45 miles around Manchester, 1978 to 26 attractions: is it still possible?
If you thought the city centre has changed beyond recognition in the last 36 years, the same is also true of its immediate surroundings.
Whereas Wilmslow Road was dominated by orange and white buses, it is now the Olympia livery of First Greater Manchester, and the swirls of Stagecoach Manchester. Compared with 1978, some of the attractions have either gone or relocated. Given that the Outer City Tour is designed for motorists, road layouts will have changed.
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1. Manchester Town Hall
Again, the outer city tour begins at Manchester town hall (see previous part for description).
For the first part of this trail, we could catch the 50 service from Albert Square. From the Town Hall, traverse Princess Street towards the…
2. Mancunian Way
Opening on the 05 May 1967, the Mancunian Way was originally part of a wider scheme towards a second Trans-Pennine motorway. The A57(M) would have led to a longer M67 motorway, paralleling Hyde Road up to today’s motorway. East of Mottram, it would have ran in place of the Woodhead line with tunnels to Dunford Bridge. Part of the Stocksbridge Bypass runs along part of the planned route. Fully realised, the M67 would have finished at Junction 29A of the M1 motorway.
The Princess Street junction of Mancunian Way has a number of subways, a 1968 Concrete Society plaque and an unfinished slip road.
We continue towards Grosvenor Street.
3. The North Western Museum of Science and Industry
Opening in 1969 was the previous site of today’s Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. On the corner of Grosvenor Street, it would outgrow its original premises in The Oddfellows’ Hall and move to Liverpool Road on the 15 September 1983. Today, their previous building belongs to the University of Manchester
We continue to the end of Grosvenor Street and turn left onto Oxford Road. After alighting our 50 service, we could walk along the said street to Oxford Road and have our pick of any Wilmslow Road Corridor bus. Or we could continue part of our next few points on foot.
From the corner of Oxford Road and Grosvenor Street, All Saints is in full view. To our right looking north, we see what was UMIST. In 1978, there was the University of Manchester, nearest to Fallowfield. The Manchester Polytechnic was situated nearer the centre of Manchester and All Saints, as was UMIST (dominated by its tower block near the Mancunian Way).
Today, UMIST forms part of the University of Manchester whereas Manchester Polytechnic became Manchester Metropolitan University in 1992.
5. Manchester Polytechnic
After 22 years as a polytechnic, Manchester Polytechnic became the Manchester Metropolitan University. It has its roots in the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute and the Manchester School of Design. Not long before this guide was published, among its famous students was Peter Saville of Factory Communications fame. In 1978 he created the first Factory posters, inspired by safety notices at the Poly.
We continue a little further down Oxford Road to see remnants of ‘What Could Have Been’.
6. The Royal Northern College of Music
The college was formed by an amalgamation of the Northern School of Music and the Royal Manchester College of Music. The newly combined school was opened in 1972 and hailed in the leaflet as ‘the only new College of Music to have been built in Britain since the war’. Refurbishment has seen the loss of one legacy: high level walkways.
A plan from Wells and Womersley, if fully realised, would have seen the addition of high level walkways from the University Precinct and the Maths Tower right up to the Mancunian Way. Traces of which are evident on the MMU’s Capitol Theatre block.
The University Precinct is of interest too. Opening in the early 1970s, it is to Manchester Arndale centre as to what THX 1138 is to Star Wars: A New Hope. The Oxford Road walkway is threatened with demolition. It offers a useful traffic-free link across Oxford Road, as did the demolished footbridge to RNCM over Booth Street West, leading to…
7. Manchester Business School
The original Manchester Business School opened in 1918. It was funded by an endowment from asbestos magnate Sir Samuel Turner, which led to the formation of UMIST. Since 2004, it became part of the University of Manchester. Notable alumni includes former TESCO boss and present day head of B&M Bargains Sir Terry Leahy.
