; all our cities are on the verge of becoming generic copies of each other, losing all their individual character that makes them unique. But that is not to say all is lost, Manchester is still a fantastic place to live and is without doubt a wonderful and special place. If you have lived in a place for a long time and you call that place home I feel it is important to know the history of the streets you walk on and the streets of Manchester are so incredibly rich with history that I’ve decided to share with you a day of my life (24/04/2014) and combine it with what I’ve learnt about the city of Manchester.
When I started my day it was bright and sunny, it was warm outside and I felt a coat wasn’t necessary for my travels. I left my house and got the Metrolink (the tram for all you people unfamiliar with Manchester) into town from Central Park; this tram stop was completed in 2005 but wasn’t opened until 2012 due to delays with the “big bang” expansion of the Metrolink network. The trams operates on the former Oldham Loop railway line which was converted from train usage to tram usage once the Metrolink expansion got the green light. The Central Park stop is built on land that once upon a time was a carriage and wagon works for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company (L&YR), a map of the railway lines L&YR used to operate can be seen on the wall of Manchester Victoria station. In 1878 a superintendant engineer at the wagon works called Frederick Attock decided to start a football team to compete with the teams of other departments and rail companies, the team was formed and took the name of Newton Heath LYR FC. By 1892 the club had become independent from the railway company and were simply known as Newton Heath FC. This is the name the club retained until it ran into financial difficulties and new owners had to be found. The club was bought out and the financial problems were solved, the new owners decided a change of name was needed and on 24th April 1902 Manchester United FC was created.
I got on the tram to Shudehill Interchange, I usually get off at Victoria Station but the tram stop there is currently closed as the station is renovated and given a much needed new roof. Most people in Manchester will have noticed the increased activity in construction work across the city, tower cranes can once again be seen in the city skyline, a sign that perhaps the economy is finally on the road to recovery. I had a few errands to run and my travels took me down Mosley Street which to me is one of the most interesting streets in Manchester. As a young man trying to make it in the big wide world one of my main grievance’s today is the unjust financial system that controls our lives. It is this system that holds people in bondage through debt and then robs them through fraud, as was the case with the sub-prime mortgage scandal. It is a system that feeds and sustains the huge inequality between the super rich and the rest of the world’s population.
Mosley Street is a great example of wealth, power and political dynasties. It is named after the Mosley family who were the Lords of the Manor in the area the street is located on. As is the case with most aristocrat families the Mosley’s had links to the Royal Family and were wealthy landowners. It goes without saying that many of the male Mosley’s have been MPs through the centuries. Noted descendants of Mosley family are Sir Oswald Mosley, the man who founded the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and his sons, the novelist Nicholas Mosley and Max Mosley the former head of the Motorsport organisation Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) who’s reputation has been tarnished in recent years when he was caught on video having a “Nazi Orgy” with five hookers, whatever floats your boat.
Some say Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and Mosley Street played a key role during these early formative years because at the beginning of the 19th century this is where most of the city’s industrialists lived. A little known fact is that when Mayer Amschel Rothschild sent his five sons from Frankfurt to set up their banking dynasty it was in Manchester where Nathan Mayer Rothschild settled, on Mosley Street, to set up the English branch of the Rothschild empire. These early industrialists had a taste for Greek Revival architecture and it was with this mindset that they built Portico Library from 1802 to 1806 and Manchester Art Gallery from 1824 to 1835, the art gallery was partially designed by Sir Charles Barry who’s most notable works are the Palace of Westminster aka Houses of Parliament and the remodelling of Trafalgar Square. The art gallery was originally the home of the Royal Manchester Institute which these early industrialists and local artists founded to help develop Manchester’s culture.
From Mosley Street I took a right and walked down King Street, another important street in Manchester’s history. As the 19th Century progressed and the Industrial Revolution developed the centre of power in Manchester moved from Mosley Street to King Street, all this newly created industry needed to be financed and King Street was where the banks made their homes with The Bank of England, Lloyds TSB, and Midland Bank (HSBC) all occupying the street. The Lloyds TSB building is built on the site of the original Manchester Town Hall which was knocked down in 1912, the original facade of the building was saved and rebuilt and can be seen today in Heaton Park.
