Category Archives: Manchester’s Heritage

Mr Ashworth’s pet project

Rochdale Town Hall: corbel portrait of William Henry Crossland (1823-1909)
Rochdale Town Hall: corbel portrait of George Leach Ashworth (1823-1873)

When I planned my 2019 Manchester’s Heritage tour I knew I couldn’t include Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall because it’s closed for a five-year refurbishment.

However, there’s more to “Manchester” than Manchester, and a tram-ride away from St Peter’s Square terminates close to  Rochdale Town Hall, smaller, but hardly less magnificent than Manchester Town Hall, with a host of entertaining stories attached to it.

No sooner had the new borough of Rochdale elected its first Corporation in 1856 than a sub-committee began work to provide a suitable town hall.

The committee chairman, George Leach Ashworth (1823-1873), was originally unenthusiastic about the project.

When the Church Commissioners eventually agreed a price for land alongside the River Roch, Ashworth tried unsuccessfully to limit the budget to £15,000, on the grounds that it was “…only requisite that we should have a handsome frontage.”

An architectural competition, stipulating a budget limit of £20,000, was won by the Leeds architect William Henry Crossland (1823-1909), a pupil of the great Gothic Revival architect, George Gilbert Scott.

Despite the budget-limit, Crossland’s initial estimate of £26,510 was repeatedly augmented at the Corporation’s request.  The Great Hall was increased in area to 90ft × 56ft, and the 240ft tower was embellished with an octagonal lantern decorated with carved trumpeting angels and surmounted by a spire supporting a solid wood statue of St George and the Dragon by Earp of London.

Several ancient buildings were demolished and the River Roch culverted to provide the impressive seventy-foot-wide esplanade.

Crossland provided grand public rooms, the Mayor’s suite, administrative offices and, initially, the public library, and the west wing was given to the fire and police departments, together with a court room and ancillary cells and a residence for the Chief Constable.

The building is faced with millstone grit from Blackstone Edge, generously dignified by sculpture.  The fire department, for example, was identified with the phoenix, the salamander, the owl (symbolising watchfulness) and the dog (indicating alarm-raising).  For reasons that are unrecorded, a buttress on the porte-cochère is ornamented with a winged pig.

The interior was no less extravagant.  The entrance hall, designed as a wool-merchants’ exchange though never used as such, has a heraldic Minton tiled floor.  The windows of the vast staircase are filled with lancet windows showing the arms of the counties, towns and ports with which Rochdale traded, together with the technological marvels of the day – the steamship, the railway and the telegraph.

The Great Hall is lit by windows depicting every English monarch from William the Conqueror to William IV, together with Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector;  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are portrayed in the rose windows at each end.  On the eastern wall is Henry Holiday’s fresco of the signing of Magna Carta, and the hammer beams support carved angels, from which originally hung chandeliers.

The magistrates’ retiring room has depictions of nine English figures associated with lawmaking and the English constitution.  The Mayor’s Parlour is decorated with the Garden of the Hesperides, the four seasons, the months of the year and a group of musicians.  The committee room frieze shows animals associated, in one way or another, with primitive clothing, and the walls of the arched council chamber are decorated with a ground of bursting cotton pods and teasels, and panels showing weaving, spinning, textile-printing, the plants used in textile manufacture and the inventions of Kay, Cartwright, Hargreaves and Crompton.

In No 3 Committee Room the corbels show the supporters of the Town Hall scheme, deftly described by Colin Cunningham, in Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1981):  “…the architect wearily toying with a pair of dividers and the mayor clutching his new town hall”.

By the time the Town Hall was completed in 1871, the final cost was £154,755 9s 11d, and the Mayor, G L Ashworth, remarked that “we cannot have beauty without paying for it.”

Dry rot in the spire was being treated when the tower burnt down in 1883.  One local legend declares that the fire was deliberately started by the workmen, who feared for their own safety as they took apart the rotten structure.  Another legend has it that the Rochdale fire brigade, which was stationed at the back of the building, was beaten to the blaze by the Oldham brigade.

The more modest but still impressive 191ft-high replacement was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of Manchester Town Hall, and completed in 1887.

