Right at the Heart of Things – Part One: Shopping in 1980s Manchester

East of the M60 travels back in time, to an era of a fully toilet tiled shopping centre

In the last week, I have been trying to imagine and recollect the joys of a trip through pre-1996 Manchester city centre. Some regular readers of this blog may be too young to remember the UK’s third/second/first/first and second city devoid of TESCO Express stores. Nor a Manchester devoid of Starbucks outlets and branches of Betfred. Or a Manchester free of white, orange and brown double decker buses.

For many people, myself included, it is barely a lifetime away. I can remember the smokiness of Arndale Bus Station, Manchester Victoria station with 16 platforms, and the excitement of my first visit to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Before I continue wittering on, grab your parka, don’t forget your Clippercard or SaverSeven, and make your way to the bus stop.

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Picking You Up Each Day As Usual

As of now, bus boarding Mancunians would alight at stands or termini dotted around the city centre. Throughout the 1980s, most passengers would alight at Piccadilly Bus Station, which looked a felt more like a proper bus station than a loose collection of stands. If you came in from North Manchester, Bury, Bolton or Salford, there’s every chance you would have had the joys of Arndale Bus Station or – till 1988 – the airier Victoria Bus Station. Some would terminate on the station approach of Manchester Victoria station, with the 200 Airport Express, 220 and 221 services among others.

If you travelled further afield into Manchester, Chorlton Street Bus Station wasn’t the bright yet sometimes cramped terminus of today. It was grimmer than Arndale Bus Station with four platforms below the multi-storey car park and a seating area nearest Chorlton Street itself. Directly behind was National Express’ ticket office, toilets and a café.

If you came in on the 216 from Ashton-under-Lyne, or the 180 from Greenfield, Stevenson Square was your usual stop. By the second half of the 1980s, nearby Lever Street Bus Station was a popular haunt for local independent operators.

Throughout the 1980s, the GMT standard double decker was king, with Northern Counties and Park Royal bodied Atlanteans and Fleetlines de rigeur. By 1987, they were snapped up by independent operators shortly after bus deregulation began on the 26 October 1986. However, their dominance was challenged by the yellow and red minibuses of the Bee Line Buzz Company, multifarious Bristol VRTs and Leyland Olympians. Unsurprisingly, passengers were confused, which led to a boon in taxi journeys and rail usage. The latter still rising today and, no doubt, influential in the launch of the Metrolink.

The Age of the Train

The start of the 1980s was a far from auspicious period in Greater Manchester rail history. GMC was licking its wounds from the loss of the Picc-Vic and Castlefield Curve projects. 1981 saw the closure of the Woodhead Line for all traffic. By the end of the decade, much needed improvements stimulated rail usage, particularly the opening of the Windsor Link and the Hazel Grove Chord. Between 1985 and 1987, a number of new, low cost unstaffed stations opened, including Flowery Field, Hag Fold and Ryder Brow. New trains would arrive in 1985, though far from the ones which GMPTE/GMC really wanted.

Till 1985, Oldhamers came in to Manchester Victoria on Class 104 3-car DMUs. Along with most of Greater Manchester’s local services, Class 142 Pacers and Class 150 Sprinters would take over. From Stalybridge, its limited local service to Victoria would only operate in peak hours – a far cry from today’s more frequent service. Passengers would board the Trans-Pennine express service from Liverpool Lime Street to York, or from Holyhead to Hull Paragon. Rolling stock: a step above the usual Class 101s and 104s; Type 4 (Class 40/45/47) diesels hauling Mark 1 and/or Mark 2 carriages.

In South Manchester and Trafford, slam-door suburban electric trains dominated, in the form of Class 304/305/310 units. In the pre-Metrolink era, Altrincham’s trains would continue to Crewe or Stoke-on-Trent via Piccadilly, all stations to Oxford Road via Sale. There was also another service from Manchester Oxford Road to Chester using Class 108 DMUs, all stations south of Altrincham, with an intermediate stop at Sale.

Prior to the 11 December 1984, the Hadfield line was operated by Class 506 electric trains, using the 1,500V d.c. system from the Woodhead line. This was converted to the 25kV a.c. system with Class 303 units cascaded from Glasgow. Bury’s trains from Manchester Victoria were operated with a different system again: 1,200V d.c, third rail, inherited from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway era.

Throughout the 1980s, Manchester Victoria station seemed to be a close second to Manchester Piccadilly. It had more platforms and like its Fairfield Street counterpart, ample parcels traffic, though no London Euston trains. One of its main routes was The European to Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley, from Harwich International. Before the print unions were castrated, Manchester’s newspaper trains used Victoria. Its role was greatly reduced after the Windsor Link’s opening.

