Right at the Heart of Things – Part Two: Tourist Attractions in 1980s Manchester

The second part of East of the M60 journey into 1980s Manchester

After spending too long in the Manchester of 2014, we shall return to the 1980s. This time, to the tourist attractions which put our city on the map – as today’s ‘must-visit’ destination for short breaks and day trips.

Once more, we don the parka, carry our SaverSeven or Clippercard and make our way to the bus stop. Oh, look, our 220’s arrived a bit early and instead of the usual Atlantean it seems to be an F-reg Olympian and the brown skirt has disappeared.

(One dash later) We’ve made it. Right, Manchester city centre, here we come…

*                            *                            *

A Rocket up the proverbial

January 1980: if you said Manchester was a tourist attraction, there’s every chance a couple of men with white coats would send you away as you quaff a pint of Boddies in peace. The soundtrack to our city was epitomised by Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, The Buzzcocks’ What Do I Get?, anything by The Fall and the roar of Leyland Atlanteans. In orange and white of course. Tourist attractions outside the city centre, or more specifically outside the Manchester City Council boundaries gained popularity thanks to increased mobility and suburbanisation of Greater Manchester. The city’s travel to work area expanded thanks to higher car ownership and the attractiveness of the affluent Cheshire towns.

Even so, as of now, Manchester city centre still had its proud institutions, art galleries and Victorian architecture. At the start of 1980, there was one under-appreciated collection of buildings which, by the end of the decade, would spearhead today’s post-industrial city. They was purchased by Greater Manchester County Council in 1978.

A revival of the Rainhill Trials on the Liverpool to Manchester line would trigger this turning point in Manchester’s fortunes. 150 years after the opening of the world’s first inter-city line, it was decided that the Liverpool Road Station, warehouse buildings and motive power hall would become a museum. On the 15 September 1983, the complex became the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, after being stored in premises on Grosvenor Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock from 1969 to 1983 as the North Western Museum of Science and Industry.

Only next door to the Power Hall was the former City Exhibition Hall. After playing host to local Ideal Homes Exhibitions, it became the Air and Space Museum in May 1983. The two museums, before merging as part of today’s MoSI, were separate museums with their own admission charges. They formed part of an overall plan to regenerate the Castlefield area. An area which, by the start of the 1980s was down to heel, despite a wealth of warehouse buildings second only to Liverpool’s Albert Dock in scale and architectural interest. The last place you would have wanted to be seen in, in 1982, when you’ve missed the last 66 to Eccles. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, well… a massive contrast.

In 1980, the Castlefield area of Manchester was designated a Conservation Area and became an Urban Heritage Park two years later. The city’s Roman Fort was partially reconstructed, whereas the nearby Campfield Market was restored and partially reopened with shop units. Another part was The Castlefield Gallery and Visitor Centre, which as well as offering information on Castlefield itself, also had art exhibitions.

In the 1980s, Manchester Museum of Science and Industry was popular with schoolchildren and local history buffs. Like today, a popular destination for schools across Greater Manchester. The main entrance was in the Power Hall with its steam engines and rolling stock. At the main entrance lobby was a ticket office and gift shop. In its infancy, only the printing and cotton spinning exhibits were situated in the Lower Byrom Street Warehouse. By the 1990s, Xperiment and improved catering facilities were introduced.

In 1985, visitors to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry had less exquisite catering options. Light lunches were served in a British Railways Mark I buffet car known as Chuffers. The only toilet facilities were situated in an outdoor block next to the Liverpool Road Station building. As well as a reconstruction of the booking hall and waiting room, it would also be utilised to good effect with additional galleries.

From 1986 to 1989, the Liverpool Road Station building included the Gas Gallery and the Manchester Underground Museum, detailing the history of Greater Manchester’s sanitation arrangements. Accessed from a subway under the railway line, 1986 saw the opening of the Electricity Gallery. This was the first gallery to use the 1830 Warehouse and its hands-on displays proved to be a hit.

Returning to 2014, it has expanded dramatically since 1989 and has come a long way from the days of cheese muffins on a decommissioned though plush railway buffet carriage. Typically, a visit to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry was often coupled with a trip to the Air and Space Museum opposite the Power Hall. There was a greater number of exhibits on the upstairs balcony compared with today, though little changed on the ground floor level. Premium priced attractions, such as the Super X simulator was added in 1989.

Just outside what we call MoSI today, ITV’s most famous and revered franchise was plotting something which, from the 20 July 1988, would become one of Manchester’s fondly remembered attractions.

This is Granada…

The 20 July 1988 saw the opening of the Granada Studios Tour. In its formative years, visitors had to book by appointment. As well as the unique selling point of visiting the Coronation Street set, visitors would be able to have a pint in the Rovers’ Return, participate in a debate in a mock House of Commons set, and watch Bet Gilroy’s wedding dress being made. Besides the above, there was the joy of a tram ride through Baker Street and being stopped by Checkpoint Charlie.