Holy Name of Jesus

Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Oxford Road, Manchester

The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Oxford Road, Manchester, stands as a symbol of permanence in an area that has seen huge changes since the parish was founded in middle of the nineteenth century.

In the decade after the Great Famine of 1845-49, thousands of Irish immigrants settled to the south of the River Medlock. 

The first Bishop of Salford, William Turner (1799-1872), invited the Society of Jesus to provide clergy for a new parish to be located in a temporary church in Burlington Street.  This structure, named Gesù after the Society’s mother-church in Rome, was opened on Easter Tuesday, April 4th 1868.

The foundation stone of what came to be called Holy Name Church was laid in June 1869. 

The shell of the building without interior fittings cost £14,000 and was opened on October 15th 1871.

The architect was Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), famed as the inventor of the ‘Patent Safety Cab’ that bears his name.  He designed Birmingham Town Hall (designed 1831-32, completed 1861).  His other major churches are Mount St Mary’s Church, Leeds (1851-57), St Walburge’s Church, Preston (1854), Plymouth Cathedral (1856-58) and Arundel Cathedral (1869-73). 

Built of brick, faced with Warwick Bridge stone outside and terracotta within, Hansom’s design is in fourteenth-century Gothic style. 

The façade is asymmetrical:  the baptistery with its conical roof extends to the south, and because of the street-layout the footprint is trapezoidal, so that the liturgical east end (actually north-east) is wider than the entrance.  This is disguised by the layout of chapels along the south aisle, which are balanced by confessionals, each with its own fireplace, to the north.

The nave is wide, light and spacious, reflecting the Jesuit preoccupation with preaching.  The rib-vault of hollow polygonal terracotta blocks by Gibbs & Canning Ltd of Tamworth is supported by slender columns.

J A Hansom intended a slender lantern and spire 240 feet high with twin windows and gables, but it was abandoned for fear of overburdening the foundations. 

Instead, a shorter, tapered tower was designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882-1963), younger brother of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Liverpool Cathedral.  It was completed at a cost of £17,000 in 1928.  Its carillon of bells was dedicated on October 13th 1931.

During the ministry of Fr Bernard Vaughan SJ (1847-1922, brother of Cardinal Henry Vaughan), the church had a powerful influence on the surrounding community. 

In the year 1900 the parish, with a population of 3,500, registered 25 converts, 125 baptisms, 2,850 Easter Communions and 32,815 confessions.  A bazaar in 1893 raised £7,350, supplemented by a donation of a thousand guineas by Sir Humphrey Trafford, then the owner of Trafford Park, and his friends. 

In 1895 the funeral of Sir Charles Hallé took place at Holy Name Church:  the cortège reached Weaste Cemetery four hours after the start of High Mass, which included a performance of the Mozart Requiem and Beethoven’s Eroica symphony.

The removal of local families to outer-Manchester housing estates from the end of the 1920s, the upheavals of the Second World War and the post-war clearance of the surrounding streets radically changed the setting of Holy Name Church. 

The area became a collective campus for what are now the city’s three universities – the University of Manchester (formerly the Victoria University of Manchester), the Manchester Metropolitan University (previously Manchester Polytechnic) and the Royal Northern College of Music (founded by Sir Charles Hallé as the Royal Manchester School of Music).

The Jesuits moved away in 1985 and from 1992 the church was run by the brothers of an Oratory of Saint Philip Neri.  In 2003 the Oratorians moved to St Chad’s, Cheetham Hill, the mother-church of Manchester Catholics, and the Jesuits were invited back to Holy Name to run the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy: http://www.muscc.org.

A visit to the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Home of polite literature

Portico Library, Manchester

Manchester is not only the home of the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom – Chetham’s – but boasts one of the thirty-odd surviving independent subscription libraries in the country, the Portico Library, founded by a consortium of Manchester businessmen in 1802 and opened on Mosley Street in 1806. 

Originally set in a fashionable part of town, the Portico Library provided an exclusive, politically neutral meeting-place for the professional and business communities, enabling members to read, research and keep up with the news in quiet, comfortable surroundings.

