Manchester, England, UK
Created | Updated Feb 23, 2005
Manchester is the only English city which can look London in the face, not merely as a regional capital but as a rival version of how men should live in a community.
- AJP Taylor, Historian
Immortalised in the British Soap Coronation Street Manchester is Britain's fifth largest city, conveniently located between Leeds and Liverpool1 and is one of the many jewels of England's north with a rich culture in music, sports and the arts. It has the reputation of being the rainiest city in Great Britain and is a principal centre for soccer with two great teams - Manchester United and Manchester City. It also became the central hub of the Industrial Revolution when the cotton factories began to use James Watt's steam engine to power their machines.
Manchester has three universities and hence an abundance of students - the area surrounding Oxford Road/Wilmslow Road has one of the greatest populations of students in Europe. If you visit Manchester in term time and then in the holidays you'll notice an incredibly marked difference in the number of people around.
Manchester does have a problem with drug gangs with shootings spilling out into more affluent areas as the pushers get richer. Much like any city, nowhere's 100% safe, but the killings aren't random, they are targeted at specific people.
Manchester is also the place where Rolls met Royce and is home to John Dalton, the discoverer of colour blindness.
The Bomb - Personal Perspectives
These are a few of our Researcher's personal perspectives on the IRA bomb blast that shocked the city in 1996:
The IRA bomb went off on a Saturday morning on Corporation Street. The only thing in the area which survived undamaged was the pillar box. It was horrid to walk around the edge of the area one or two days after it happened, and to see all the buildings with spoiled facades and broken windows... and the whole big area which was cordoned off... a truly eerie feeling... I could guess what it was like for people visiting places that they knew during the war after a bomb had hit...
The bomb was late in the morning/lunchtime, I was at an orchestra practice at the time, I got home for lunch and my mum's like 'thank God you're okay' and I'm like, 'what? for pity's sake I just went to orchestra!' and she's like, 'didn't you know?'
Manchester's mostly` back to normal now, Corporation Street is busy to cross again, I nearly got run over by a bus the other day and I have to confess to being pleased! The buses didn't go down Corporation Street for years afterward. And Marks and Spencers has opened its massive store... (which has this miraculous ability to disorientate people... it's very hard to leave the building on the side you are planning to)... and the pubs which were in Shambles Square have been moved to a more 'historically appropriate' location, although I fail to see how where they were built is historically inappropriate2...
There are plenty of canals which go through some nice countryside around bits of the city. The Bridgewater Canal and the Rochdale Canal both provide a means of travelling through the city centre by boat. This is how Canal Street got its name.
The Bridgewater Canal is a continuation of the Rochdale Canal from Castlefield to Liverpool and was designed by a rather clever bloke called James Brindley. It is unusual in design because it has no locks on it. It's also a bright orange colour in places due to the amount of clay that's present in the ground.
The canal runs through the very picturesque town of Worsley, which still maintains a charm of its own and attracts a lot of American tourists, even though the M60 also runs right through the middle of it. Worsley was the central hub of a underground canal network and branches of the canal ran to all the rich coal seams which stretched as far as Bolton and Warrington.
One of the great things about Manchester is the bus service along Wilmslow Road. At times it seems like there is a bus every 30 seconds. The service also runs 24 hours a day. It's one of the few times that you can see a number of bus companies working a single route which benefits nobody but the consumer. Some of the companies that use the route are Stagecoach and Magic Bus.
The buses are great - and cheap (except Stagecoach). But watch out; although buses are scarily frequent, there are times in the morning and evening when they're incredibly crowded, even dangerously so, especially during term time. Magic Bus is Stagecoach's alter ego and the general advice is not to get them if you're elderly or infirm - they're old buses with very bad suspension. Another thing not to expect is anyone to know definitively what the fare is. It depends on how you look, the time of day, the phase of the moon...
If you're in East Didsbury going into the town centre it's cheaper and quicker to go by train.
