A Circular Magical History Walking Tour
Hot off the successful ‘Lost Bus Termini/Bus Routes’ posts comes another spin off. This time, focusing on Manchester’s bus termini. Only. Instead of the more usual format, I have decided to make this a circular walking tour. The map style is reminiscent of Greater Manchester Transport’s publicity, albeit with a walking route and present-day areas including the Northern Quarter.
Each number corresponds to each point within the trail. The starting point is Manchester Piccadilly railway station, chosen due to its prominent position in the city centre.
- Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes;
- Distance: 4.8 miles
- Terrain: gentle, few gradients, excellent for prams and mobility aids;
- Footwear: high heels not recommended: common and garden trainers, shoes or fashion boots.
As the walk progresses, suitable pubs and other eateries will be mentioned, should you need to break for dinner or take a breather. I have tried some of the pubs and cafés myself so if I think they’re substandard they won’t be mentioned.
1. Manchester Piccadilly railway station: the railway station opened in 1842, though recent refurbishment belies its Victorian origins. For the last 36 years, The station approach of Piccadilly has played host to the Centreline and Metroshuttle city centre services. Prior to recent years, this was also the terminus of the 59 route to Shaw (Wren’s Nest).
It is also the main stopping point for rail replacement buses. Along the approach road is Gateway House, opened in 1966 and designed by Richard Seifert and Partners. It is known by some as the ‘Lazy S’. Or the ugly building with a Greggs, Antonio’s Cafe and my favourite shop of all, the Ian Allan Bookshop – a great place for your transportation publication needs.
2. Mayfield station: from Piccadilly, we cross Fairfield Street for Mayfield station. Not the most glamorous of stops, Mayfield’s bus stand now plays host to taxis and borders on the city’s red light zone. Prior to the early 1980s, Mayfield was the terminus for the 59 route. The station itself opened in 1910 as an overflow for London Road station, and continued this role till 1960. Refurbishment and eventual renaming of its bigger neighbour saw a final flourish before becoming a parcels depot till 1986.
From Mayfield, continue walking down Fairfield Street, passing the Bulls Head pub and a set of traffic lights. Go straight on until you see a second set of lights. Turn right onto Chorlton Street.
Pub stop: The Bulls Head is an excellent place to sample Marstons’ ales and a regular entry in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
3. Chorlton Street Bus Station: till recently, this terminal was one of the most miserable in central Manchester with its windy concourse, awful toilets and a highly revered café. Today, half of the bus station is taken by ground level car parking with the other half National Express’ Manchester Central Coach Station. There has been a bus station on Chorlton Street since 1950 with the first one having three platforms and long shelters. The second version (which forms the bulk of today’s version) was designed by Leach Rhodes Walker opening in 1967, without covered shelters. These were added in the 1970s with three platforms and an semi-open concourse featuring the café, ticket office, toilets and seating area.
Today, the terminus has eight stands in a single terminal layout with improved waiting facilities. This reopened in 2002.
From Chorlton Street, turn right onto Portland Street. Carry on walking a few yards till you see (4) Aytoun Street. As well as being the one time home of GMPTE (and County Hall on the other side between 1974 – 86), it was used as an overflow stand for services unable to use (5) Piccadilly Bus Station. Football Match buses used to alight from there. Its far bigger brother opposite remains the busiest bus boarding point in the centre of Manchester. The Parker Street section has been in use since 1931. It was extended in the late 1930s to its present length.
By 1960, part of George Street and Piccadilly saw further stands. The Parker Street island was revamped with fully covered stands and an enquiry office. This remained unchanged till the arrival of the Metrolink and two changes to the Parker Street platforms since 1993.
From Piccadilly Bus Station, continue via Piccadilly Gardens till you see the NatWest Bank on Piccadilly. Carry on till you take the road (Lever Street) by the side of Nationwide Building Society. Walk straight ahead until you see (6) Stevenson Square.
For over 80 years, Stevenson Square has played host to trolleybuses and motor bus services out of Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge and Droylsden. It was until 1986 Mayne of Manchester’s favoured city centre stop. Today, only a handful of services use Stevenson Square. Instead it forms part of the Northern Quarter and is a most bohemian part of the centre, an antithesis to the Arndale Centre. Close by was (7) Lever Street Bus Station, replaced by The Hive serviced office development.
Bus deregulation saw Manchester’s operators outgrow Stevenson Square and Piccadilly. Therefore Lever Street for a short period became an overflow station popular with independent companies. Facilities at Lever Street were minimal with three platforms and seven stands open to the elements. In 2001, it was used by National Express as a temporary coach station whilst Chorlton Street was being refurbished. Rationalisation and consolidation of the big bus owning groups saw Lever Street’s eventual demise. Its twilight years saw all but two stands in regular use, and it being a testbed for different bus shelters!
From Stevenson Square/Lever Street, we continue our walk towards Hilton Street and Thomas Street, leading us to our next terminus which is Shudehill Interchange (8).