The architect Thomas Harrison of Chester provided an impressive entrance through an Ionic portico which led to a galleried newsroom lit by a glazed dome, “larger by 700 square feet than the coffee room of the Athenaeum in Liverpool”.  Bookcases lined the first-floor gallery.  The total cost of construction was £6,881 5s 3d.

By the 1830s the properties on Mosley Street were given over to trade, as the merchants moved out to such suburban developments as Victoria Park.  Members commuted into town for business and used the library mostly in the daytime.  By 1900 most of the members were described as “gentlemen”, though some were cotton manufacturers and merchants.

The Portico Library is rightly proud of its distinguished members.  Paul Roget (1779-1869), a physician at the Infirmary and the author of the famous Thesaurus, was the first Secretary.  The scientist John Dalton (1766-1844), a lecturer in a Manchester dissenting academy, was accorded honorary membership in return for “superintend[ing] the going of the clock”.  The Rev William Gaskell (1805-1844), minister at Cross Street Chapel and a noted academic, was Chairman for thirty years and is commemorated in the library by a portrait and a bust.

Others included the engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth Bt (1803-1887), the cotton manufacturer, merchant John Rylands (1801-1888) whose widow founded the Library that bears his name on Deansgate, and the industrialist and politician Ernest Simon (latterly Baron Simon of Wythemshawe, 1879-1960).

Members’ families visited the Library from the outset.  An irritable notice of 1817 declared “Children should not on any account be suffered to…touch the prints, or to turn over the leaves”.  “Ladies of the respective families of the Subscribers” were allowed to use the Library, and one of them, Mrs Ann Frost, was allowed membership in 1853, though limited formal membership for women was only introduced in 1873. 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the social and cultural environment in which the Library operated changed increasingly rapidly.  Though the cotton trade remained robust, Manchester’s prominence in national politics had shifted to the Chamberlains’ Birmingham.  Municipal free libraries, scattered across the city, reduced the need for the Portico’s book collection.  The Proprietors debated at length amalgamating with the Athenaeum, selling the book-collection, or selling the entire building.

A practical solution was found after the end of the Great War.  In 1920 the ground floor and basement was leased to the Bank of Athens, which paid for an internal glazed dome to allow the library to occupy the first-floor level with an independent entrance on Charlotte Street.  The Manchester Evening News commented that if the Portico “cannot claim to be rolling in money, it may claim that there will be plenty of money rolling beneath it”.

The building was listed in 1952, which both ensured its survival and limited the scope for adaptation.

Eventually, after Lloyds’ Bank, successors to the Bank of Athens, moved out, the internal dome was replaced by a solid floor, separating first-floor library from the area below, which became a public house called The Bank

This transformed library was inaugurated in 1987, and its flexibility led to a rebirth of the institution, which in addition to offering books, periodicals and light refreshments as it always did, mounts exhibitions, hosts performance events, hosts weddings, awards literary prizes and welcomes outside visitors.

A visit to the Portico Library forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.


Lads’ and girls’ club

Salford Lads’ Club entrance

The Salford Lad’s Club has been operating for well over a century, but only became well-known after it featured on the cover of The Smiths’ third album, The Queen is Dead (1986).

The Club committee was at first not pleased by this attention.

A later change-of-heart encouraged fans to visit, to take selfies outside the front door, to come inside to add their pictures to the Smiths Room and to buy an impressive range of souvenirs.

There’s much more to celebrate about the Club.

It was founded in August 1903 as part of the newly built New Barracks estate by the brothers William (1847-1927) and James Groves (1854-1914), local brewers, who persuaded Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) to open the club on January 30th 1904.

It was one of a number of local clubs founded to break the combative local youth gang-culture, known as “scuttling”, which had disturbed the peace of Salford and inner-city Manchester for the previous twenty years.

The main staircase has a memorial to William and James Groves, with the motto “To brighten young lives and make good citizens”.

The Club offered opportunities for strenuous activity, including annual summer camps in Wales, alongside less energetic pursuits such as billiards, snooker, draughts and bagatelle.

The building was designed by Henry Lord (1843-1926) who was also responsible for the adjacent New Barracks estate, Salford’s first municipal housing development, and survives almost entirely intact, providing a large gymnasium and a concert hall, both with viewing galleries, and a boxing gym.  The former fives court is now split to create rooms on two floors.