Visitors would pass through the entrance to see a mock-American street scene, complete with yellow taxis, a diner and a traditional American souvenir shop (well, one which sold souvenir albums featuring the signature tunes to Connections and Albion Market as well as Brideshead Revisited – wish I had that album, seriously). Less visibly, there was plans to reopen the Manchester and Salford Canal underneath and offer gondola rides to the Granada Studios Tour itself. Very Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!

It was an instant hit, one successful enough to spawn a spin-off The World of Coronation Street attraction in 1996, occupying part of The Sand Castle complex in Blackpool. The attraction’s demise in 1999 was caused by Granada divesting its leisure interests.

Art for Art’s Sake…

Throughout the 1980s, Manchester City Council’s art galleries were still going strong. The Manchester City Art Gallery had its collection of regular exhibits and situated in both its original building and the Athenaeum which was added in 1938. Visitors didn’t have the luxury of the glass extension unlike nowadays.

In 1985, the Cornerhouse cinema and gallery opened its doors. Nowadays, no trip to Manchester is complete without visiting its galleries, bars and cinema screens. As of now, they provided a real alternative to the Manchester City Art Gallery.

During the start of the 1980s, Mancunian theatregoers reeled from the loss of the Opera House. Thankfully, this was only a temporary one as it reopened in 1984 after a six year spell as a bingo hall. At one point, the Palace Theatre wasn’t far off suffering a similar indignity. However, there was some hope as the Royal Exchange Theatre grew in stature and popularity. The Library Theatre was one of two theatres owned by Manchester City Council (the other being Wythenshawe Forum’s theatre) as of now.

Manchester, like a lot of urban centres lost a number of cinemas in and around its area. Throughout the 1980s, the multiplex concept was in its infancy on our shores, with Salford Quays’ and Warrington’s multiplexes too far to make an impact as yet.

The main two mainstream cinemas were the ODEON on Oxford Street and the ABC – later Cannon – on Deansgate. The former was split into three screens in 1979, with the latter having two screens. Manchester’s modern day ODEON is in the Printworks complex whereas the Cannon is now J.D. Wetherspoon’s Moon Under the Water public house.

Besides the mainstream cinemas, the Cornerhouse’s opening made quite an impact with its three screens. Two of which in the main building with its galleries and bars (a former furniture showroom), and the third – and largest – screen, in the former Tatler cinema. In the start of the 1970s, it was a purveyor of entertainment of the adult variety (need I say more), and this purpose continued till 1981. On the other side of the railway line to Oxford Road station was the VIP Cinema Club, a private members’ cinema club again catering for a similar demographic as the Tatler did. After closing in 2006, it became the upstairs section of Revolution.

Before the NYNEX/Manchester Evening News/Phones 4U Arena opened, Manchester’s main live music venues were the Free Trade Hall, its theatres and the New Century Hall by the CIS Building. Just outside the city centre, as of now, the Ardwick Apollo. From March 1986, the G-Mex would be another addition to any mainstream live act’s itinerary.

Diesel Fumes, Blooms and Sky

Before we return home, it would be rather amiss to ignore any reference to one of Manchester’s green spaces. For many people travelling into Manchester by bus, Piccadilly Gardens would be the first thing they see of the city centre. For some people, the last prior to getting their 236 back to Glossop or 101 in to Wythenshawe. Before somebody thought it was a great idea to modernise the gardens (i.e. some concrete wall with two units, incongruous red brick building and a deficiency of floral displays), Piccadilly Gardens was a real oasis of calm and pleasant waiting area – especially so in the summertime.

1980s visitors to Manchester would have seen the sunken gardens, flower beds and regimented landscape architecture complementing its 1960s bus station. Sometimes, the odd fairground ride may appear like nowadays. I remember going on one Bank Holiday in the early 1980s and riding a donkey called Prince.

For progress’ sake (or much rather, the developers’ sake this time), only the statues remain. Though the fountain area is popular, I would sooner have the Piccadilly Gardens of 1984 over 2014. If so, the excellent eateries should be relocated to Piccadilly Plaza, but that’s only my view and I doubt as if that would ever happen. In my lifetime at least. Like the return of orange and white buses.

*                            *                            *

Quick! The 220’s About To Depart Any Minute Now…

(After dashing like nobody’s business through Piccadilly with Clippercard in jeans pocket) We’ve made it to the end of the second part of our 1980s tour around Manchester city centre. We’ve come away with a few items from the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry gift shop and enjoyed a cheese salad barm in Chuffers.

For our third part of Right at the Heart of Things, it is Sunday Rover time as we go further afield towards the tourist attractions of Greater Manchester in the 1980s. This subsequent post may contain traces of steam engines, dry ski slopes and a municipal park where a young Tracy Barlow was found safe, instead of being trapped in the Rovers’ Return thanks to an overturned lorry crash (yes, I know the last incident is fictional).

As always, feel free to comment on the above attractions detailed in this article, or add some more to the list.

S.V., 04 February 2014.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: