Category: Manchester

It’s the Spring equinox today, the sun is directly over the Equator and, here in the UK, we will have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. From now on the days will lengthen as we head to mid summer’s day. Next weekend the clocks go forward and we will have light evenings as well.

So today is the first day of Spring. BBC Radio 4 have been marking the equinox by inserting poems with a spring theme into their regular programmes. I like that I live in a country where they read poems to us. Can’t see it happening anywhere else. The morning news programme, Today, inserted this classic Spring poem by William Wordworth into all the news about Brexit and Trump. A welcome relief.


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth

Being England, the weather didn’t get the memo about it being Spring and it poured down all morning. But by lunchtime the sun had come out. I persuaded my little team at the office that we needed to get out for a while; we could walk and talk and sort a few things out. And we did that. Honestly! But it did give me a chance to take some pictures of all the daffodils that grow in the park that surrounds our offices. They are at their best at the moment. These aren’t the wild ones that Wordsworth would have seen by the lake near his home in the Lake District. They are modern cultivars that we have developed for our gardens but they still look very fine under the bare trees. In a few weeks the leaves will come out and the daffodils will have faded for another year so it’s important to enjoy them when we can. We had a word with one of the gardeners. There are only three of them but they have a huge area of parkland and gardens to keep in good shape. This they do very well.

Here are some pictures I took while ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ this afternoon.

I also spotted some primroses.


As I ended up working most of last weekend I was able to get this Friday off. We caught the tram and went out for lunch. The new tramline runs through Exchange Square so we got off there and went to Wahaca in the Corn Exchange which is one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in the city. I especially like the Hibiscus Peppered Gin and Tonics which I recommend highly. And you won’t be disappointed by the food either. We did some shopping in Harvey Nicks and Selfridges, across the square, and had some tea and cake in Propertea, next door to the cathedral.

It was a wet afternoon and our tram tickets, which I bought on my phone, allowed us the run about in the city centre. This new route is just too convenient on a wet day. Distances I would have walked a couple of weeks ago, I now use the tram for. At one point we did the short hop from Exchange Sqaure to St Peter’s Square to go to the art gallery, then back to Victoria to visit the cathedral.

They were having an exhibition of models of a new statue for Manchester. It will be a focal point of the new St. Peter’s Square, just outside the gallery. Apart from Queen Victoria, Manchester’s statues are, mostly, of dead Victorian male grandees. So, in an effort to redress the balance the new statue will be female. And it’s not just an attempt to be politically correct, it will honour a woman from Manchester who did, arguably, more to further the emancipation of women in the UK than any feminist activist since. It will be of Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who campaigned for and won the right for women to vote on equal terms with men. She is dead but she is a woman so at least she fits one of the criteria. They had a vote a while back as to which woman should be honoured. Emmeline Pankhurst won by a country mile. I voted for her.

We now get to have a say on which statue will be put up. Six models have been made and they are on show in the art gallery. You can vote online or at the exhibit. Here are five of them.

And this is the one we voted for. It shows Emmeline Parkhurst and two other women, possibly her daughters who worked with her, striding out, powerfully linked, with their ‘Votes For Women’ sashes across their chests. It’s a strong confident pose and I think it would look good in the square. Some of the others looked a little precious to be outdoors. This one fits in with the tradition of statues in the city. We voted for it and so did some visitors from America we got talking to. The pose reminds me of the pose in the statue of Boudicca, the ancient British Queen who burned Roman Colchester, London and St Albans after being treated badly by them, and her daughters by Westminster Bridge in London. I was able to do a history lesson.

Boudicca and her daughters statue for comparison. OK, there are no horses or chariots with blades sticking out of the wheels but there are the three women and there is a similar strength in the pose.

We also took in an exhibition of paintings by Manchester artist, Wynford Dewhurst. Born in Manchester he painted in France and, later on, back in England. I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of him. He painted in the Imprssionist style and they are calling him Manchester’s Monet. He did paint some of the same subjects as Monet in the Seine Valley where Monet painted. We liked them. This one, of the English countryside, was my favourite. You can practically smell the dampness of the autumn leaves on the ground and I loved how he got depth into the picture by the use of colour on the trees.