The physical comfort of the modern building must also have been attractive.  The sport facilities included showers at a time when hardly any homes had indoor sanitation, and the club was exceptional in offering an employment bureau for boys aged thirteen and upwards.

The Lads’ Club stands at the end of Salford’s actual Coronation Street.  The model for the TV serial, Archie Street, was older and the houses were smaller.  Archie Street was used in the title sequences of the programme from 1960 to 1969;  it was demolished in 1971.

The Salford Girls’ Institute stood nearby at the corner of Regent Square, adjacent to St Ignatius’ Church, until it was bombed in the Second World War.  It was never replaced and eventually the Salford Lads’ Club became the Salford Lads’ and Girls’ Club in 1994.

The building was listed Grade II in 2003 as a rare example of a purpose-built boys’ club.

The Club retains the membership cards of the 22,500 young people who have attended since 1903.  This archive is digitised and accessible for family-history research, and the Archive Room contains the Wall of Names, installed in 2015.

Former members include Eddie Coleman (1936-1958), the youngest of the “Busby Babes” who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster, Allan Clark and Graham Nash (both born 1942), founder-members of the 1960s band The Hollies – Graham Nash went on to perform with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – and the champion boxer Jamie Moore (born 1978).

One of the co-founders of the Betfred bookmakers, Fred Done (born 1943), whose first betting shop opened in Ordsall in 1967, contributed to the cost of the Wall of Names.

As well as being a destination for music tourists, the Salford Lads’ Club does what it’s always done for young people in the local community – “brighten young lives and make good citizens”.

A visit to Salford Lads’ Club forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Climbing heaven

Former St Benedict’s Church, Ardwick, Manchester – now Manchester Climbing Centre

The parish church of St Benedict, Ardwick, Manchester, was the result of the wealth and religious inclinations of one man, John Marsland Bennett (1817-1889).  An Alderman and two-term Lord Mayor of Manchester, he prospered as a timber and stone merchant owning an extensive site at the junction of two main-line railways to Crewe and Sheffield.

When the Secretary of the Manchester Diocesan Church Building Society asked Mr Bennett for a plot of land to build a church in 1876 he offered to build the church on land he would provide. 

St Benedict’s Church was consecrated on March 20th 1880.

The architect was Joseph Stretch Crowther (1820-1893) and St Benedict’s is unlike any of his other church designs. 

It is entirely in brick, in header bond on the exterior and English bond within, with stone and terracotta dressings, rectangular without porches.  The body of the church is narrow and high, with a magnificent double hammer-beam roof. 

This magnificence came without a congregation.  Much of the surrounding land had yet to be developed and some of the speculative houses already built had yet to be occupied.  There were only 26 communicants on Easter Day 1880.

This did not seem to trouble the Bennett family, staunch Anglo-Catholics who used it to worship as they pleased in a predominantly Evangelical diocese.

They omitted to provide an endowment.  Their financial support dwindled after the death of J M Bennett’s eldest son, Armitage Bennett, aged 48, in 1897 and ended completely by the time the family business closed in the 1930s.  After the Second World War Keble College, Oxford took over patronage of the living.

When almost all the housing in the parish was cleared in the late 1960s the parish developed as a “shrine church” for Anglican Papalism, the branch of Anglo-Catholicism that looks towards reconciliation between the Church of England and Rome, and rejects any development that might prove an obstacle to that goal.

St Benedict’s came to serve a congregation that did not live locally, and although its centenary was celebrated by the sandblasting and chemical cleaning of the entire building in 1980, it became increasingly difficult to sustain the congregation and the structure.

The final celebration of Mass at St Benedict’s took place on February 11th 2002.

Closure inevitably threatened the future of this Grade II* building until the climber John Dunne took it on as a base for the Manchester Climbing Centre, which was opened on March 15th 2005, and continues to thrive as a popular venue for indoor climbing and bouldering.

The climbing paraphernalia crowds Crowther’s spacious interior – https://manchesterclimbingcentre.com/the-centre/4 – which is a small price to pay to preserve the building for years to come. 