The MetroLink originally went to Altringham and Bury but is now being extended to go to Eccles3. At the time of writing, John Prescott, UK Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport, announced funding for the service to be extended to the Trafford Centre, and there are also plans to extend it to Stockport some time in the next five years. The MetroLink is almost always busy, having made a big impact on travel in the Manchester locality. It's fun too, especially sitting on the seats where the trains bend.
MetroLink should be being extended out to where the new Eastlands Stadium is being built next to the Velodrome, the only covered velodrome in the country.
It can be expensive to make a short journey, but they have recently released a ticket called the MetroMax that costs, at time of writing, £3, and allows you unlimited transport on the network.
The M60 Motorway
The near-completed M60 is the outer ring road around Manchester. Hopefully it will be dubbed an affectionate name, something like the 'Manchester Orbital Carpark', much like the M25 around London.
The city is home of Manchester United - the team of Busby's Babes who were decimated in the Munich air crash of 1958. The team was rebuilt by Sir Matt Busby around another survivor, Sir Bobby Charlton, and which became the first English football team to win the European Cup in 1968.
In 1974 Manchester United's fortunes hit an all-time low. Nothing typifies this more than the following anecdote. An Old Trafford4 legend and perennial Manchester United favourite, Dennis Law, had signed to arch rivals Manchester City, in the twilight of his career. In his first game against his beloved old club, he casually back-heeled a goal - a goal of supreme skill - but which proved to be the goal that defeated United and which saw them relegated to the Second Division. Such was Dennis Law's feeling for his old club and the instant realisation that it was his goal that had 'relegated' them, he couldn't bring himself to celebrate what was ordinarily a fabulous goal. Instead, as the ball crossed the line in to the net, he hung his head and inconsolably shrugged of the congratulations of his new Manchester City team mates. This is one of the most poignant scenes in all of football history.
It is reckoned by some that Manchester City are the Manchester team, while Manchester United are a well-run business without soul, citing days when the name of a football team actually indicated the origins of the majority of its players.
Other sports in Manchester include a basketball team, the Manchester Giants, and an Ice Hockey team, Manchester Storm. Both these teams play at the Manchester Evening News Arena.
Local Food and Drink
Manchester is famous for its cheap curry houses and take-away kebabs but there are many local brews and comestibles from Manchester and its surrounds:
Eccles cakes and the less well-known Chorley Cake baps
Robinson's Stockport Ales
Beef Stew and Dumplings served with pickled red cabbage (this may not be a truly Mancunian dish but Manchester is one of the few places to serve this combination.
Oven bottom muffins.
Fish and chips. It seems like there's a 'chippy' on every corner in some parts - all doing good fish and chips. If you don't like fish then try one of the Hollands Pies.
Vimto has to be mentioned, as well as the sculpture in the middle of UMIST which is a tribute to Mr Nichols who first blended Vimto. Vimto is of course an exceedingly sweet mixed fruit drink, mainly containing black grape and blackcurrant juice.
Wilmslow Road is the Curry Mile, with literally about 30 Asian restaurants in less than a single mile. Rusholme is a must. Apparently what makes it special is the whole community thing, you don't just get curries, but there are other things, too, little extras like special Indian side dishes and traditional Indian sweets.
If curries aren't your thing then Manchester has a reasonably large Chinatown area with some very good Chinese restaurants.
It would be impossible for anybody who has been a student in Manchester not to mention Abdul's Kebabs and Babylon's Pizzas. Student life just wouldn't be the same without these culinary delights, well worth checking out if you're wandering the streets at some unholy hour and you've got the munchies. Abduls does a mean line in veggie kebabs with all the necessary trimmings.
Another great place to eat is Kismet which serves pilau rice containing so much artificial colour it's day-glo orange and will light up the living room for hours. It tastes great.
Things to Do and See
Bridgewater Hall is large, has good acoustics and is shielded from noises outside. The whole building sits on springs, which vibrate to dampen noises like the MetroLink and bombs (see above) going off in the area. When the bomb went off about 1km away, the builders working inside the hall didn't know at all.
It also hosts regular concerts from the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic and the Manchester Camerata. Pluto by Colin Matthews was premiered there as was Kent Nagano's leaving present to the Hallé.