- The Manchester and County: cheap, cheerful and earthy Wetherspoons, great for bus enthusiasts;
- Kro on Piccadilly: if real ale, Scandinavian food and modern interior design’s more your scene, Kro’s the place for you;
- The Wheatsheaf: a no nonsense unpretentious pub with regular live entertainment;
- TV21: a television themed bar on Thomas Street, close to Shudehill Interchange;
- Hare and Hounds: opposite Shudehill Interchange the pub’s interior is virtually unchanged since the 1930 – not to be missed.
- Barburrito: cheap and cheerful burritos;
- Koffee Pot: it’s a real café which does breakfast;
- Rice: does what it says on the tin: sells stir fried rice dishes;
- Abergeldie Café: Haven for bus spotters and lovers of Full English Breakfasts, near Shudehill Interchange.
Retail therapy spots:
- The Real Camera Company: a must for lovers of (real) film cameras from Kodak Brownies to Leica Ms and other oddities;
- Fred Aldous: an excellent art and craft shop over two floors;
- Incognito: Heaven on Earth for Lomography geeks.
8. Shudehill Interchange: a recent addition, opening in its fully realised form in 2006. Much wrangling in the years prior to construction of the bus terminal saw the project face delays. Unlike its more popular older sister in Piccadilly Gardens, it is fully covered, yet less popular. Some people consider a little off the beaten track despite its proximity to the Arndale Centre and Victoria station, hence the sparser number of bus movements. Shortly after opening, the Manchester Evening News‘ Postbag saw comments favouring the temporary Victoria Bus Station nearer Salford.
The station has a Zen Temple feel of the main concourse, but nowhere to sit and contemplate anywhere other than the stands (on opening there was a café facing the Victoria station end of the station, which promptly closed). Perhaps the cheaper and better known Abergeldie and the concentration of similar cafés didn’t help its cause (Printworks only 2 – 5 minutes walk).
From Shudehill Interchange, walk along Balloon Street following the tram route, crossing Corporation Street, then turn left on seeing the side entrance to Manchester Victoria station for the next terminus.
9. Manchester Victoria station: the 1909 Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway office block should be in full view after crossing the station’s approach road, Todd Street. The bus stands opposite are still used by today’s services. Other than Piccadilly Gardens, the station approach of Manchester Victoria is one of the oldest stops in continued use. In the 1930s, the L&YR’s forerunners, the London Midland and Scottish Railway ran a bus from there to Sheffield via Stalybridge.
By the early 1980s it was a terminus for some Hyde Road and Tameside Depot ran GMT services like the 202 and the 220. It was also the starting point of the 200 Airport Express service. Behind the front two shelters was another shelter used for basic timetable information. Today, it is an intermediate stop for buses enroute from Shudehill Interchange including the Metroshuttle free bus and Manchester Museum of Transport shuttle buses on special event days.
Continuing the approach to your left, you should see a set of traffic lights overlooking the River Irwell. Turn left until you see a 1970s office block ahead of you and turn right. This should take you to Victoria Bridge and the (confusingly monikered) Victoria Bus Station.
10. Victoria Bus Station: often confused with the stands by Manchester Victoria railway station, Victoria Bus Station was so called due to its proximity to Victoria Bridge. Confusingly, it comes under the Salford City Council boundary. Victoria Bus Station was opened in the early 1930s with its shelters being made from disused tram cars. Apart from the arrival of GMT standard shelters in the mid 1970s it was largely unchanged till the late 1980s. Services included the 64 and 66 from Peel Green which from 1970 to 1978 was extended to Ashton-under-Lyne taking over the 219 route.
The original station closed in 1988 though temporarily resurrected in 2005 prior to the opening of Shudehill Interchange. Today it is a car park. Opposite Victoria Bus Station was arguably one of the grimmest bus stations in Britain. From Victoria Bridge Street, turn right onto Chapel Street, then left onto Greengate. This section is not for the faint-hearted…
11. Greengate: prior to the opening of Cannon Street bus station in 1979 (as part of the Arndale Centre), Greengate was just as dark as its replacement. With four stands, it was a dimly lit terminus which no longer sees regular use nowadays. Today, it is a popular pick up and set down point for coaches visiting the MEN Arena and nearby Manchester attractions.
After braving the bridge, turn right onto Norton Street then turn left onto Gravel Lane, returning to the bridge leading to Blackfriars Road. Carry on up Blackfriars Road across the River Irwell. After there, turn right towards St Mary’s Parsonage. Should you choose to take a packed lunch, the gardens are worth a look, which we will pass prior to reaching King Street West (12). By the side of Kendal Milne’s department store, this was Salford City Transport’s more southerly termini in Manchester territory. We continue our walk down King Street till we reach Cross Street and Albert Square (13).
Many hardcore bus users would recognise Albert Square as the first terminus point of the 50 route to East Didsbury. It was also home to supposedly the longest continuous bus shelter in Europe. This was demolished in the mid 1980s following the redevelopment of Albert Square which included pedestrianisation of the town hall end of Albert Square.
- The Old Nag’s Head (Lloyd Street): homely small pub straddling Lloyd Street and Jackson Row;
- Thomas’ Chop House (Cross Street): a must for lovers of unspoilt Victorian tilework, fine food and real ale.
