Retracing City of Manchester Corporation’s tours from their 1978 pocket guide
Manchester in 1978: though a year before the creator of this blog emerged, the city’s Arndale Centre was a year from completion. University Challenge and Coronation Street was filmed at Quay Street instead of MediaCity. The Manchester Ship Canal’s Manchester Docks was in its death throes as bigger ships used Ellesmere Port, or at least for the next five years, Dock 9 close to today’s Lowry Centre.
The city and its immediate surroundings was dotted by orange and white buses. A new club night in the Russell Club would lead to the birth of Factory Communications Limited. Among the movers of The Factory nights was Anthony H. Wilson, best known by many in Granadaland for his role on Granada Reports.
Years before Manchester’s tourist industry reached today’s heady heights, the public relations department of Manchester Corporation created a pocket guide with two tours in and around the city centre. Yours truly picked up a copy of this guide for a small price at the Empire Exchange on Newton Street.
In the first of a two part series, we look at the Inner City Tour. In both parts, we shall look at how the attractions were in 1978 compared with 2014.
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1. Manchester Town Hall
In the news, there was fears that Alfred Waterhouse’s 1877 building would fall into disuse, being as the building hasn’t seen any major work in its lifetime. Thankfully, a £2.2million refurbishment package has been agreed. In 1978, Manchester Corporation offered free tours around the town hall on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am and 2.30pm. Today’s tours are no longer free, with another company (Manchester Guided Tours) offering them for £7.00 each Sunday (£6.00 concessions).
From the Town Hall, the Albert Square of 2014 is a much changed and more traffic free beast compared with the 1978 version. Albert Square was a hive of activity for its buses, perhaps second only to Victoria Bus Station and third only to Piccadilly Gardens. It had at one time the longest bus shelter in Europe, along the western side of the square. It is flanked by the Diamond Jubilee Fountain, statues of William Ewart Gladstone, John Bright, Oliver Heywood and Bishop James Fraser as well as the Albert Memorial. 1997 saw the return of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee fountain after a period in storage.
2. The Albert Memorial
Completed in 1867 and designed by Matthew Noble, this gives the square its name. Had it not been for Robert Ernest Shapley in 1976-77, it would have been demolished. Instead, it was restored and remains a focal point today.
From there, we move towards Brazenose Street and Mulberry Street for the third spot.
3. St. Mary’s Church (‘The Hidden Gem’)
For quiet contemplation, The Hidden Gem belies its city centre position. In the literal sense, tucked away between John Dalton Street and the modern offices on Brazenose Street. Opening in 1794, it is the city’s oldest Catholic church. It is well worth a visit for its architectural features.
From there, we walk under the pilotis of one of the office blocks (passing Shlurp), then we pass another more modern block (with Wings’ restaurant at ground level) which takes us to Lloyd Street. We turn left, moving straight on, past Tampopo Noodle Bar before turning right onto Mount Street. On our right…
4. Friends’ Meeting House
The Friends’ Meeting House remains a hive of activity for Central Mancunian members of the Quaker Movement. Services take place each Sunday at 10.30am, though the main hall is often used for public meetings in the weekdays.
Continuing our walk along Mount Street, we turn right onto Peter Street and find the SAS Radisson hotel on our left. Which in 1978 was home to the Hallé Orchestra. One which many people still refer to by its original name.
5. The Free Trade Hall
Built on the site of St. Peter’s Fields (‘Peterloo’, 16 August 1819), its name refers to the Free Traders who protested against the Corn Laws in the 1830s and 1840s. The present building, used by Radisson as a podium for the hotel dates from 1856. It was In 1978, it was also a popular venue for pop and rock groups as well as classical music. The Lesser Free Trade Hall has a celebrated place in punk and new wave history where The Sex Pistols played two gigs. It is claimed that almost everyone in the audience would form their own new wave groups. Most notably the future members of Joy Division and New Order.
6. Greater Manchester Police Headquarters
A short distance from Peter Street, on Bootle Street was the former Police Headquarters. The present GMP HQ is now in Central Park, Newton Heath. Today, there are plans to convert the former premises to a luxury hotel. This forms part of a masterplan headed by former Manchester United player Gary Neville.
From Peter Street, turn left at Great Northern Warehouse onto Deansgate and carry on till you see St. John Street on your right.