8. The Manchester Museum
Part of the Victoria University designed by Alfred Waterhouse (of Manchester Town Hall fame), it was, and remains known for its Egyptology exhibitions. It remains a popular tourist attraction today and is part of the University of Manchester. In 1978, it was open six days a week from 10am to 5pm (with early 9am opening on Wednesday). Today, it is open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm.
9. The University of Manchester
Today’s imposing university has its roots in Owens College, whose original home was in Quay Street. Opening in 1873, the quadrangle of buildings by Alfred Waterhouse remains the centrepiece today. In 1978, it was joined by a number of revolutionary modern buildings. This included the (now demolished) Maths Tower, designed to look akin to a slide rule. Its ramp would have led to part of Wells and Womersley’s high level walkways.
Further down we see its modern additions, including the Contact Theatre. To our left the now expanded St. Mary’s Hospital. Directly opposite is one of Manchester’s esteemed art galleries.
10. The Whitworth Art Gallery
Built by the Whitworth Institute between 1889 and 1908, it is in the care of University of Manchester. It renowned for its permanent and temporary exhibitions and set in beautiful surroundings. In 1978, it was open during the same hours as Manchester Museum. Today, it is in the midst of refurbishment, scheduled to reopen on the 14 February 2015.
We could walk across the park to our next spot. Or we could catch the 111 service to Lloyd Street South.
11. Maine Road, Manchester City Football Club
In 1978, Maine Road was the preserve of Tony Book, Paul Power and Joe Corrigan. The North Stand was only seven years old; its adjacent main stand would receive a distinctive roof four years later; and the Kippax Street terrace would be the preserve of many a Citizen. Today, houses are on the site of a venue which had the biggest attendance for English Football League and F.A. Cup matches. 25 years on, City moved to Beswick with its Etihad Stadium and training facilities the envy of most clubs.
From the site of Manchester City’s former home, we could continue along Lloyd Street South and turn left onto Platt Lane. Or we could catch another 111 to Yew Tree Road and alight near Whitmore Road.
12. Platt Hall and Platt Fields Park
Part of the park has another City connection: the training pitches on the north-western part of Platt Fields Park. The park itself was acquired by Manchester Corporation in 1908 and, in 1978, would play host the three-day extravaganza known as the Manchester Show. It is also known for Platt Hall which is home to another gem: the Gallery of Costume.
36 years ago, the gallery was open for substantially more hours than at present. From May to August, 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 12am to 8pm); November to February, 10am to 4pm (2 to 4pm on Sundays); and 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 2 – 6pm) in March, April, September and October. Today, 1 to 5pm on weekdays and 10am to 5pm on weekends.
A short walk away is a modernist marvel, sadly closed.
13. The Hollings College
Fondly referred to as the ‘Toastrack’, city architect L. Cecil Howitt hit upon the idea of designing a domestic science college in the style of kitchen implements. Whereas the main tower block is the toast rack itself, the lower rise building is modelled on a fried egg. In 2012, it was no longer deemed fit for purpose by the Manchester Metropolitan University. It is hoped that the building will be renovated sympathetically.
Our next point in the tour is best reached by car or aboard the 42 service to East Didsbury. Today’s bus users have the joys of First Greater Manchester’s modern buses, marketed under the Cross Connect name. There is also Stagecoach Manchester’s journeys, some of which continue to Stockport.
14. Fletcher Moss Park and Fletcher Moss Museum
How many beauty spots in Britain have a bus service as well connected as Fletcher Moss? The centrepiece of Fletcher Moss Park is its Alpine gardens with the rock gardens beside the tennis courts and café. The café itself is well worth trying with a variety of teas and homemade style cakes. There is also the wild flower gardens close to the River Mersey and Stenner Lane. Duckboards enhance the wooded section.