The Lowry Centre is new and shiny and dedicated to the 20th Century artist famous for his match stick men. Although you have to pay to go to some of the exhibitions, all of the work by Lowry himself is free to view.
Manchester Museum is in Oxford Road near the University, has Egyptian Mummies and a reptile house with lots of live snakes and other interesting specimens. It's also got a good set of fossils. The only problem is that the fossils are in a room separated from the main area and the displays are rather old fashioned and look like they haven't been looked at for some time. Admission is free.
The Whitworth Art Gallery is well worth a visit on Oxford Road, opposite the hospitals.
Granada Studios Tour on Quay Street is good fun. The real Coronation Street is here... although seeing an artificial street of house fronts is very strange.
Museum of Science and Industry houses the first passenger railway station in the world - Liverpool Street Station. You can also see 'The Baby' - the world's first stored program computer. Rather worryingly a modern-day tamagotchi has more processor power than it had, and yet 'The Baby' occupies an entire room.
Manchester Cathedral is apparently famed for having the widest nave of any Cathedral in Britain, although it's not terribly long because of limited space when it was being constructed.
The Costume Museum in Platt Hall, in Platt Fields Park off Wilmslow Road is also a great spot. Rumours abound over its future, but it's a good museum and nationally renowned.
The Town Hall was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the same guy who was the architect for the Natural History Museum in London. They're both big Victorian gothic buildings. The town hall is shaped like a triangle, because when it was built that was all the land they could get hold of. At the front of the town hall is Albert Square, with a big statue to the prince consort himself. One of the pubs on the square is the Square Albert. The other side of the town hall, at the front of the central library and containing Manchester's main war memorial, is St Peter's Square. It was here that the army set upon a meeting of workers listening to radical reformers. Eleven people were killed and about 400 injured of those gathered (estimated at between 30,000 and 150,000).
This particular episode of history is referred to as 'Peterloo' in the history books and took place on 16 August, 1819
Apparently some members of Stalybridge band played that day. Stalybridge band is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) brass bands in the world.
In one of the halls in the Town Hall there's some very fine paintings by Ford Maddox Ford.
Affleck's Palace is one of the places to shop in Manchester where one would describe the shops here as 'alternative'. The best strategy is to go right to the top of the building to the café, and fortify yourself with food and coffee before shopping your way down, floor by floor. Although the other approach is to start on the ground floor and go upwards so as by the time you reach the café at the top you're really ready for your coffee.
The Coliseum has a fair number of stalls that were moved from the Corn Exchange. There's also the Manchester Craft Centre on Oak Street, containing small studios.
Shopping in Manchester is big business. King Street has nice shops (the posh clothes shops), the Royal Exchange arcade has some great shops and there's also some good ones on Deansgate.
The Arndale centre has been described as the biggest loo wall in Europe, and well that's putting it politely.
And of course there's the Trafford Centre.
The city centre of Manchester has several large libraries which are open to the public.
The largest of these is the Central Library, in St Peters Square. This in next to the town hall and is run by Manchester City Council as its main reference and lending library. It's a large white circular building. The main reading room is in the middle and is like the building large and circular. There is also a theatre in the basement.
Central library contains the Henry Watson Music Library and also has the local records archive where you can look up your family records.
The Chetams Library (pronounced cheetams) is the oldest public library in the world and is housed in what was initially a hospital, but is now a music school. Rutherford first split the Atom here.
The John Rylands Library is part of the Manchester University Library and houses a large collection of rare manuscripts. The building is worth going to see itself as it's a piece of late Victorian gothic architecture and from the outside looks like it should be a church.
The Revolution bar on Oxford Road in the city centre5 is a vodka bar, with more different flavours than you can shake a stick at. The Chilli Vodka comes with a skull-and-crossbones warning although according to the bar staff in the Fallowfield branch, the 80% volume vodka tastes worse. Revolution has a Russian Revolution theme and has a pleasant atmosphere inside.
