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Across the River Irwell from Spinningfields is the new business area with the old name of New Bailey. Over the next few years the surface car park between the river and the Ancient Egyptian styled railway viaduct is going to be developed into another new business district for the city. 

The current building that is being put up is this one.

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All that is there at the moment is the double cores that have just reached their full height.

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Before the building started, as usual, the archaeologists were sent in. I always like to go and see what they have dug up. Usually, it’s been some of those little working class houses that used to ring the the city centre. Always interesting to see but not exceptional. No Roman villas or Greek temples were ever erected in Manchester sadly.

But we seem to have hit the jackpot on this site. The area is called New Bailey after the New Bailey Prison, a Victorian house of correction that used to exist on this site. By the size of what they have found it must have been quite a substantial, imposing building. But as the city grew in population and so did the criminal fraternity and a new prison was built in the wonderfully named Strangeways area to cope with the demand. That prison, with it’s astonishingly rude chimney, is still in use just north of the Manchester Arena. In fact it’s actually commemorating an infamous anniversary. It’s 25 years ago there was a huge riot in the prison, the authorities lost control of the prison and the inmates spent 25 days on the roof. Fortunately they didn’t get out into the city but by the time order was restored £60,000,000 worth of damage had been done. The prison was rebuilt and renamed Manchester Prison but it’s still known as Strangeways in the city.

But back to New Bailey. This is what they found on the site of the new building. Thanks to the Manchester Evening News for this great picture.

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And here are some old plans of the New Bailey Prison. The new building is going up over the curvy part of the prison.

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At the other end of the prison site is this 1960s office block. Looking at the huge poster on the side of the building, it looks like it’s days are numbered.

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Well, they have actually started the demolition round the back.

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This is what the new building will look like. Hopefully, before the new building goes up, the archaeologists will be able to get in and have a dig around in the other half of the old prison.

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The Manchester Art Gallery is doing an exhibition on the Lost Gardens of Manchester. When the city was a little country town there were gardens in and around the town. The street called Spring Gardens marks the site of an area of green where the town of Manchester got its fresh water supply. The Midland Hotel was built on a plot called Mr Cooper’s Garden, a name that is still remembered in one of the hotel’s wonderful restaurants, Mr Cooper’s House and Garden. There were orchards in rather ugly Shudehill which I’d like to see back. And controversially, Piccadilly Gardens are now regarded as lost as well. They were still there in 2000. Part of the exhibition/installation is on the terrace outside the gallery. It wasn’t quite finished when I took these pictures…

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More of the exhibition was in the foyer…

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I liked the orchids…

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I did actually look at some art. In the atrium between the three buildings that make up the gallery there is this wonderful painting of Albert Square by Adolphe Valette. It’s done in an Impressionist style for which foggy, Victorian Manchester was a perfect model. Valette taught at the Manchester School of Art at All Saint’s and taught Manchester’s most famous artist, L.S. Lowry. 

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Another artist has done this modern photo version of the same picture. She spent hours taking 100s of pictures and then merges the images to make this picture.

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A day off so it was out and about in the Mini. Drove up to Lancashire, north of the city of Manchester (though there are those still about that claim Manchester is still actually IN Lancashire), had some lunch in a nice pub and then it was doing the antiques centres looking for stuff for my exciting project later in the year.

It’s a pretty part of the country, rolling green fields and hills dotted with pretty, and expensive to live in, villages. It a quite a contrast to the city just a few miles away to the south.

Here, we’re looking across the valley of the River Douglas to the village of Parbold and Parbold Hill. After the long winter you can see spring beginning to arrive all over the landscape.

Here are some more pictures of the same area. It was good to be out of the city for a change…

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As the economy strengthens and George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ of Manchester takes shape, building sites are appearing over the city. Across the river from Manchester Cathedral, No 1 and 2 Embankment are taking shape. Tenants are queueing up to get in when the development I’d finished in 2017. Here’s what it will look like…

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This is what the site looked like a few days ago with all kinds of machines working away and activity everywhere….

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Across the railway line from the site the towers of the new Greengate apartment complex are rising fast. The tallest one has just been started and is behind this one rising from the river…

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What I like a lot about Manchester is the heady mix of architecture that sits cheek by jowl in the city centre. Not for Manchester the Georgian perfection of Bath or the medieval delights of York dominated by the great Cathedral. Manchester has everything from bits of Ancient Roman Fort (the Romans founded the city and named it) to 21st century skyscrapers. The two mentioned there are within five minutes walk of each other.

This is a section of Manchester’s commercial core, King Street, where the Victorian cotton barons built some of the city’s most spectacular buildings. The building on the right is Chancery Place, a modern glass addition to the area, built a couple of years back to replace a dull, dour, 1960s block. I love the way it reflects the buildings around it, in this case the white Portland stone backs of Atlas Chambers and Ship Canal House which have stunning facades onto King Street.

