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.
The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2019 ‘Manchester’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.