Without the Manchester Climbing Centre, St Benedict’s might well have been flattened before now.

The climbing equipment is demountable, so that the listed interior is preserved.  The ornate iron screens around the sanctuary remain intact, and the mutilated original reredos apparently still exists, though hidden, at the east end.  All of the stained glass remains, but the 1907 pulpit and the organ have been removed.

Around the east end of the church are brass panels commemorating deceased members of the parish. 

One of them is in memory of Professor John Mills, who died in a climbing accident in Snowdonia on December 3rd 1977, aged 63.  A lifelong climber, he would have been astonished to know that his parish church became a climbing centre.

Read about another very different historic building that has been brought back into use as a climbing centre here.

A visit to the Manchester Climbing Centre forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

The Gaskells at home

Elizabeth Gaskell House, 84 Plymouth Grove, Rusholme, Manchester

The journalist Brian Redhead, editor of the Manchester Guardian before he became a stalwart of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, after walking down Cross Street and meeting, in quick succession, the cricketer Cyril Washbrook, the artist L S Lowry and the conductor Sir John Barbirolli, remarked, “Manchester’s like that.  It’s big enough for things to happen and small enough for you to get there and be part of them.”

It was ever so.

If in the 1850s you’d been invited to tea or dinner with Rev William Gaskell (1805-1884) and his wife Elizabeth (1810-1865) at their out-of-town villa at 42 Plymouth Grove (now renumbered 84), you might have shared hospitality with some of the greatest figures of Victorian society, alongside local residents who knew each other and became known to posterity.

William Gaskell’s Unitarian congregation at the Cross Street Chapel included such figures as –

  • Sir William Fairbairn Bt (1789-1874), civil engineer
  • Sir Benjamin Heywood (1793-1865), first president of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute
  • Robert Hyde Greg (1795-1875), MP for Manchester (1839-1841)
  • Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877), co-founder of the Manchester Statistical Society
  • Thomas Worthington (1826-1909), architect

The Gaskells’ status – he a great preacher and philanthropist, she a celebrated novelist who unlike the Brontës and Mary Ann Evans made no secret of her gender – attracted visitors from outside Manchester, including Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Ruskin.

By the time the Gaskells bought their elegant Greek Revival villa in 1850, William had been minister at Cross Street since 1828, and Elizabeth had published her first novel, Mary Barton:  a tale of Manchester Life (1848).

The pianist and conductor Charles Hallé (1819-1895) gave piano lessons to the Gaskells’ daughters at Plymouth Grove after he settled in Manchester in 1853.

Elizabeth wrote her later novels at the house, including Cranford (1853) and North and South (1855), and longed to have a peaceful home outside Manchester.

After her death in 1865, William continued to live at Plymouth Grove until his own death in 1884.

His two surviving unmarried daughters, Meta and Julia, kept the house on.  Julia died in 1908, and after Meta’s death in 1913 the family gave it up.

International appeals for it to become a museum commemorating Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing were rejected by Manchester City Council.  Manchester University owned it from 1969 to 2000

Listed Grade II*, it was purchased in 2004 by the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, which opened it as a museum ten years later.

It’s a delightful place.  The ground floor rooms are restored as closely as possible to their appearance in the Gaskell’s time.  The upstairs rooms contain exhibitions and administrative offices.

In the basement is a coffee shop with exceptional cake.

It’s well worth a bus-ride out of town to visit:  http://elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk.

A visit to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

The first industrial estate

Rochdale Canal, Ancoats, Manchester

Rochdale Canal, Ancoats, Manchester

Ancoats was a rural village outside Manchester until the late eighteenth century when landowners, realising the imminent arrival of the Rochdale and Ashton Canals, parcelled up their property and sold it for development, both for mills and factories.

Some of the mills were huge by contemporary standards, steam-powered and served by canal wharfs which also provided the condensing water necessary for the engines.  Adam and George Murray’s Old Mill (1798) may have been the first eight-storey factory in the world.

The Murray brothers, along with their rivals James McConnel and John Kennedy, came from Kirkcudbrightshire, and used their expertise in building textile machinery to produce bigger and better equipment with which to spin cotton.