In 1978, there was another addition: the Fletcher Moss Museum. Housed in the Old Parsonage, it was open till 1989 in this guise. Its opening hours in 1978 were as follows: from May to August, 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 12am to 8pm); November to February, 10am to 4pm (2 to 4pm on Sundays); and 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 2 – 6pm) in March, April, September and October. Nowadays, the Old Parsonage is used as offices, though it has hosted temporary art exhibitions.
For our next point in the tour is another landmark. One which in the last four decades has changed beyond recognition. From Fletcher Moss we can go straight towards Kingsway and take the M56. By bus from East Didsbury somewhat finicky: 370 to Barlow Moor Road/Palatine Road, then a 43 to Ringway.
Plus there’s also the train from East Didsbury. From the 03 November (changing at Chorlton), the tram.
15. Manchester Airport
Now the largest airport outside London and a fine example of public/private partnership. In 1978, there was three piers within a single terminal (International, European and Domestic flights). Its newest pier – accommodating the long haul flights – was only four years old. In the leaflet there was reference to its second runway; little did we know about the 20+ year wait back then.
Back in 1978, it was possible to watch the planes from the airport itself. Spectators could walk along the piers which had a café and a souvenir shop. Spectators would pay 10p for a token (about the equivalent of £2.00 today) or purchase a souvenir wallet with six tokens for 49p. Today’s spectators have a less public transport friendly facility off Junction 6 of the M56 motorway. Whereas the 400 Trans-Lancs Express and the 200 Airport Express ferried 1970s and 1980s spectators, another 200 bus ferries today’s spectators to the Runway Viewing Park. This operates once hourly in daytimes. Even so, they can now see Concorde and a BAe Trident for an extra fee.
Our next stop is a straightforward bus ride away on the 104 service. Today’s surface level bus interchange is a vast improvement on 1978 facilities. All buses, trains and (from November) trams depart from the same point. Plus there’s sufficient cover from the elements.
By car, the M56 to Princess Parkway following signs to Northenden and Northern Moor. We turn left until we see the main entrance to our next point.
16. Wythenshawe Hall and Park
Sadly, the same cannot be said of a trip to Wythenshawe Park nowadays as its hall has been closed for the last five years. The park was a gift to Manchester Corporation in 1926 from Lord and Lady Simon of Wythenshawe. The Hall is a half-timbered manor house which once belonged to the Tatton family. Its earliest parts date from the 16th century with the bulk of it used as an art gallery.
Its opening hours in 1978 were as follows: from May to August, 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 12am to 8pm); November to February, 10am to 4pm (2 to 4pm on Sundays); and 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 2 – 6pm) in March, April, September and October. Since the art gallery and museum’s temporary closure in 2010, a Friends of Wythenshawe Hall group has been set up, with the aim of reopening this fine building.
Our next stage will be made easier by the Metrolink’s new line in November. By bus, the small matter of a short walk to Sale Road via Rackhouse Road, then any of the following services to Sale: X5, 41 and the X41. From there, a 263 where we need to alight outside a big TESCO which obscures Lancashire’s home. By car, we turn left onto Wythenshawe Road, then right onto Orton Road before joining Sale Road (later Northenden Road), then to Chester Road (A56).
17. Lancashire County Cricket Club
In the last 36 years, the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club has been upgraded to allow for the return of Test Match Cricket. New executive facilities have been added nearest to Old Trafford tram station on the Warwick Road end. The cricket ground is now sponsored by Emirates and holds up to 26,000 fans for international matches. In 1978, it was in dire need of refurbishment.
About 10 to 20 minutes walk away, or a short drive is the other Old Trafford.
18. Manchester United Football Club
Back then as of now, no tour around Manchester was complete without a trip to Manchester United’s home. In 1978, Old Trafford held 58,500 with paddocks in the United Road, Scoreboard End and Main Stand. Most of the Stretford End was all terracing with a small open corner between the covered part and the seated cantilever stand of the United Road side. The souvenir shop was a more modest affair compared with today’s megastore, near K Stand. Though Manchester United was floundering with Dave Sexton at the helm, the roar of the Stretford End was as loud as a Boeing 747 in full cry.