By contrast, Manchester Piccadilly was building up to make Manchester Victoria a distant second (or even third to Oxford Road). The 1960s saw great improvement, with Piccadilly epitomising the fresh, all-electric, new-look, rail blue era of British Rail. Both the Hazel Grove Chord and Windsor Link would benefit Piccadilly more. As a consequence, platforms 13 and 14 were doubled in length and now accounts for 25% of passenger traffic today.

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S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G…

The Arndale Centre

In 1980, the fully completed Arndale Centre began to have an effect on the city’s hitherto traditional haunts. Oldham Street, once Manchester’s main shopping area was usurped by Town and City Properties’ air conditioned edifice. Back then, and throughout the whole of the decade, it was revolutionary for most shoppers (even if it looked like a giant toilet). In the pre-out-of-town era, it was the biggest shopping centre in Europe.

Back in the 1980s, it had its own radio station, providing background music for shoppers. Unlike today, you couldn’t do a full circuit of the ground floor shops. Cannon Street, and the centre’s bus station saw to that, though it was possible to enter Wades Furnishing and Argos from the ground floor level at Withy Grove. At one end was an aviary, at another was an exhibition known as ‘Light Fantastic’, a selection of optical illusions and the like similar to Out Of This World in Blackpool Tower.

Nowadays, if you wish to take time out from the shops, your best chance for having a rest would either be on a small number of benches near Wilkinson and Starbucks or the Winter Gardens end (with little to look at). Today, they would probably rather you pause for coffee, a burger, or a pint in Micro Bar. In the 1980s, bench seats were more ample; weary shoppers had the advantage of looking at a number of fountains on imitation marble plinths.

The northern section of the 1980s Arndale had a number of smaller shops. Access to the market hall was gained from escalators near Arndale Bus Station or at first floor level (the market hall being on two floors). Whereas today’s shoppers are able to enjoy a wide variety of food in the present day market, the 1980s Arndale Market’s epicurean delights included Fozzie’s Café. Prior to refurbishment, it was popular to the end. Though outside the two-storey market hall, the Country Larder was a popular haunt. In later years, this became Rowntree’s Café. Today, Rowntree’s establishment can be entered from High Street.

For a short time, Woolworths had a ‘Sweets and Gifts’ outlet. This was a short lived concept by Kingfisher, as a spin off from its normal stores. Significantly, it was Woolworths’ last shop in Manchester city centre.

Some time before Voyagers opened in 1992 (now today’s 750 seat food court), the Arndale Centre’s original food court was situated immediately after the main Market Street entrance. Where today’s shoppers can rest, see Father Christmas, do other daft stuff, or sit in the nearby Starbucks, the original ‘food court’ (though stretching the term to be honest) offered all the usual fast food type stuff. Unlike the present food court, it lacked multinational franchised outlets, with one outlet being ‘Take Five’ (in glorious 1980s yellow neon Van Dijk lettering). Today, the units now belong to Starbucks Coffee and Build a Bear Workshop.

At the western part of Market Street, a semi subterranean section of the Arndale Centre was – and still is – dominated by Boots The Chemist’s 1500 store. Next door was Virgin Records’ second megastore, having moved from a unit on Lever Street below Australia House. Directly opposite was Manchester’s first branch of The HMV Shop.

Main department stores in the Arndale Centre included C&A, who moved from Oldham Street and Littlewoods, which along with BHS next door had a Market Street entrance. After Clemens and August ceased UK operations, their two floor Arndale Centre store has since been split into two units with Wilkinson occupying two floors. Littlewoods has been split into two units, let to TK Maxx and Aldi.

Market Centre

Accessed from Brown Street via (often knackered) escalators was the famed underground market hall. Before Affleck’s Palace rose in popularity, and complementing the Corn Exchange, the Market Centre had a number of local traders selling esoteric wares. There was also two street level entrances from Brown Street and Spring Gardens.

At street level was the Spin Inn record shop on Brown Street, whereas on the opposite side, on Spring Gardens was Toy and Hobby. Other retailers included Stolen From Ivor.

By the late 1990s, its original purpose ceased, with the escalators taken away from Brown Street. A telephone box more or less marks the spot. Shortly after the 1996 IRA bomb hit the Arndale Centre and Corporation Street, Marks and Spencer requisitioned it as a temporary food hall, with non-food taking temporary residence in Lewis’s store. It is now the site of H&M’s main Manchester store and – via two working escalators to first floor level – Slater Menswear’s Manchester branch.

Market Place centre

On the corner of St. Mary’s Gate next to Marks and Spencer was the Market Place centre, which opened in 1976. This development saw the loss of Victoria Gardens and the movement of Sinclairs Oyster Bar and The Old Wellington Inn. As well as office space, it included a Safeway supermarket. Today, the more exclusive New Cathedral Street shops and No.1 Deansgate flats are in their place. Harvey Nichols is on the site of the former Safeway store.