Ancoats’ population boomed from 11,039 in 1801 to 53,737 in 1861.  In 1821 one-fifth of the total population of Manchester lived in Ancoats.

Though some respectable housing was built among the industries and slums, there was no attempt to provide for a bourgeois population.  It was, by Jacqueline Roberts’ definition, “the first residential district of the modern world intended for occupation by one social class, the new urban working class”.

Title-deeds for such properties typically contained no restrictions on uses that would cause nuisance, and very few were provided with privies.   Bathrooms and running hot water were, of course, unknown.

Foreign writers were appalled.

Léon Faucher (1803-1854) who visited England in 1843, published Études sur l’Angleterre (1845), in which he wrote of “the breathing of vast machines, sending forth fire and smoke through their tall chimneys, and offering up to the heavens, as it were in token of homage, the sighs of that Labour which God has imposed upon man”.

It can’t have been fun to live in Ancoats, despite the well-meaning efforts of philanthropists, who provided the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary (1828), later Ancoats Hospital, ragged schools and night shelters.

The life-expectancy of a Manchester labourer in 1842 was seventeen years.

In 1889 Dr John Thresh reported a death rate of over 80 per thousand, and commented, “3,000 to 4,000 people [were] dying annually here in Manchester from remediable causes”.

This prompted the Manchester Labourers’ Dwellings Scheme of 1890, which led to the building of Victoria Square (Henry Spalding & Alfred W S Cross 1897), a five-storey block of one- and two-room walk-up flats with penny-in-the-slot gas meters, communal sinks and water-closets shared between two apartments and, in the turrets, laundries and drying rooms, Anita Street, originally Sanitary Street until the name was truncated to suit 1960s sensibilities, two-storey terraces of one-, two- and three-room flats, and George Leigh Street, which provided three-bedroom houses, intended for families with children of both sexes.

Only the better-off labourers could afford the rents.

Owners of back-to-back terraces were offered £15 per house to convert their premises to through houses, and by 1914 almost all of the city’s back-to-back houses had gone.

However, this was only a partial solution.  A 1928 social-study group inspection report remarked, “the reconditioned house of the eighties is not to be tolerated today”.  There were houses so dark that the gas-light had to be kept on all day, and such dampness that plaster would not hold wallpaper in place.

In the end, the only practical solution was to clear the housing wholesale.  Victoria Square, Anita Street and George Leigh Street have been adapted to modern standards and look attractive.  Some architecturally interesting buildings remain, and the canal-side locations are at last being developed for 21st-century work and living.

Gentrification is often derided, but it’s better than living in a slum.

The Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour includes a walking-tour of Ancoats.  For further details, please click here.

Layers of Manchester’s history

Hanging Bridge, Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre

Hanging Bridge, Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre

Deep beneath the streets around Manchester Cathedral the tiny River Irk flows towards the River Irwell.

Some of the nearby buildings date only from the rebuilding after the 1996 IRA bomb attack.  Others were part of the post-war redevelopment that followed the Blitz.  Very little of the central Manchester streetscape dates back before the Victorians.

The Cathedral, itself heavily restored after the Blitz, is largely a Victorian building, enlarged after the diocese was established in 1847 and repeatedly embellished between the 1860s and 1933-34.

As the parish church it had been refounded in 1421 by Thomas de la Warre, Lord of the Manor, as the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, a thank-offering for the victory at Agincourt in 1415.

Its predecessor dates back to 1215 and stood next to a fortified manor house that probably occupied the site of the present-day Chetham’s School of Music.

These archaeological layers of history are vividly apparent if you eat and drink at the Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre, where the arches of the Hanging Ditch Bridge over the River Irk have been uncovered (though current building work makes them temporarily inaccessible):  http://www.manchestercathedralvisitorcentre.org/the-hanging-ditch-bridge.

Though the Roman Castlefield is more apparent as a modern tourist attraction, this is the heart of modern Manchester, dating back to the time in the late tenth century, when the more prosperous settlement was on the opposite bank of the Irwell and Manchester was a subsidiary manor within the hundred of Salford.