We also went into the cathedral. They are still ‘voicing’ the new organ and we were lucky enough to hear it yesterday. Not that you can hear it in these pictures of course. It sounded fine to me but someone with a trained ear might disagree. The original organ was destroyed in WWII during the Manchester blitz. Its restoration marks one of the final parts in the rebuilding of Manchester after that conflict, 70 years after it finished. We like to think about things in Manchester and get them right. It’s been paid for by an anonymous local doner. A very generous gift, these instruments are not cheap.

Another part of the bomb damage has also just been put right. We also found the new stained glass window, the Hope Window, that has been put in east end of the cathedral. The bombing that destroyed the organ, along with much of the cathedral, also destroyed all the Victorian stained glass. It has taken 70 years to put it all back, the last piece being the Hope Window. All the glass put back in is uncompromisingly modern and, I think, works well. There is 20th century glass in the medieval wing of the church and it looks great. I’ve never seen what the Victorian glass was like; probably like the glass you see in churches and cathedrals across the UK. All very worthy, beautiful but not exceptional. What you see in Manchester Cathedral is very special indeed.


I’d parked the car in Wigsey Lane to take the pictures of the thatcher guy, it’s just off the busy road through the village that gets so clogged with traffic at busy times. Returning to the car I saw a sign pointing to Warburton Old Church. Warburton has two churches, both dedicated to St Werburgh. She was a local Anglo Saxon princess, the daughter of pagan King Penda, who became a nun. Most saints came to a sticky end but St Werburgh just led a blameless life and died as a devout Christian. She’s the patron saint of Chester and the cathedral was dedicated to her. Warburton is thought to be a corruption of the original name of this settlement, Werburghstune, named after the Saint.

There is a Victorian church dedicated to Saint Werburgh on Bent Lane. It’s an attractive building that the locals use for worship usually. It’s a typical grand Victorian church and is Grade II listed. I’m not sure why they decided to move the church to Bent Lane. Usually the Victorians ‘improved’ existing churches, enlarging them and incorporating older buildings into a new building, like they did with Manchester Cathedral.

Maybe the old church site was too awkward or the Victorians actually recognised this special, unique building. It’s now Grade I listed, putting it on a par, architecturally, with St Paul’s Cathedral in London. I’d never seen this church before. It was a revelation, so beautiful and it was good to see it on a spring day at the height of the daffodil season with the peaceful churchyard full of those flowers and the last of the purple crocuses.

There was a Saxon church on the site. That has long gone sadly but this church dates back to the 13th century. At least the back part is with its crooked, half timbered and stone walls. In 1711 the red brick tower and simple façade was added. It’s a ‘dogs dinner’ of a building with its clashing styles, materials and ages but it hangs together so well. I’m intrigued by the little arch in the wall in the third picture following.

This is the gate to the churchyard.

The churchyard was full of ancient yew trees. I’m not an expert but I think these could be over a 1000 years old and could have been there when the Saxon church stood here. Yew trees were useful in the olden days as their wood is strong and bendy and perfect for making long bows, an important weapon in those days. The problem with yew is every part of the tree is poisonous to anything that eats it. You wouldn’t want your animals munching on any of it so it was kept away from the village where farm animals might roam. The only place the farm animals couldn’t get to was the churchyard because it was, usually, the only building in the village with a wall around. So the useful yews would be planted there. 

I got talking to a lady in the churchyard. She had come to visit her mother who had been buried there a few weeks ago at the grand age of 95. She had also come to visit her daughter who had been buried here in 2003 at the far too early age of 21. She told me she had been a poorly child and the doctors said she wouldn’t reach 5, so all the extra years were a bonus. We chatted for a while and decided this was a lovely place to end your days. 

Almost in the extreme south western corner of Greater Manchester, in the affluent borough of Trafford, is the tiny village of Warburton. A few metres further on and it would be in Cheshire. Warburton isn’t one of these picture perfect villages you get deeper into Cheshire. It’s on the back road from Altrincham to Warrington and, in the rush hours, it gets used as a way of avoiding the motorways. Just to the north is the Manchester Ship Canal. You can’t see it from the village but a bridge over it connects the Warrington side to the Altrincham side. It’s narrow and is a ‘pay to cross’ bridge. It has been like that since the canal was built over 100 years ago and, in England we like our history and tradition, and no one has thought to bring it up to date for 21st century traffic. The bridge is owned by the same company that owns the massive Trafford Centre, further along the canal, and it’s touch and go which of those enterprises makes them most money.