Today’s Old Trafford has seating for 75,731, a museum and a wealth of corporate facilities. Matchday or otherwise, millions flock to Old Trafford either for the Megastore or its museum. Worldwide. In 1978, a recently added roof over the Main Stand included its Bar and Grill at ground level. Its executive boxes back then was still the exception instead of the rule: only Boundary Park and Stamford Bridge had them in the 1978-79 season. Wolverhampton Wanderers’ John Ireland Stand would follow suit two years on.
For our next leg, we shall go to another much changed landmark. We leave Matt Busby Way for Chester Road then turn left onto Trafford Road. The walk from Old Trafford [Manchester United] is probably a tad easier than the drive.
19. Port of Manchester
Right until the 1970s, the Manchester and Salford docks made the Manchester end of the Manchester Ship Canal the UK’s third largest port. Docks 5 – 9 form part of today’s Salford Quays and MediaCityUK developments whereas Docks 1 – 4 were near Pomona Metrolink station. Close to the Lowry Centre and The Peel Group’s MediaCityUK was Dock 9 – once the preserve of Manchester Liners’ containerised services to Canada.
In 1978, guided tours around the Manchester Docks were available by arrangement. The famed Manchester Ship Canal cruises were organised by Cooperative Travel Services with return train travel. Today, the Port of Manchester is barely recognisable from its 1978 self; two of its four docks were filled in with the site being spare land. Dock 3 remains intact, offering interchange with the Bridgewater Canal via Pomona Lock. Dock 2 has been infilled for most of its original length.
If The Peel Group have their way, this could change again. It has been earmarked for residential development. The area in and around Docks 1 to 4 has gained a cult following as a beauty spot, and has led to protests as detailed in the Manchester Evening News.
From the Trafford Road roundabout we return to Chester Road then take the Bridgewater Way up to the Mancunian Way. At that point, we turn left onto Dawson Street then right onto Water Street, right again to Liverpool Road passing MoSI before turning right onto Duke Street. By bus, Stagecoach Manchester’s 256 service from Flixton will suffice where we shall alight by Deansgate railway station.
20. Site of Roman Fort
Part of the city’s early history and its more recent history began there. General Agricola ordered the construction of a Roman Fort in 79 AD on what was known as ‘Mamucium’ (where the demonym ‘Mancunian’ is derived from). In 1978, it had only recently been reconstructed. Ten years later, it would form part of today’s Castlefield with the growing Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, The Castlefield Gallery and the Air and Space Museum. Nowadays, Castlefield is a vibrant part of Manchester city centre famed for its bars and restored canalside buildings as well as the world’s oldest railway station.
We continue via Deansgate to our next spot. This time, another one of Greater Manchester’s finest parks. By car after Deansgate, via Quay Street, Albion Way, and Bury Old Road. On public transport, the tram from Deansgate-Castlefield to Piccadilly Gardens followed by a 135 bus (or a tram) bound for Bury to…
21. Heaton Hall and Park
In my honest opinion, my favourite park inside Manchester Corporation boundaries. It was purchased by the Corporation in 1902, boasting an 18-hole golf course, flat green bowling facilities and a large boating lake. At the most easterly part of the park (just off the M60 motorway) is a section of tramline inherited from MCTD. Today it forms part of a preserved line which continues to the boating lake. Its former tram shelter is now a museum; on Trans-Lancs Transport Show dates (first Sunday in September) there is a model tramway exhibition.
The Hall (now only opened on Heritage Open Days thanks to ConDem inflicted spending cuts along with Wythenshawe Hall) is a magnificent Georgian building designed by James Wyatt. At one time, it was home of the Earls of Wilton and has a collection of 17th and 18th century furniture.