7. St. John Street
For several years, St. John Street was, and is, perceived as the Manchester equivalent to Harley Street, owing to the number of doctors’ practices. The full length of St. John Street leads to St. John’s Gardens. On the corner of the said street was…
8. The Library for the Blind
An imposing Art Deco block, it replaced the previous bombed out premises. The Northern Branch of the National Library for the Blind was boosted in 1917 after the Library of the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society bolstered its collection. By January 1978, it moved out of town to Bredbury, in a former branch offices for Armitage Shanks. March of this year saw the whole national collection move there. Today, it is a showroom for Richer Sounds.
From Deansgate, carry on walking till you see Liverpool Road on your right. From there, carry on till you see the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry’s Air and Space Museum.
9. City Hall (MoSI Air and Space Museum)
In 1978, the City Hall was one of Manchester’s main exhibition halls having closed the previous year. In the pre-GMEX/Manchester Central era, there was also New Century Hall (once hosted a Supertramp gig on their Crime of the Century tour) and the exhibition halls in Belle Vue. In 1878, it opened as the semi-open market hall of Lower Campfield Market. By 1983 after a two-year restoration period, it became the Air and Space Museum, now part of a number of buildings within MoSI.
Walking up Byrom Street, we go to one of Manchester’s best loved theatres.
10. The Opera House
Today’s Opera House has cemented a reputation as one of Greater Manchester’s favourite theatres. Along with the Palace Theatre, it was saved in the early 1980s from its then present use as a bingo hall. In 1978, it was one of Wyndham’s theatres and closed the following year. Touring musicals choose the Opera House for a northern base. Along with its sister on the corner of Oxford Street, it is owned by the Ambassador Theatres Group. Always a joy to visit.
11. Manchester County Court
Adjacent to the Opera House in 1978 was the Manchester County Court. The Manchester County Court was the home of politician and social reformer Richard Cobden from 1836 to 1850. It would later become the original Owens College before moving to Chorlton-on-Medlock in 1872. By 1873, it became the County Court. The building, now restored, was in serious disrepair. In 2007, it moved to the Manchester Civil Justice Centre.
12. Granada Television studios
To our left, now obscured by The Meridian was Ralph Tubbs’ Granada Television studios. The offices were designed in a way to allow future conversion to a hotel – if commercial television flopped. Regular readers of this blog would associate the studios with Coronation Street, University Challenge and early episodes of the Jeremy Kyle Show. For me, also the glow of its red Stymie Black lettering (seen from many a train out of Lancashire) and Anthony H. Wilson. Today, the main office block will become office accommodation whereas the Coronation Street set has opened for guided tours, for a limited period before demolition.
Continuing along Byrom Street, we walk up to Spinningfields.
13. Crown Square
In 1978, Crown Square wasn’t an array of glass. Just an array of glass and concrete. On one end to right hand side was Cumberland House. Designed by Leach Rhodes Walker and opening in 1967, it was formerly City of Manchester’s Education Department and Registrar offices. Part of the block included a public house and a savings bank. To our left was the previous Magistrates Court. The site of which forms part of Hardman Square. As of then, it is dominated by the Crown Court, built to replace Strangeways Assizes Court (destroyed in the Second World War).
Where the Royal Bank of Scotland offices are, was the city’s offices for the Daily Mail (Northcliffe House) and The Scott Trust’s titles – The Guardian and the Manchester Evening News on 164 Deansgate. They moved to Deansgate after their Cross Street offices was consumed by the Arndale Centre.
From Crown Square, turn right onto The Avenue for…
14. John Rylands Library
The John Rylands Library opened on New Year’s Day 1900 and was founded by Mrs. Enriqueta Rylands, his widow. It is noted for its early collections including a Gutenberg Bible and the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It has been extended in recent times though retains its neo-Gothic charms. The library was merged in 1972 with the Manchester University Library.
In 1978, it was open from 9.30am to 5.30pm on weekdays and from 9.30am to 1.00pm. Today, it is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 12noon to 5.00pm on Sundays and Mondays.
From Deansgate, we walk straight ahead till we see King Street. To the left, King Street West on the corner of Kendal Milne’s department store. Instead, we turn right.
15. King Street
In 1978, it was known as ‘Manchester’s West End’ owing to the number of exclusive shops. Specialities noted in the leaflet included antiques and booksellers. Today, mainly fashion, though the street has suffered in recent times owing to increased competition. Not only the internet, but a certain out-of-town shopping centre 30 minutes away.