Hit Warburton at the wrong time and you will be in traffic chaos. I once got stuck there when one of those huge wagons, using his Satnav to avoid the busy motorways and, not knowing the area, tried to cross Warburton Bridge in the rush hour. He got as far as the toll booth before he realisesd it was futile (bridge way too narrow and would have collapsed into the canal under his weight) by which time he had to back along the narrow lanes with 100s of cars behind him shuffling back to Lymm in one direction and Altrincham in another. It took ages.

No such problems this afternoon though when I decided to take the pretty way home over the bridge, through Warburton and across the Dunham Massey estate. I even had time to stop and take pictures of this cottage. It’s an old one and has a thatched roof. Thatched roofs are, as well as looking attractive, waterproof and a great way to roof a building if you can cope with all the little creatures that move in as the roof ages. A person who fixes these roofs is called a thatcher. Someone in Margaret Thatcher’s family, in the distant past, must have done this. There are sufficient houses in the English countryside for this to be a viable profession. The roofs have to be renewed every 40 or 50 years. And new houses are being built with thatched roofs as thatch is a eco friendly way of roofing a building. 

The thatch on this roof was being replaced. You can see the guy doing it in some of the pictures.

Across the road was the remains of the old village cross. Most villages had one marking the centre of the settlement. The plinth is still there but the cross has gone in the past. In front of it is the old stocks. In the past rough, on the spot, justice was the thing, especially for minor crimes. The miscreant would be put on trial, found guilty and have his/her legs (and possibly arms) fastened into the stocks for a period of time. Apart from the embarrassment, the villagers would have a high old time throwing mud, decaying fruit and vegetables and other noxious substances (use your imagination) at the criminal. Good fun would be had by, almost, all.

Whenever I’m in a hurry and I’m using the tram system I seem to arrive at the station just as the tram is arriving. Miss it and I have to wait another 6 or 12 minutes for the next useful one to arrive. Before getting on you need to have your ticket. I’ve seen people  taken off the tram, details taken, and fined £50+ on the spot for a £3 fare. It happened to a guy who chanced it at Exchange Square this morning. He saw inspectors getting on the tram, got off and walked into more inspectors on the platform. I’ve seen the city police there for backup as well. 

Back to me, who is a good boy. I miss the tram because there’s a queue for the ticket machines, one of the machines is down, I can’t find my card quick enough, I can’t find the cash…. So I’ve decided to download the ‘Get Me There’ app so I can buy tickets on my mobile phone before I even leave home. First you download the app through the tram system’s website and your App Store. You can see it on the following picture. It’s the teal coloured one with ‘my’ on it…

You then have to go through the registering with it and connecting your bank card to it. It took about 10 minutes but, once done, you never have to do it again. And they assure us it is secure and I’ve never heard of anyone having a security problem with it. All that done you click on the app and the NQ hipster guy, with a couple of his buds, appears…

He disappears and this screen appears. You can choose your ticket. A one off from one station to the other, a day ticket, a weekly pass or a monthly season ticket. There may have been other options. Once it’s been OK’d with your bank you get confirmation of your purchase and you’re good to go. Your ticket is on your phone.

If you are asked, like I was this morning at Exchange Square, to produce your ticket, you click in the link and show them this. If your phone is out of power or has a cracked screen you may end up paying that unwelcome £50+ so check your battery life before you leave home. The ticket tells you what the time is and how much time you have left on it…

The time alternates with a word of the day. PEGS was today’s. It tells the inspector that the ticket is valid for today. Presumably they change it daily…

I was really impressed with the system. I arrived at the tram station and stood waiting for the tram watching people search for money, cards, stand in a queue, swear at the machine that wasn’t working while I just boarded the tram. 

In a few weeks we will be voting for Manchester’s first elected Mayor. He/She will be the most powerful, provincial politician heading up an organisation that runs the most important city outside of London. One of the things that they will be doing is bringing all the transport in the city under a single body like they do in London. That done they will extend this system all over the city onto the buses and suburban trains as well and you can travel all over the Greater Manchester area by just waving your phone.