And just in the corner is the honey coloured sandstone (local stone of choice in Manchester) of Lombard Chambers. It’s one of my favourite buildings in the city being decorated with wrought iron daisies in rows, looking like the daisies a little child might draw. It was originally a private, Victorian bank but is about to get a new lease of life as a London based restaurant, selling steak and lobster, is fitting it out as yet another new restaurant for the city.

Some more of Chancery Place and the brilliant blue sky we had that day…

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The tower of the Town Hall looms over the surrounding buildings…

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I was in the Fred Aldous art supplies store on Stevenson Square this afternoon picking up a few bits I needed for a big project I’m involved in. I got chatting to these three fabulously dressed girls who were there. So much care had been taken to put their outfits together. I was very impressed. They are dressed like you see some Japanese girls like to dress in Tokyo or Osaka. The style has crossed the planet to Manchester’s N4. They called their look ‘Lolita’ but were anxious to tell me had nothing to do with the infamohus character from the risqué book of that name. I thought there was something of the look of Grayson Perry, the UK’s famous and much admired transvestite potter, as he calls himself. Great outfits and many thanks for allowing me to take the picture. You looked great….

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As a contrast, I spotted these four guys at the Cornbrook tram stop while I was waiting for the tram to Chorlton. Just in case people thought that Manchester was full of fabulously dressed people like the girls above Unfashionable anoraks, uncool backpacks, shapeless trousers, notebook and pen ready to take down numbers, expensive camera with all the bangs and whistles ready to take pictures. These four, well overgrown boys were out having a fun time doing a bit of tram-spotting on the Manchester tram system. As for the look? Not so great….  

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Much of the country stopped work at about 9 30 this morning and buildings were emptied as people went outside to witness the partial eclipse of the sun in the UK. Further north, over the Faroe Islands and the wonderfully named Norwegian island of Svarlbad, it was a total eclipse.

In Manchester we had a 90% eclipse. The sky was clear about 9 but by 9 30 the clouds had rolled in. But we could see the eclipse through the veil of clouds. I kept clicking but most of the pictures were just clouds and a bright patch where the sun was.

But in this one you can just make out the crescent of the sun that remained as the moon covered the rest. It went dark and cold and the birds went quiet. We all know the science behind the phenomenon but it still has the power to impress us, just as it used to impress the ancient people.

The BBC has done a series of its popular ‘Stargazing Live’ from Manchester University’s iconic radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire to the south of the city. It’s fronted by comedian, Dara O’Briain and Manchester University professor, Brian Cox. Guest of honour for the three day event has been Buzz Aldrin no less. He’s in the city while they film the programme which goes out live. He’s still very much involved with space exploration and is linked with plans to go to Mars. Not personally at his age but with the organisation of such a trip. We were slightly disappointed that he flew into the city by commercial jet and hasn’t parked his Saturn 5 rocket in a quiet corner of Manchester Airport.

 

Those of you who have been following Russell T. Davies’ recent series about gay life in Manchester in the early twenty first century, ‘Cucumber, Banana, Tofu’, might recognise this building as the one that housed the amazing, but too cheap and too good to be true, loft apartment inhabited by Freddie and Dean and then Henry.

Russell T. Davies wrote the groundbreaking series about gay life in Manchester at the turn of the Millennium, ‘Queer As Folk.’ At that point Manchester’s Canal Street was up and running as the centre of gay life in the city, well known in Manchester and in the wider gay community in the UK but not much beyond. It concentrated on the difference in age of consent between gay and straight people. The series was a huge success and catapulted Manchester into the first rank of cities known around the world for their gay culture.

The world has moved on, at least in the UK, the age of consent battle was won years ago and now legally based civil partnerships have been introduced, enjoying similar benefits as marriage for the straight community. Henry, in the series, doesn’t have one and nearly loses the house and the money he shared with his deceased partner. And, back in the real world, gay people now have the right to marry in the UK but don’t expect that to happen in your local Roman Catholic Church, orthodox Jewish Synagogue or Mosque any time soon. Some churches have allowed same sex couples to marry though. The attitude of the general public ranges from indifference to why ever not? There have been a few people speaking out against this but they are in the minority. If people disagree they have the sense and decorum to keep their thoughts to themselves mostly.

‘Cucumber, Banana, Tofu’ has been fun to watch mostly. Though there was a murder scene that shocked us to say the least. The series comes in three parts. ‘Cucumber’ was the main part of the story focussing on the relationships of Henry, Freddie and Dean and was on Channel 4. ‘Banana’ took one of the lesser characters from ‘Cucumber’ and developed their story on E4. And ‘Tofu’ was a drama/documentary thread that focussed on the themes of the main story. That had to be accessed on the Internet.