On King Street, we could either continue towards Cross Street, or turn left to St. Ann’s Passage which leads us to…
16. St. Ann’s Church
The church was consecrated in 1712 and scene of the gathering of the Manchester army to the side of the Young Pretender in the 1745 rebellion. It is built in local Collyhurst stone, looking out to its titular square. St. Ann’s Square in 1978 had only recently been pedestrianised. Today, it is a busy spot, often patronised by shoppers transferring from the Manchester Arndale centre to New Cathedral Street.
At the top of St. Ann’s Square, we turn left towards the entrance of…
17. Barton Arcade
A fine example of a Victorian shopping arcade, it was called after John Hope Barton. Most of its shops are geared towards the high end shopper, neatly dovetailing between Harvey Nicholls and Kendal Milne and Co’s department store.
We exit Barton Arcade from one of two sets of doors on Deansgate. We turn right and head north towards Manchester Victoria railway station. In 1978, the walk would see us passing the ABC Cinema – today’s J.D. Wetherspoon house, The Moon Under the Water. On the right, where Harvey Nicholls is now, was the city’s Safeway store – part of the St. Mary’s Gate precinct. The only legacy of this development is today’s Renaissance Hotel on the left hand side where we turn. Today, we can turn left onto our next spot without passing any traffic north of Victoria Bridge Street.
18. Victoria Bridge
Victoria Bridge was the scene of the defence of Manchester during the English Civil War. For many in 1978, particularly Salfordians and Ashtonians, a few yards till the next 36 or 218. From the bridge is Manchester’s boundary with Salford, where Victoria and Greengate bus stations were. The Manchester side of the River Irwell once had a landing stage for boat trips.
We turn back on Victoria Bridge Street and walk towards Cateaton Street. The modern day street is dominated by the shops and the recently moved Old Shambles. Before we see the Corn Exchange, we turn left onto New Cathedral Street.
19. Manchester Cathedral
The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George in the City of Manchester opened in 1215, in what was once the original centre of Manchester. Its present building was started in 1421, and became a cathedral in 1847.
Continuing via New Cathedral Street, we see the recently extended…
20. Chetham’s School of Music and Library
The Chetham’s School of Music and Library was built on the site of Manchester Castle as a school, library and hospital. It was founded at the bequest of Humphrey Chetham in 1653, with parts of the building dating from the thirteenth century. Opposite Manchester Victoria station is the new extension, which has a neo-Streamline Moderne appearance. The library has more than 100,000 books with 60,000 published before 1831.
Unless we’re calling in Java for a coffee or admiring the emergence of Manchester Victoria’s new roof, we return to Cateaton Street.
21. Old Wellington Inn/Old Shambles
Today, the Old Wellington Inn and Old Shambles has moved to a spot near the cathedral and the Corn Exchange. In 1978, it was encased within the Market Street Development next to the Arndale Centre. The Old Wellington Inn and its slightly cheaper neighbour, Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, is always packed out.
We could have skipped the trip to the Old Shambles to admire the CIS Building. From Manchester Victoria, walk along Todd Street, turn left onto Corporation Street, carrying on till we see The Ducie Bridge. Before there, we turn right onto Miller Street and see The Cooperative’s sassy NOMA Building in the distance. On our right is the building that was briefly the tallest in Europe.
22. The CIS Building
Designed by G.S. Hay from 1959 to 1962, it is 400 feet high. The 23rd and 24th floors constitute executive’s accommodation, whereas the 25th floor was used as an open plan observation floor. Visitors could have booked in advance with the Premises Controller to look at the city from its top floor. There was also a glass ceiling, bench seating and a greenhouse, and horizontal viewing windows. For today’s visitors, this option no longer exists.
We leave via Dantzic Street and take time to admire its other architectural joys, whilst passing Shudehill Interchange and the Printworks. With the Manchester Arndale in the immediate distance, we turn right onto Withy Grove, then left onto Corporation Street, prior to see on the corner of St. Mary’s Gate and Cross Street…
23. The Royal Exchange
Prior to 1968, this was the epicentre of Manchester’s Cotton Exchange. Its trading floor was believed to be the largest room in the country. Eight years later, it became a permanent home for the Royal Exchange Theatre Company. Its futuristic auditorium (similar to the Millennium Falcon – I wonder if Mr. Lucas did call in to see an Ibsen play prior to Star Wars’ release – see also the Sydney Opera House/Manchester Oxford Road myth) won many friends in 1978 and still does today. Its theatre-in-the-round style auditorium holds 700, with 400 comfortably seated in conventional style.