We like the property development company, Allied London. They were the people behind Spinningfields, Manchester’s new, and very successful, business district. They make good plans and they deliver. In spite of their name, a lot of their developments go on in the northern cities of Manchester and Leeds. Spinningfields is almost finished and they are gearing up for their new developments on neighbouring St. John’s and across the city at London Road Fire Station. The city has given permission for two new, almost identical, towers to be built on St. John’s. They are below. Because of the colour of their cladding they are being called the ‘nickel and dime’ towers. They are on another zombie car park between the old Granada Studios campus and the river. They will be full of apartments for rent. Manchester is desperately short of suitable accommodation for people who are moving to the city to work. Both towers will have 36 storeys which takes them over 100m. The glass tower on the left has already been given permission to be built. It will be about the same height as the Hilton Tower, just a shade under the later’s height. All three towers are on underused land where Quay Street crosses the river. It’s a busy route into the city centre and the city has developed a policy of siting statement skyscrapers at such points to get across that Manchester is open for business.

Further along the river, between the Wilburn Basin development and the Water Street Tower are two more zombie car parks by the River Irwell. If you can get your hands on a zombie car park on the edge of city centre Manchester, you’re made these days. Developers circle them like vultures around road kill. These two car parks are crossed by the busy inner ring road, Trinity Way. The area isn’t a place of beauty. They have been branded Trinity Islands and are the next area that Allied London wants to develop. They are planning a vertical village. Three towers, on either side of Trinity Way, will be built out of a podium that will have all the facilities that a village will need; shops, doctors, restaurants, library, school etc. Above will be hundreds of apartments and there will be parks on the rooftops and, if the pictures are to be believed, half way up some of the towers. All the towers will be linked across Trinity Way by bridges so the people won’t have to take their lives into their hands crossing this busy stretch of road. 

The development has gone to the city for planning permission. Given Allied London’s track record in the city and this site’s prominent position where you arrive in the city centre from the M62 and M602 from the west, one imagines that it will get it. They will start building in 2019 and it will be up and running by 2022. Two of the towers will have 29 floors and be 94m tall. A third will be 109m, the fourth will be 128m and the fifth will be 155m. But it is the sixth that we are excited about as it will be 219m (67 floors), 50m taller than the Hilton Tower, currently tallest building in the city and 17m taller than the tallest tower currently being built at Owen Street (202m). The developers of Owen Street, Renaker, and Allied London seem to be having a ‘my willy is bigger than your willy’ competition in Manchester. 

The Hanover Building isn’t so much a building concept, more a wonderful restoration project. The Hanover building is a, very, grand, Edwardian Baroque office building on Corporation Street that you see as you come out of Victoria Station. It must have looked wonderful when it first went up at the beginning of the last century with its huge windows, warm red brick and terracotta tiles. Doubly so as it had a twin that someone thought wasn’t worth keeping so it was demolished. Such a loss. The Hanover Building, now on the co op’s NOMA campus, has suffered a lot over the decades. Some of the huge  windows have been bricked in, the grand entrances ignored in favour of smaller side entrances as the building was changed unsympathetically to meet modern needs. The brick and terracotta has been allowed to deteriorate.

People complain about modern times but I have to say we do appreciate our architectural heritage a lot more than people did in the past. I know we have lost some older buildings in the city recently and there is the threat to the Albert Square area with a very unsympathetic development just off it, but we do, where we can, try to save our older buildings.

The Hanover Building, along with not so grand, but still attractive, Federation House behind it, are being restored. The façades will be returned to their Edwardian grandeur, while the interiors, that have lost most of their period features already, will be remodelled for modern office use. There will be public access and the centre of the building will have one of those glass atriums over the old courtyard for shops, cafés and restaurants. Outside it will be Edwardian grandeur, inside it will be Spinningfield’s 21st century convenience and technology. It was all supposed to be up and running by 2017 but a dramatic fire in the old roof of Federation House that stopped the trams and could be seen for miles, has delayed it until 2018. This is what it will look like in 2018…

Here’s what it looks like now…

Nothing to do with the Hanover Building, but I liked this brilliant picture of the new bridge across the River Irwell on the Ordsall Chord. Thanks to Northern Rail Twitter for this tremendous picture.