From Albert Square, turn right onto Lloyd Street joining Deansgate. Carry on down Deansgate until you see the railway station at your left hand side, and Bar Fringe on your right hand. At the railway station, turn left joining Whitworth Street West.
After the closure of Lower Mosley Street (more later), the 236’s terminus moved farther south to Deansgate railway station (14). Had today’s route continued to finish at Deansgate it would have provided Glossopians a direct link to The Hacienda or today’s comedy venues and bars underneath the arches of Central Station. Carry on until you see a junction with the City Road Inn on your right hand side, and the pathetic replacement for FAC 51 ahead of you. Turn left onto Albion Street which leads onto Lower Mosley Street.
The City Road Inn: unspoilt externally and internally, this pub is often threatened by demolition. Go before the wrecking ball does;
The Britons’ Protection: ditto the above for lovers of real ale and real pub interiors.
15. Lower Mosley Street Coach Station: many a Northerner would have began their holidays from here for a good 40 years. It was the main coach station for scheduled coach services, holiday travel and excursions and one which took an Act of Parliament to dismantle. Each summertime at Lower Mosley Street saw people queue around the block to book their coaches for Blackpool, Scarborough, North Wales and the like. It was the spiritual home of the X60 route to Blackpool which saw duplicate buses from far and wide augment North Western Road Car Company, Ribble and Lancashire United operations.
Opened in 1928 it was extended by the early 1940s onto bomb-damaged land, and would cater for increased excursion traffic by the end of that decade. There was a separate stand for Blackpool coaches.
Sadly, National Bus Company politics and claims of it being too far from the city centre led to its demise in 1973. On the site is the imposing Bridgewater Hall, home of the Hallé Orchestra. From there we continue our walk up Lower Mosley Street to St. Peter’s Square (16).
Today, St. Peter’s Square is a main bus/tram interchange linking the South Manchester and Trafford services with the city’s theatres and commercial area. From the left, Peter Street continues to meet Deansgate and Quay Street leading to the Opera House. From the right hand side, the Palace Theatre and Cornerhouse cinema. Below ground it was also mooted as the ‘Central’ station stop for the ill-fated Picc-Vic Project.
From St Peter’s Square, take time to stop at the Peace Gardens, then walk up to the pelican crossing near The Water House Wetherspoons pub. Continue to the right of The Water House onto Fountain Street till you reach a crossroads where you see Debenhams and Primark on the right hand side and the Arndale Centre on the left.
- The Water House: so called after its previous use as the Manchester Corporation Waterworks office. A cheap and cheerful Wetherspoons and one of Manchester’s more intimate ones;
- The Vine: next door to The Water House at the back;
- Tiger Lounge: a underground pub akin to sitting in Delboy’s front room;
- The Crown: modern pub under office block famed for ‘free and easy nights’;
- The Shakespeare: old pub with lovely wooden floors, beams and (sadly) one of the few Manchester pubs where cask Boddies is still available.
From the crossroads, continue onto High Street passing the Arndale Centre until you see the main entrance for the precinct and its indoor market. The entrance is on the site of Cannon Street itself with the Waterstones and HMV stores on the site of its bus station.
Opening in 1980, the Arndale Bus Station was delayed by a year. The original design only allowed 6″ of clearance for double decker buses so the station forecourt was lowered to allow more clearance. It gained a reputation for its dankness and smokiness, being on a scale which could rival Birmingham New Street station. As well as SaverSales and information offices, it had a MetroKiosk (newsagents) and booking facilities for Lancashire United and Warburton’s Travel coaches. The bulk of routes were transferred from the Cannon Street stop overlooking the Corn Exchange and Greengate which served the northern part of Greater Manchester.
The IRA bomb which struck the Arndale Centre (15th June 1996) led to Arndale Bus Station’s demise with more buses moved towards Cannon Street itself. Some were moved to Piccadilly Gardens and Lever Street bus stations.
From the Arndale Market entrance, you may choose to end your walk and go shopping. Or you could rest your legs and sample Indian, Chinese, Greek and English cuisine and real ale under the same roof. If you wish to continue your walk back to Manchester Piccadilly station, turn right onto Church Street, continuing towards Dale Street. Carry on till you see a tall white tower block on the right hand side. Turn right onto Ducie Street then turn left onto Station Approach.
- The Unicorn: traditional city centre pub. Spacious yet often busy;
- Micro Bar: part of the Boggart Hole Brewery in the Arndale Market, it is probably the only place where you can enjoy a pint of real ale or a foreign beer with sushi, Singapore noodles or a meat pie. Highly recommended;
- Dry Bar 201: (turn left from Church Street onto Oldham Street) a modern bar spun-off from The Hacienda. 201 was the Factory Records catalogue number.
- Manchester Arndale Market: faultless variety for non-alcoholics alike;
- Nexus Art Café: one of my favourite haunts, in the city centre whilst being insulated from the worst excesses of the bustle.
Now it’s your turn…
If you can think of any other worthy venues for food and drink, or lesser known termini in the centre of Manchester or Salford, comment away.
S.V., 01 February 2011.