There’s more to the theatre itself: its host of speciality shops is another feature, along with the Royal Exchange Arcade. All a useful link to the Manchester Arndale centre. At one time, a link to the Market Street Development, long gone.
Turning right onto St. Mary’s Gate was the site of the…
24. Market Street Development
I often thought of it as a half baked Arndale Centre, but the Market Street Development incorporated an earlier Marks and Spencer store, some smaller shops, and a Safeway store. The Old Wellington Inn and Sinclairs Oyster Bar was in the middle of the development, and moved to allow its construction.
On the 15 June 1996, the IRA bomb wreaked damage on the Arndale Centre, nearby Inland Revenue office and the Market Street Development. In its place is New Cathedral Street, Harvey Nicholls, and a number of select shops. On the other side, (at one time) the largest Marks and Spencer store in the world. At one time, it occupied the whole unit with its northern entrance facing Cannon Street. It was split into two with the northern portion occupied by Selfridges. Yet, in 1978, we were quite happy with Safeway, with Lewis’s and Debenhams only being a short walk away.
Speaking of which, we take a turn towards Market Street, pedestrianised since 1981 and – probably – Manchester’s busiest thoroughfare in terms of pedestrian traffic. Carry on down till you see Piccadilly Gardens then turn right onto Portland Street and the junction of Aytoun Street for our next spot.
25. County Hall
Back in 1978, Manchester – or more precisely, Greater Manchester – had some form of devolution: Greater Manchester County Council. County Hall was neatly placed for its buses, the main commercial centre, and a quick walk to the Piccadilly Radio studios opposite. Strictly speaking, from 1974 to 1986, it was home to GMC. It costed the equivalent of £32.94 million to build the offices. Today, following its abolition, its offices became Westminster House, with a pub on the ground floor.
Making the short walk across the stands at Piccadilly Gardens…
26. Piccadilly Plaza
A fine example of modernist architecture, the Piccadilly Plaza was originally built to provide an upmarket mixed-use development (shops and offices basically). Instead, as the years progressed, its retail mix became more downmarket. Back in 1978, you could have paused for ham and eggs at The Golden Egg, bought a sweat-tastic sheet from Brentford Nylons, or take an escalator up to Piccadilly Radio’s reception. At the southern end, there was a petrol station near the car park ramp for Piccadilly Hotel.
Back then, its ‘three graces’ was the Piccadilly Hotel, Sunley Tower, and Bernard House. The third, since demolished and replaced by a new nondescript structure. Bernard House had a distinctive roof with four peaks at its four corners. There was also a footbridge to Sunley Tower. Today, Sunley Tower is City Tower, and the Piccadilly Hotel has since been downgraded from five stars to four stars, in its present guise as Mercure Manchester. The petrol station has long gone and Piccadilly Radio moved to Castle Quay taking Key 103 along too.
In 1978, pedestrians would have been treated to giant pictures of Ray Teret, Roger Day, Pete Reeves and Phil Wood from their first floor studio windows. Today, Brentford Nylons is now the city’s Tourist Information Centre. From there, turn right twice to get to New York Street. Carry on down, passing the tramlines till you get to Spring Gardens. From there, turn left. A few yards on is the top end of…
27. King Street
Historically, the city’s banks have been based on the top end of King Street. One fine example is Edwin Luytens’ Midland Bank. To the right hand side was the imposing NatWest Bank tower. Further down to the right was Lloyd’s Bank whereas adjacent was Manchester’s regional branch of the Bank of England, prior to its move to modern premises in 1972, on Portland Street.
The former NatWest building is largely offices and retail units whereas the ground floor banking hall of Luytens’ masterpiece is Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant. Above the banking hall will be a new hotel.
From Spring Gardens, we turn left onto Charlotte Street, which takes us towards the…
28. Portico Library
Most of the Portico Library building is taken up by Nicholson’s Pubs’ The Bank public house. Opening in 1806, the library included a newsroom and a club, with a balcony on four sides. Its first secretary was Peter Mark Roget, author of Roget’s Thesaurus. By the 20th century, most of the ground floor was a bank, which inspired the name of today’s public house. This opened around the 1980s with Allied Lyons/Tetley and Carlsberg/Tetley its original brewery.
Entry to the Portico Library is through a side door on Charlotte Street. Visitors need to press a bell to gain entry. Membership is required, if you wish to loan books or use the comfy newsroom. The library has a varied programme of lectures and exhibitions. It is well worth a visit.