The Corn Exchange

Before its transmogrification into the exclusive Triangle, the Corn Exchange in 1980s Manchester was more akin to today’s Affleck’s Palace. It had numerous independent businesses and stallholders.

Lewis’s department store

On the corner of Market Street and Mosley Street, Lewis’s was a popular meeting and shopping place for most Mancunians. At Christmastime, they pulled out all the stops with their Santa’s grotto and decorated the store with great chutzpah. Throughout the 1980s, the chain was starting to struggle and tried a number of rebrands. Even so, it was a Manchester icon with only its Liverpudlian counterpart held in similar esteem.

Kendal Milne department store

For many, the epitome of ‘posh’ was reflected in the Art Deco Kendal Milne store. Where Lewis’s lost ground, a trip to Kendals for most ’80s children meant Santa’s grotto and the Toy Fair (an enticement to play with toys – win!). Still here today, though legally known as House of Fraser, many people refer to it as Kendal Milne’s (me included).

Woolworths

Shortly after its disastrous fire in May 1979, The Woolworth Corporation was still committed to retaining a branch in Manchester city centre and reopened it in good time for the Christmas period. Manchester’s only branch, post-refurbishment, remained open till 1986.

Piccadilly Plaza

The Piccadilly Plaza we know and love today has changed quite a bit compared with the 1980s era. Firstly, many children of the 1970s and 1980s would associate it with Piccadilly Radio’s headquarters. Though originally designed for high class shopping, it had by the 1980s attracted more downmarket tenants. On the corner of Portland Street was Brentford Nylons. Facing the bus station was two popular chippies, a chemist, and an OXFAM charity shop.

On Mosley Street was Bradford Models – a must-visit place for bus and rail enthusiasts of the smaller scale. From Parker Street, there was also a petrol filling station.

King Street

As of today, King Street was thronged with upmarket retailers. In fact, more so in the 1980s than now, following recent development to the Arndale Centre and lost market share to The Trafford Centre.

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It’s Time To Chew: 1980s eateries

In Manchester, today’s shoppers have a lot more to choose from in terms of the quantity and variety of food and drink within the city centre. The street markets and Christmas markets have helped. It is possible to enjoy a kebab with a pint of Boggart Hole Clough Brewery’s finest, or a Big Mac with KFC’s fries.

For this part, we may point out some of the eateries which we’ve loved and lost, though once part of 1980s Manchester.

McDonalds

The present day Manchester may be well served by the above fast food giant’s outlets, but in the early to mid 1980s, there was still a sense of novelty value. On Market Street, their biggest branch faced the Arndale Centre and had a wealth of seating on the first floor. This is now a branch of Barclays Bank.

Speaking of the Arndale Centre, its branch was situated in the north-eastern part of the precinct, and both were well used. The one branch which remains from the 1980s is the one on the corner of Chepstow Street and Oxford Street.

Wimpy

Manchester once had two Wimpy bars in the 1980s: one is today’s Burger King on Mosley Street, with the other on the corner of Market Street and Cross Street (now Carphone Warehouse).

Wimbush

Before Greggs’ plans for world domination began, Manchester had a number of chain store bakeries with a more regional base. One example was Wimbush, part of the British Bakeries group, with one branch on Mosley Street. They would later be swallowed up by Three Cooks along with…

Silvios

In Elizabeth House (God rest its modernist soul!) by St. Peter’s Square was Silvio’s bakery. They had a number of branches throughout Greater Manchester, and some of which had cafés. Before becoming The Dutch Pancake House, Silvio’s café was the previous occupants, next door to the shop. Whereas the cafés in Ashton’s branch was at street level, and Oldham’s was on the first floor, Manchester’s was in the basement.

The Country Larder

Situated in the north-eastern corner of the Arndale Centre near the escalators for the indoor market. Later became Rowntree’s Café before redevelopment prompted its relocation.

The Station Chippy

On Piccadilly Gardens, this was a popular haunt with bus drivers, bus enthusiasts and cost-conscious passengers. This was one of three chippies facing the bus station.

Hagenbach’s

This bakery chain had a direct link with the Arndale empire – the first three letters referring to Arnold Hagenbach. His other interests was a chain of bakery shops in the North West and Yorkshire. They were sold to Greggs, with the Station Approach branch still open as a Greggs.

Railway station buffet bars

Prior to 1983, Manchester Victoria’s and Manchester Piccadilly’s station buffets were in the care of British Transport Hotels. In preparation for its privatisation, they became part of Travellers’ Fare. In the 1960s station concourse, Manchester Piccadilly’s had a nice view of Seddon Pennine IVs on the Centreline service, or MCW Metrobuses on the 59 to Rushcroft. By the end of the decade, Piccadilly’s buffet bar would become a Little Chef, with the licensed bar becoming Bonapartes.