A visit to Manchester Cathedral and lunch at the Visitor Centre are included in the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Manchester’s first free library

Chetham's Library, Manchester

Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Twenty-first century concerns about social inclusion and lamentations about the decline of local-authority amenities such as schools and libraries are nothing new.

Chetham’s School and Library was a seventeenth-century attempt to educate the underprivileged and give access to learning to members of the public.

Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653), a prosperous bachelor cotton-merchant and banker, made provision in his will to benefit the sons “of honest, industrious parents and not of wandering or idle beggars or roagues nor that any of the said boyes shal bee bastards nor such as are lame, infirme or diseased at the time of their ellection” by founding the school that still bears his name.

(In comparison, the older Manchester Grammar School, – which stood nearby until it moved out to Fallowfield in 1931 – was founded in 1515 by Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, “for boys who, having pregnant wit, have been for the most part brought up rudely and idly.”)

His trustees bought the decayed college buildings that had been built by Thomas de la Warre, Lord of the Manor, when he refounded and rebuilt the parish church, now the Cathedral, in 1421.

They spent £400 on buildings and £1,000 on the books which were to be available to the general public free of charge.

Naturally, the books stayed firmly chained to the shelves, and readers had to move to the location of the book they wanted, using oak stools with S-shaped hand holds that remain in the library.

Stepping into the Library, which is accessible to tourists or readers alike, is a journey back in time.

Though the catalogue is now digitised, the books are still arranged in presses, secured by wooden gates instead of chains, and are brought to readers by library staff.

The table where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels researched and wrote in 1845 is still beside the stained-glass window which, Engels later remarked, “ensures that the weather is always fine there”.

Nowadays the school is a specialised music school, open to boys and girls, and some of the medieval buildings are off-limits to the public for much of the time.

Visitors are made very welcome, and guided tours are available.  There’s no charge but donations are appreciated.  It’s advisable to make an appointment simply to be sure of a place:  http://library.chethams.com/about/visiting.

A visit to Chetham’s Library forms part of the Manchester’s Heritage (June 3rd-7th 2019) tour.  For further details, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Manchester

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

One of the weird complications of the geography of Victorian railway development is illustrated by the short length of Great Northern railway track that used to exist in the centre of Manchester, fifty-odd miles away from any other Great Northern route.

The Great Northern Railway, a primary component of what became the East Coast Main Line from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, gained access to Manchester and Liverpool by its membership of the Cheshire Lines Committee, in conjunction with the Midland Railway and the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire (later Great Central) Railway.  The Cheshire Lines’ passenger terminus was Manchester Central station, now the conference centre.

From the approaches to Manchester Central the Great Northern ran an independent short spur (yellow in the Railway Clearing House map of 1910:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Central_railway_station#/media/File:Manchester_RJD_47.JPG) into their Great Northern Goods Warehouse on Deansgate, which advertised the company’s presence grandly with tiled friezes on all four sides, “GREAT NORTHERN COMPANY’S GOODS WAREHOUSE”.

Goods trains entered the warehouse at viaduct level, and carts gained access by means of a carriage ramp.

Not only did the five-story fireproof brick warehouse provide interchange with Manchester’s roads, but it also picked up traffic from the truncated Manchester & Salford Junction Canal, built in 1839 to link the Rochdale Canal with the River Irwell, through two lift-shafts dropped twenty-five feet to the canal tunnel beneath the streets.

The canal connection closed in 1936, and the spaces below the warehouse were adapted as air-raid shelters during World War II:  http://www.subbrit.org.uk/sb-sites/sites/m/manchester_salford_junction/index.shtml.

The warehouse itself closed in 1954 or 1963 (sources differ), and was converted into a cavernous car-park, until in 1996 planning permission was given for conversion to a leisure and retail development which controversially permitted demolition of the listed carriage ramp, much of the train deck and associated buildings on Peter Street.

The distinctive frontage of railway buildings on Deansgate survives, and at the southern end of the site stands the huge Beetham Tower.

Two sections of the canal tunnel remain:  that under the Great Northern Goods Warehouse may become accessible to the public;  the other section under the former Granada TV studios is intact but inaccessible.