We walk down Portland Street towards another Mancunian icon.
29. Manchester City Art Gallery
Since 1978, Sir Charles Barry’s City Art Gallery, and the Athenaeum annexe has been modernised and extended with a glass atrium. Besides connecting the two buildings it makes for a welcoming approach. It is still known for its permanent collection of Pre-Raphaelite works and changing exhibitions.
One clear difference awaiting today’s visitor is its opening hours. In 1978, 10.00am to 6.00pm on Monday to Saturdays. On Sundays, 2.30pm to 5.00pm. For today’s visitors, 10.00am to 5.00pm every day except Thursdays. On Thursdays, it is open till 9.00pm, hosting a number of popular lectures and talks. Its café sells bottled ales by Marble Brewery.
If we can get past the roadworks necessitated by the construction of the Metrolink’s Second City Crossing, we walk straight ahead and see on our right, two buildings which epitomise the ambitions of Manchester in the 2010s as well as the 1930s. Both of which designed by E. Vincent Harris. Affected by recent development is the position of the…
The previous site of the Cenotaph has been moved from St. Peter’s Square to the site of the Peace Gardens. This has been necessitated by the Metrolink’s Second City Crossing. Close to St. Peter’s Square…
31. Central Library and Town Hall Extension
With the rise in services provided by local government, the City of Manchester Corporation began to outgrow Alfred Waterhouse’s town hall. The plan was an extension which blended sympathetically with the Central Library and Waterhouse’s building. In 1927, E. Vincent Harris won the competition to design its new extension. Work began in 1934 with interconnecting walkways from the 1877 building and underground passages to the Central Library.
In 1938, E. Vincent Harris’ town hall included a cinema in its basement, first floor Council Chambers, and the municipality’s gas and electricity showrooms on the ground floor. From the 1990s, the ground floor was used as Manchester’s Tourist Information Centre, hitherto based at Aytoun Street/Portland Street. The piece de resistance is the tile work in the Rates Hall. Since the start of this year, this also forms part of the newly extended Central Library.
Also designed by E. Vincent Harris, the Central Library opened in 1934. The circular building is now connected with his neighbouring town hall extension. The former Rates Hall includes a seating area; there is now public access to the library building from the extension via its basements. The building has been delightfully restored and was fully completed in March 2014.
Back in 1978, the former lecture theatre was the Library Theatre. By 2015-16, the players of the Library Theatre will move to First Street, along with the Cornerhouse. In the same year, you could nuzzle between the Central Library and the Town Hall Extension via Library Walk. Not any more. A covered glass walkway will effectively ‘privatise’ this thoroughfare. Unsurprisingly, this plan has met with alacrity from pedestrians and architecture enthusiasts.
If you’re visiting Manchester for the first time, the Central Library should be placed at the top of your list along with the Museum of Science and Industry.
From Central Library, we turn onto Peter Street then right again towards Mount Street passing the Friends’ Meeting House. Carry on till you see Albert Square.
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From Albert Square, we could take a trip towards J.W. Lees’ recent addition. Perhaps go to one of the city’s many Starbucks Coffee houses on Princess Street. Maybe a quick pint at The Water House. Or a 50 back to East Didsbury.
Today’s inner city tour would be quite different to the one detailed in the City of Manchester’s 1978 booklet. Firstly, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry would be a key attraction along with Chinatown, the Gay Village, Manchester Arndale and the Northern Quarter.
It is worth noting that any attempts to promote Manchester as a tourist attraction was pretty much in its infancy. The regeneration of Castlefield – shortly after British Rail’s 150th anniversary of the Rainhill Trials – would be a major catalyst. Without which, the history of the world’s first and greatest industrial city wouldn’t have been told properly. Likewise with the Granada Studios Tour’s sojourn in relation to the city’s media history.
In 1978, if you said you were going to have a short break in Manchester, they probably would have laughed at you or sent for the men in white coats. They would have thought ‘what’s up with Blackpool, Benidorm or Paris?’ Supposing you said this in 2014… a different story again. Hence the number of hotel rooms and tourist attractions a short bus ride away – as well as a short walk inside the city centre.
Part Two: the Outer City Tour
In our second and final part, we shall look at the Outer City Tour from the same leaflet. Again we shall compare the state of the attractions in 1978 compared with 2014. Besides the attractions and landmarks, one other difference 36 years on would be its bus routes. Our next entry in the series will reflect this.
S.V., 06 October 2014.