The hall’s opening hours in 1978 were as follows: from May to August, 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 12am to 8pm); November to February, 10am to 4pm (2 to 4pm on Sundays); and 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 2 – 6pm) in March, April, September and October.
Not a million miles away from Europe’s largest municipal park is an open space surrounded by myth and mystery. We go back via Bury Old Road then turn left onto Sheepfoot Lane before turning right onto Middleton Road and left onto Blackley New Road, then Old Market Road before we turn right onto Rochdale Road.
If travelling by bus, the 64 and 164 services call at our next point on Rochdale Road and stop at the eastern Middleton Road entrance of Heaton Park. Which is great whilst the Heaton Park Tramway’s in operation.
22. Boggart Hole Clough
It is claimed that Boggart Hole Clough got its name from the Boggart, a mythical mischievous creature seen in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Today it remains a popular spot amongst anglers and athletes. In 2008, it was designated as a Local Nature Reserve.
Along the Rochdale Road, whether by car or aboard the frequent 17/18 bus services, we go to Manchester’s joint first oldest park.
23. Queens Park and Museum
Queens Park was one of two Mancunian public parks to open on the same day in 1846. They provided a much needed green lung for Cottonpolis’ workforce. Designed by Joshua Major, it was laid out on land hitherto owned by the Houghton family. In 1884, it gained a museum and an art gallery on the site of Hendham Hall, demolished four years earlier.
In the last five years, its museum and art gallery has closed. Back in 1978 it was open seven days a week from May to August, 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 12am to 8pm); November to February, 10am to 4pm (2 to 4pm on Sundays); and 10am to 6pm (Sundays, 2 – 6pm) in March, April, September and October.
The next few miles of our journey will be quite a culture shock for anyone who last went to Manchester in the late 1970s. For our next stage, it is still possible to get from Queen’s Park in a matter of minutes via Queens Road and Alan Turing Way. Not only by car but also on the erstwhile 53 service to Old Trafford, which we board for Bradford.
24. Philips Park
For some, it was right in the middle of a more industrial East Manchester. An eastern part of the city famed for Mather and Platt, Bradford Colliery and Stuart Street Power Station. Today, its new neighbours are cyclists, multimillionaire footballers and supermarket trolleys.
Philips Park is named in honour of local M.P. Mark Philips who campaigned for more green spaces around Manchester. Again it was designed by Joshua Major, whose sister park in Harpurhey opened on the same day. It lies in the valley of the River Medlock, offering respite from traffic instead of coal and chemicals.
Only a short distance away, again along the Alan Turing Way is the remnants of what was The Showground of the World. Once more, the 53 may serve us well too.
25. Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and Amusement Park
In 1978, the 53 would have dropped us off at Hyde Road. 36 years ago, the park was in decline. Though the zoo officially closed on the 11 September 1977, there was still a collection of animals up to early 1979. The Bobs had gone, having took its last passengers in 1971; the Scenic Railway remained intact, though that too had its last passengers in the early 1970s. Its recent acquisition was the Jetstream, a Pinfari roller coaster purchased secondhand from the London Festival Gardens in Battersea. The Water Chute would move to Blackpool Pleasure Beach a year after. Most of the rides were taken on by concessionaires including the late Alf Wadbrooke.
However, the Exhibition Halls would see continued use till the G-Mex’s arrival in March 1986. Kings’ Hall would remain open till 1982 with Glossop Old Band playing the venue’s last note. The Christmas Circus would continue till 1986, on another site after 1981. Speedway would continue at Hyde Road till October 1987. The stadium’s demise was not an effect of Belle Vue’s decline. After the Valley Parade fire on the 11 May 1985, all wooden stands had to fireproofed or demolished following the Popplewell Report. Its virtually all wooden arena meant its demise and a move to the Greyhound Stadium on Kirkmanshulme Lane.