Continuing my review of the building projects going on all over the city. This next one is a 37 storey apartment tower on Angel Meadows on the NOMA campus just by the co op’s HQ building. It’s about the same height as the nearby CIS Tower. Angel Meadows sound lovely but used to be one of the worst slums in the Victorian city. Frederick Engels visited the area under the protection of his ‘girlfriend’ who lived here.  The appalling conditions he witnessed here inspired him to write his book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England.’ He was shocked by the differences between the astonishingly rich cotton barons in the city to the poor working people who created the wealth. His book and his chats with Karl Marx in nearby Chetham’s Library inspired the doctrine of Communism. 

Cities change of course and I wonder what the people who lived in Victorian Angel Meadows would make of the people working in the co op HQ and living in luxury in this new tower with its flash apartments, gyms, cinemas and roof top tennis courts. This is what it will look like. I think it looks to be a classy build.

So far they are only as far as ground works. Lots of machines doing interesting things in a big hole with a piling rig putting in the foundations. Manchester is like New York. Hard stone is just below the surface here (sandstone) while Manhattan is built on granite just below the surface, both perfect for building skyscrapers. London, on soft clay, is a difficult city to build tall but they manage at great expense. 

It’s been a big week for the tram system and Manchester generally with the Second City Crossing opening at long last. It links Victoria Station with the new tram station in St. Peter’s Square and goes through Exchange Square, down Corporation and Cross Streets, into Albert Square and then down Princess Street to join the existing line.

The idea is that it will allow more trams to cross the city and, if there’s a breakdown, find a way round the bottleneck in the city centre. It’s allowed the Airport trams to come right into the city centre as well. Unwary foreign visitors have found themselves pushed off the tram in the middle of nowhere surrounded by building sites and scrap yards at Cornbrook wondering ‘Is this Manchester?’ ‘Where the **** have I come?’ Now they arrive in the impressive station at Deansgate/Castlefield, under the shadow of the Hilton Tower. And if they are not staying there, they are a short tram or taxi ride to their appointed hotel.

The Second City Crossing has been an expensive and lengthy project. If it was just about laying tracks it would have been simple but every underground service, not to mention the inhabitants of the Cross Street Chapel cemetery, has had to be moved so if they need to be got at (not the bodies, they are now at rest in the suburbs in Southern Cemetery), they can be without digging the tramlines up again. Back in the early 20th century, the city built a city wide tram system in less time than it took to build the new section across the city centre.

Heres a little tour. You start at St Peter’s Sqaure where the new tram station is now completely open…

You travel along Princess Street with the Town Hall on your left…

This view, with tram, will probably be all over the city’s tourist information soon. Tram and Town Hall…

Along Cross Street…

And by comparison, a picture of the early 20th century system with a double decker tram on Cross Street leaving Albert Square…

Tram passing the old Lloyd’s Bank building…

Cross Street is now closed, in places, to cars so we can appreciate the beautiful buildings that line it…

Past the Royal Exchange Theatre…

Under the glass sky bridge on Corporation Street that links the Arndale Centre to Selfridges and Marks & Spencer’s…

And finally into Exchange Sqaure for the Arndale, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, URBIS and all the restaurants of the Corn Exchange. From here it turns a corner and into Victoria Station…

Just beyond URBIS, on a tiny site between that and Victoria Station is another building project that is starting off. We’ve been waiting for this one for years. As it is, it’s not a wonderful introduction to the city when you arrive at Victoria. People won’t be impressed if the first thing they see is a semi ruined building. It’s going to become a Hotel Indigo. At one end is a decent little building called City Buildings. It’s a historic building because it was the first, purpose built, office building in the city. I suppose before that offices just took space in other buildings. As long as I can remember it’s been in a sorry state of repair but it is a decent building. There used to be a jumble of little buildings behind it but they have long gone. 

The idea was to use the City Buildings as the public rooms and reception for the hotel and build a tower behind it for the bedroom block. This is what it will look like…

It was first mooted years ago but then we waited and waited and waited. We thought it would never happen especially has it had been one of those projects set up after the banking crisis. It’s part of the co op’s NOMA scheme which was the one thing in its favour, they may be slow but they do get things done, eventually. 

However, what seems to have happened is that it’s been delayed while they complete the Second City Crossing of the tram system and the refurbishment of Victoria Station. With all that building going on I suppose the area couldn’t take another building project.

Well at last it’s started. City Buildings are swathed in tarps and stuff is going on behind them and they are putting in the foundations of the bedroom tower. It will be a good addition to this part of town.