This building, Dale House, was the site of Freddie and Dean’s wonderful loft apartment in the N4. The actual building is on Dale Street in the real N4. As you can see, it’s not been done up yet which was a boon for this programme who could use it and a surprise to the rest of us who thought every half decent industrial building in the city has already been converted and was full of hipsters enjoying their wonderful lives. I’m pretty sure someone will do something about it soon.

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Across the street from it are these two grand Victorian, cotton warehouses that have a already been converted. They are typical of the type of building that was put up in Victorian times. The back of the building is simple and brick while the fronts have these ornate facades to impress people visiting. They are also covered in highly glazed tiles which stood a chance of staying clean in the polluted air of Victorian, industrial Manchester. The rain, for which the city is famous, would wash off the worst of the soot.

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Under these tarpaulins just down Dale Street from the ‘Cucumber, Banana, Tofu’ building is a similar brick built warehouse (no where near as good at shedding soot) which is in the middle of being converted into spacious lofts for affluent hipsters. The population of Manchester is soaring as new businesses set up and attract new people to live in the city. We have a massive shortage of places to live at the moment and it’s having an effect on house prices in the city. People are talking about the ‘Manchester Bubble’ an explosion in house prices similar to what has happened in London. Great if you have a house already but bad if you are trying to buy.

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I love the old fire escapes on these buildings. They have to be kept. They may not be used as a fire escape in the event of a real fire any more but they are part of the city’s heritage and need to be kept. And these fire escapes have given the N4 a certain atmosphere similar to New York and this has attracted movie makers to the area. The recent movie ‘Captain America’ was partially filmed here on Dale Street using these very buildings as a backdrop.

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Round the corner, on Newton Street, another brick built, Victorian warehouse is also being converted into apartments.

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I wanted a tweed jacket but not badly. I was going through an old money Cheshire Set thing and wanted one to wear with jeans on walks in Dunham Massey Park. But I don’t have Cheshire Set old money (or the new for that matter) so I needed to get one on a budget. I headed for the affluent, Golden Triangle town of Wilmslow beloved of WAGS and the Cheshire Wives with their orange perma-tans. I’d heard that the charity shops there were a cut above the others and bargains were to be had. While the Chanel, D&G, Hermes etc. that I’d been promised didn’t materialise, I did manage to find a tweed jacket that I liked and fitted me.

The only problem these shops have for me is the smell. There’s a musty, mothballs smell to them with an unpleasant undertone that I’d rather not think too much about. The jacket smelt of this. By the time I got it home the car smelt of it as well. I sent it to the dry cleaners but when it came back the jacket still had the smell. I left it in the garden hoping the wind would freshen it. It didn’t. I daren’t put it in the wardrobe incase it infected the rest of my clothes. I couldn’t get past the idea that someone had actually died in it so when it came time to donate some clothes to charity, back it went to another charity shop unworn.

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Which brings me to COW. It’s a vintage clothes store on Oldham Street in the former BENCH store on a corner of the old Affleck & Browns department store. It used to be on Piccadilly Gardens in the parade of shops below Exchange Tower. I’d never been in it when it was there. Apart from the M&S food shop on one corner, the rest of the stores didn’t look too appealing.

Maybe the people who run COW thought they were in the wrong place and have moved to the more aspirational N4. A lot of thought has gone into the new store which has the most wonderful light fittings, a thoughtful layout and attractive displays. I couldn’t decide at first if was I in a shop selling vintage, pre loved, or just plain second hand clothes, or was I in some trendy N4 store where the clothes were specially made to have the vintage look. N4 hipsters love the vintage look. Bit of both I suppose. But the big thing about this store is there wasn’t that charity store funk that clings to the clothes. It’s a super store and, if you find yourself in Manchester and looking for something different, it’s a good place to look out.

I loved this light fitting made from old doll’s houses….

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And these bottle lamps in the Oldham Street window spells COW from outside but WOC from inside with the ‘C’ reversed…

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The store is imaginatively laid out like one of the designer stores on New Cathedral Street but with a N4 twist…

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It’s St. Patrick’s Day. From being the patron saint of Ireland, the day is important in places across the globe wherever there are Irish communities. And in a lot of places where the Irish have never set foot. Tonight, buildings across the planet like the Coliseum in Rome, Sacre Coeur in Paris, are going to be lit up in emerald green to commemorate the day. In Manchester the Town Hall will be lit in green as well. I think, with all the turrets and towers and the gothic gargoyles and the like, it looks like the Emerald City in Oz.

Manchester has a big Irish community and a huge number of people who can trace their roots to Ireland. Me for one. The Irish came here looking for work. They built the canals and railways, built the huge commercial and civic buildings of Victorian Manchester. Having come over for work, we have settled here. Most of the time we blend into the population but at this time of year we are out there bedecked in orange, white and emerald green.

St. Ann’s Square had a little funfair while Albert Square was party central on Sunday after the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. After Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most celebrated events on the calendar.

Some pictures of Manchester…

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