Before the NYNEX/Manchester Evening News/Phones 4U Arena consumed five through platforms and a Red Star Parcels depot with attendant bay platform, Manchester Victoria had two buffet bars. On platforms 12 and 13 was ‘The Coastal’, so called owing to the Inter-City services and the local trains to Blackpool North and Southport.

The main buffet bar in the station concourse was known as ‘The Dome’. That took its name from – you’ve guessed it – the leaded glass dome inside the buffet bar itself. During the 1980s, part of its entrance was obscured by an ‘Autobuffet’ (British Rail shibboleth for vending machines by the way).

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But Wait, There’s More…!

Before we return to our tram, train or bus back to 2014, feel free to add to this vastly incomplete list, or comment on the existing entries. In our second part of ‘Right at the Heart of Things’, we shall focus on the tourist attractions of 1980s Manchester. In this case, a seminal period and turning point in the history of our city which has made it a popular visitor destination today.

One more thing, don’t forget to renew your SaverSeven or Clippercard for this spot of time travelling (unless you have eight squares left and able to travel without changing en route).

S.V., 31 January 2014.

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12 thoughts on “Right at the Heart of Things – Part One: Shopping in 1980s Manchester

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  1. You fail to mention that the transpennine rail services for a short time in the early 80s, had class 55 Deltic locos pulling just six coaches between Liverpool and Hull, after they lost their place on East Coast services to the HSTs.

    Also worth a mention is the now closed Dinting Railway Center with it’s fine collection of steam locos which included former main line locos Blue Peter, Bittern, Scots Guardsman, Leander and Bahamas. The latter is presently undergoing a rebuild at Tyseley Locomotive Works, with hopefully a return to the mainline when completed.

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    1. Hi Buspilot,

      The Class 55s have not escaped my attention, but I decided not to elaborate too much on the buses and trains owing to its bias towards the shops and attractions in the centre of Manchester itself.

      Hence also the omission of Dinting Railway Centre, though this could form part of another instalment of ‘Right at the Heart of Things’, focusing on 1980s attractions within the GMT ticketing area.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Stuart do you recall the Underground Markets? Entrance was where the space between the Tesco Metro and Slaters clothing shop. 2 clapped out escalators took you down to them. Can’t remember when they closed but it was after a fire I think.

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    1. Hi Trystan,

      Indeed I do recall the underground markets. Its official name was actually the ‘Market Centre’. There’s a great shot of its entrance on the introduction to cult classic film ‘The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue’ (directed by Jorge Grau, 1974). Some wonderful footage of 1970s Manchester to boot with orange and white SELNEC buses as well.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

  3. Enjoyable blog, took me right back in time and no mistake. One thing though, the first HMV store in Manchester wasn’t opposite the Virgin Megastore but was further up Market Street towards Piccadilly Gardens. It was on the first floor of what I think is now a sports shop on Market Street on the same side as Virgin/Boots. That was before Market Street was pedestrianised.

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  4. The Arndale Centre was featured in the tv drama “CRACKER” in the episodes “ONE DAY A LEMMING WILL FLY”, “THE BIG CRUNCH”, and “BEST BOYS”. For the last one, the old food court in Halle Square was briefly re-created.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Andy,

      I do remember the wooden animals, they were on Marsden Way, close to Argos. On the first floor, I remember.

      Thanks also for your comment about its use on ‘Cracker’. Next time they show the episodes on ITV 4, I shall be keeping a close eye.

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

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      1. That’s right. You came in the entrance from the bus station, then went up the escalator between the aviary and Argos (or where Argos used to be ), then at the top of the escalator was Mothercare and the wooden animals,

        Liked by 1 person

  5. If you turned right where Mothercare used to be, there was a parade of shops that included a Wimpy/Burgerking restaurant, Stolen From Ivor, a sit-in/takeout chippy, and an extortinate hair salon, and the end of the parade led into the indoor market.

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  6. Don’t forget the wonderful Sunday Rover bus ticket. £1 for as many bus journeys as you could fit in in one day. There weren’t many cheap eateries in 1980s Manchester. If you were out shopping with your mum you’d probably eat in either Littlewoods or BHS cafe. But my favourite thing was always a sausage roll from Lewis’s food hall. Thirty years later on and I have never found a sausage roll as good as the ones from there.

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    1. Hi Rhoda,

      Ah, the Sunday Rover: “Hound around for a pound” as the ads barked. When launched in 1983, they were 80p.

      I too remember Littlewoods and BHS both having cafés. On the rare occasions when my late Grandma took me (by train from Oldham Werneth to Manchester Victoria), it was any of the cafés. Sadly, I never had the joys of a Lewis’s sausage roll. Had a few brews in the late 1990s before the café became TK Maxx (which is now part of the basement floor of Primark).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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