The buildings that the banks built are big and foreboding, a symbol of power. The Industrialists had a great passion for architecture and took great pride in their buildings, they tried to outdo each other in their designs, each new warehouse was built to be bigger and grander than the ones built before it. Good examples of these former warehouses are Watts Warehouse, now the Britannia Hotel and India House where Noel Gallagher found the inspiration for the album Definitely Maybe. This is a direct contrast of today’s outlook where buildings are built on a small and cramp scale with the cheapest possible materials, the concrete cinderblock has replaced ornate masonry.
The Industrial Revolution
The industry around Manchester developed at a fast pace with textiles and cotton being the main trade, Manchester soon acquired the nickname of Cottonopolis. The surrounding towns fast became mill towns and to allow commerce to flow at a steady rate the towns became connected to Manchester by a network of canals; the Bridgewater Canal, the Rochdale Canal and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The terminus of most of these canals was the basins of Castlefield. The former warehouses and loading bays surrounding the basins are now home to people living in what some would say are over-priced apartments. The fast pace of the Industrial Revolution brought with it many new technological inventions and advancements. The most important of which was, arguably, the steam engine. In 1830 Manchester took another page in the history book of the world when for the first-time in recorded human history a public transport system that did not require the use of animal power came into use with the onset of steam trains. The trains began operation from the world’s first railway station on Liverpool Road. On the very same day of the world’s first train journey, 15th September 1830, came the world’s first fatality in a train accident when Liverpool MP William Huskisson was hit by a train as he tried to speak to the Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister of the country at the time. Both men were taking part in a celebratory train journey along with many other distinguished guests. Mr Huskisson was fatally injured and died not long after the accident. Within ten years of this first railway journey 1,775 miles of tracks had been laid down in Britain and within twenty years 6,200 miles of tracks were in place, the railways changed the world.
By the end of the 19th Century the Industrialists felt they were getting the short end of the stick and viewed the charges of the docks in Liverpool and the Railway companies as excessive. They looked for ways to bypass this problem and the Manchester Ship Canal was born, the idea was to build a canal that could carry ocean liners from the Mersey Estuary directly into Manchester. The Manchester Industrialists faced a battle with Parliament to get the necessary Act of Parliament signed for the canal to be built but in 1885 permission was finally granted and construction began in 1887. The canal took six years to build and cost £15million, the equivalent of £1.8billion in today’s money. The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 and the newly created Port of Manchester became the third busiest port in the UK despite it being 36 miles inland. In 1927 the Manchester Ship Canal Company built Ship Canal House on King Street. The legacy of the Manchester Ship Canal Company lives on, the company was acquired in 1993 by Peel Holdings which now owns the Ship Canal amongst many other significant investments.
With this network of waterways and railway lines and the Industrial Revolution in full swing Manchester took its place in a world that was trading at an increasingly fast pace. It was during this period that the Britain dominated the world; it built the British Empire which was powered by trade and enforced with military might and a monopoly on finance capital. Wealth was created in ways and at rates that had never been seen before, but just like today this incredible wealth was not shared. Victorian Britain was a tale of two worlds, a world we are increasingly bringing back to life, a two tier society of the moneyed classes and the impoverished workers.
I continued my walk through town turning left at the bottom of King Street onto Cross Street. I walked to Albert Square and past the magnificent Gothic Town Hall. I walked round the town hall and made a visit to the newly re-opened Central Library which has been closed for the past four years for a complete refurbishment. I went to the library to get some new books to loan out, I mentioned the importance of reading in one of my posts last week, the ancient Romans had two meanings for the same word, the word was Liber. Liber meant free, as in not a slave, a free being. It is the basis of the English word Liberty. But if used in a different context the same word Liber also meant book. It is the basis for the English word of Library. The Ancient Romans associated the Latin word for book with the word free, a library is a place you can go to become free if you read the right books. During times in which many local libraries are closing down at an alarming rate it is refreshing and encouraging to see that Manchester still recognises the importance of having a modern centre of education for the public. The refurbishment is supposed to have cost a cool £50 million, a substantial investment in not only the building but in future generations as well.
Manchester Central Library is located in St Peter’s square. Across the road from the library is the grand Midland Hotel. A by-product of railway wealth it was built by the Midland Railway company to accommodate passengers of the Manchester Central railway station located behind the hotel. The old railway station closed in 1969 and is now an exhibition centre, formerly known as the G-Mex. It was in the Midland Hotel that Charles Rolls was introduced to Henry Royce and they decided to form a company together that would make cars. There is the Urban Myth that Adolf Hitler admired the Midland Hotel building so much he had it earmarked as a possible Nazi HQ in Britain and it was for this reason that the area was spared from bombing during WWII to save the building from being damaged or destroyed.