For a cheesy night out try the Footage and Firkin on Oxford Road for a fun indie night. 5th Avenue (Princess Street) on Thursdays is overloaded with students. The Queen of Hearts/Scruffy Murphy's (two places in the same building) in Fallowfield on Wilmslow Road. For another student bar try Shed, also in Fallowfield on Wilmslow Road.
Manchester is a good starting point for going walking in the beautiful Peak District. You can get trains to Hope, Edale and Castleton, and then go walking in the Pennines, or you can go to Styal Mill6, a traditional place for all Manchester's school age children to be taken to many times in their school lives. Don't go on Mondays as it's closed. If you do go by train, though, it's a nice walk to Wilmslow and you can get the train back from there.
Edale is the start of the Pennine Way. Hayfield is where, in late April 1932, walkers gathered to go out onto the moors to demonstrate against the access allowed by laws of the time. This event inspired Ewam McColl to write the song The Manchester Rambler. This event is commemorated with a plaque in Bowden Bridge Quarry, where the mass trespass started. This was one of the events which helped get national parks set up.
Wigan Pier is another place where school children are taken to see what it was like in days gone by (and to be thankful they live now). Engels wrote about industrial Manchester in his Condition of the Working Class in England.
Birthplace of The Guardian
Let's not forget that Manchester gave us one of the UK's best national newspapers.
The Manchester Guardian was founded in 1821 by John Edward Taylor, as a liberal weekly newspaper. When Stamp Duty was abolished in 1855, it became a daily newspaper, on sale for 2d – equivalent to less than a one pence coin today.
In 1959, it changed its name to The Guardian, due to its high level of national and international journalism. Two years later, it began printing in London as well as Manchester. The Guardian moved to its current London Headquarters in Farringdon Road in 1976, where the main editorial department is still based. The building is not a suite of plush offices, but rather, an exciting, journalistic environment.
The masthead as it is known today was part of a major redesign of the newspaper in 1988. At the time, it was considered very controversial and innovative, but it has certainly stood the test of time, and, in publishing terms, is considered iconic.
In 1994, The Guardian became the first national newspaper to devote a whole section to IT, Science and Technology with 'Online', the weekly supplement. The newspaper has always championed the Internet, and last year it launched the Guardian Unlimited network of websites.
Despite the IRA bomb attack on Docklands in 1996, in which The Guardian's Isle of Dogs print works was severely damaged, a full edition of the newspaper was still produced for distribution the following morning.
It has also run several award-winning TV Commercials: a national favourite was the one that used photo-journalism cropping techniques to show that a skin-head-type bloke was not resorting to senseless violence - something we might initially assume he must be doing - but actually trying to save someone's life. This idea really challenged personal prejudices.
In 1999, The Guardian won Newspaper of the Year, as well as Scoop of the Year, for exposing the fake documentary The Connection. It has also won The Freedom of the Press Award, for the investigation into the dealings of corrupt Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken, who was later jailed for perjury.
The Guardian is still printed in Manchester and London. Due to the high level of literals (misspellings and/or mistypings), it is affectionately known as The Grauniad. It a national institution, of which Manchester can justifiably be very proud.
Manchester and music go hand in hand. Be it classical music at the Bridgewater Hall by the Hallé or a local student band at the Hop and Grape, Manchester has got both venues and acts. Bridgewater Hall is a modern concert hall with the usual facilities. The music is both classical and non-classical, with the Hallé orchestra and the Manchester Camerata providing the bulk of the concerts. Recently acts such as Ute Lemper and Peter Green's Splinter Group have also recently played there.
For the non-classical music fan Manchester has produced a long string of bands who have all made it big; The Hollies, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Simply Red, Happy Mondays, James, Inspiral Carpets (from Oldham really), M People, 808 State, The Doves and of course, Oasis.
To find out where bands are playing, get a copy of City Life, it's the Manchester listings magazine.
You can get to see a lot of up-and-coming bands at the Roadhouse on Newton street and also at the Band on the Wall in Northern Quarter. There are also some pretty good clubs in the city, Discotheque Royale and 42nd Street to name but two.