Today, only two icons of the ‘Old Belle Vue’ remain. One is the greyhound stadium opened in 1926, used for oval racing of four varieties: canine, motorcycle, stock car and banger. Though the last firework display on its original site took place in 1969, Startrax revived the Belle Vue firework displays on its November stock car and banger race meetings. The other one is the former Granada Bowling Centre, which indicated the park’s 1960s revival under Morris Marshall’s stewardship. It is now a bingo hall.
For our final point, we return home. Well, almost. From Belle Vue, we drive towards Manchester city centre, or board the 201/203 buses to…
26. Piccadilly Gardens
Piccadilly Gardens, only 36 years ago was an oasis among concrete, stone and GMT-standard double deckers. Its finer points was the sunken gardens and floral displays. For some, it was hard to imagine how this pocket of greenery was a short saunter from the 100 to Woodhouse Park.
Piccadilly Gardens was built on the site of the former Manchester Royal Infirmary (part of which is now on Oxford Road). The city’s lunatic asylum was there till 1849. By 1914 came the gardens’ classic layout with its sunken gardens. The roots of which from the hospital’s basements. By the 1960s, it became better known for its much extended bus station and the canyon of traffic around the then state-of-the-art Piccadilly Plaza.
By the 1990s it started to appear dowdy, and part of its use as a main thoroughfare between the 220 and the 43 was less appealing. In 2001, it was refurbished with a fountain as its centrepiece. However, there is less green space than before, with One Piccadilly Gardens and a grey concrete pavilion intruding into the gardens. In spite of this, its popularity as a thoroughfare remains intact. Recent developments include a play area. Its fountain will also be decommissioned.
Given the choice of the old gardens or the present day ones, I would have liked a suitable trade off between old and new. Oh, and that ‘Berlin Wall’ can go, so long as Caffe Nero and Rice are given suitable alternative premises near the present spot.
From the gardens, we can walk towards Piccadilly Plaza up to M&S Simply Food and turn left onto Mosley Street. Then we turn right towards Princess Street and 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 outer city tour would be quite different to the one detailed in the City of Manchester’s 1978 booklet. Instead of the Port of Manchester, Salford Quays and MediaCityUK; Manchester United’s Old Trafford would have been granted more column inches than its cricketing counterpart. Most obviously, the next stage from Philips Park would be SportCity – Etihad Campus, Velo Park et al. A 2014-15 version of the leaflet would also include the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport and the Manchester Jewish Museum among the calling points of the Outer City Tour.
Who’s up for the challenge of a 2015 version of the City of Manchester Pocket Guide? Today, the city and its immediate environs’ tourist attractions are covered in great volume on the internet. On local history websites. On social networking sites. On blogs like this one and the excellent Skyline by Hayley Flynn. Today, we have the joys of Metrolink to our public transport mix as well as the trains (now more frequent than in 1978). However, today’s bus network is a more fluid beast than the one of 1978. Back then, only one main operator (Greater Manchester Transport of course), a handful of National Bus Company constituents and A. Mayne and Son. Now, at least 30 operators from Abbey Lakes to the Great Western Hotel – still fewer than 68 in 1993.
As I have said in the previous part: who in the right mind would have spent a week in Manchester 36 years ago? Even then there was plenty to see, but venturing out on public transport meant several returns or single fares on the buses (the ClipperCard would arrive in December 1979; the Wayfarer, March 1981). Back then there was plenty to do but fewer hotels – and certainly none of the budget hotel chains we have today.
I would have done. Then again, had the creator of this blog been born twenty years earlier, yours truly would be brandishing his SaverSeven in front of the driver or conductor. On the 220, of course. Perhaps en route to Old Trafford or stood outside Piccadilly Gardens with several rolls of Kodachrome and a Nikon F SLR.
Meanwhile, back to 2014. What we have found is that even today, on public transport or by car, it is still possible to do the Outer City Tour in 45 miles flat. Even with the city’s present traffic conditions and systems and, traffic permitting, in a single day too.
S.V., 14 October 2014.