Further down the road from the Midland Hotel is the former Free Trade Hall, it was built in 1846 to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws. It was built on St Peter’s Field, the site where The Peterloo Massacre occurred on 16th August 1819 when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000+ people who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. The introduction of the Corn Laws had caused food prices to rise which tipped many people over the edge as they struggled for basic survival. The cavalry charge resulted in 15 deaths and around 700 injuries. Journalist and founder of the Manchester Observer newspaper James Wroe wrote at the time:
“Nothing but ruin and starvation stare one in the face in the streets of Manchester and the surrounding towns, the state of this district is truly dreadful, and I believe nothing but the greatest exertions can prevent an insurrection. Oh, that you in London were prepared for it.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Manchester St. Peter’s Square is located at the end of Mosley Street so this demonstration of the masses of poor people would have been taking place on the doorstep of the wealthy, it seems some things never change. It was during his time of living in Manchester that Friedrich Engels wrote the book The Condition of the Working Class in England which was based on what he saw and experienced during his time in the city. Later in his life Engels became a working partner of Karl Marx who wrote The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital which served as the guidebooks for the Communism practiced with dreadful consequences by the U.S.S.R. and China during the 20th Century.
Once I had found the books I wanted and was finished in the library I took the short walk down to Spinningfields to go to the bank. Yet again the centre of power has shifted in Manchester and this is now the location that all the banks call home, the area is being transformed into the business heart of the city. I completed my business in the bank and I walked past the Armani store, my mind wandered back to the days when I watched the diggers demolish the dreadful Manchester Evening News building that once stood on the site. I walked past John Rylands Library, a library that was built by the wife of industrialist John Rylands during the 1890s to stand as a monument of his life and name, mission accomplished.
Directly across the road from the John Rylands Library is Lincoln House, 123 Deansgate and John Dalton House. This is the home of Pannone, the law firm that I used to work for. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors of John Dalton House was where I spent every weekday for five and half years between January 2007 and May 2012, I hear people do less for murder these days! The company was sold at the end of last year to Slater and Gordon for £33 million. John Dalton House is located on John Dalton Street, named after the chemist and physicists John Dalton who pioneered modern atomic theory. He stands alongside Alan Turing who helped develop the world’s first computer at Manchester University as the two great scientists whose work in the city helped advance the world.
By this point I had accomplished everything I needed to get done for the day so I decided to go and get the tram and head back home. In typical Manchester fashion whilst I had been out and about the sun had disappeared behind grey clouds and it had started to rain. Not for the first time I had been tricked by the city’s unpredictable weather and was stranded out in the rain without a coat. I got a fast paced walk going and set off back to Shudehill before it started to come down heavy and really start raining. I walked down Corporation Street where on the 15th June 1996 the IRA decided to send a message to the British Government by detonating a 3,300 bomb made of Semtex and Ammonium Nitrate Fertiliser that was placed in the back of a parked Ford Cargo truck, the largest bomb ever detonated in Great Britain during peacetime. The bomb caused a significant amount of damage costing an estimated £700 million and putting 530,000 square feet of retail space and 610,000 square feet of office space out of use. It was this terror attack that sparked a regeneration of Manchester city centre that has given the city a new breath of life with around £1.2 billion being pumped into the city to get it back on its feet.
I walked past the Arndale extension and up Withy Grove towards Shudehill. Before I got onto the tram I popped into my favourite bookshop in the world, Paramount, to see if they had any bargains in store. It’s a shop I wish all the shops in the world were like, a place with real character and soul. From the musty smell and the piano in the corner to the man with plastic arms behind the counter. Sadly the shop is up for rent and will be closing down in the near future, a sign of the times for the independent business.
When I was finished in Paramount my day was over and I got the tram home. I hope you have enjoyed the day in Manchester I have shared with you and learnt at least one new thing. To an outsider Manchester can seem a dull, wet, grim and miserable place. But if you are in the know, if you know the history and you know the places to see and the places to go then you will have as good a time here than you will anywhere else in the world. It is the first industrial city the world ever saw and had a huge influence in shaping the world we live in today, long may that continue. All in all, I love Manchester and I hope you do too.