Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop Cult City by Dave Haslam tells the story of the city from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. The thing that most jumped out at me was how the places and buildings that we’re familiar with today have gone through so many different uses down the years. Some have changed for the better, others blatantly haven’t.
I moved to Manchester back in 2005 so I’ve seen the city develop a fair bit over the last decade. What surprised me, though, was how little I knew about its rich history.
So, inspired by Dave Haslam’s book (and a bit of my own research), here’s my list of ten Manchester places with an amazing past.
The Gaumont Cinema (Manchester Road, Chorlton)
Then – The Gibb brothers grew up in a small house on Keppel Road in Chorlton.
For a while, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were pupils at Oswald Road Primary School. They also formed a skiffle group, the Rattlesnakes, with a couple of friends.
In the mid-1950s, they were planning to lip sync to a record at the Gaumont Cinema just around the corner. However, in their rush to get to the cinema, their record broke and the brothers were forced to sing live. The audience response was so positive that they decided to stick with the singing. They would later emigrate to Australia and form the Bee Gees.
Now – After extensive remodelling at the front and inside, the Gaumont Cinema has now become the Co-operative Funeralcare.
Hulme Crescents (Stretford Road, Hulme)
Then – In 1972, construction began on the largest public housing scheme in Europe – Hulme Crescents.
A chunk of Stretford Road between Princess Road and Chorlton Road was wiped off the map. In its place, four huge multi-storey blocks capable of housing more than 13,000 residents were built. Each block was crescent-shaped and the architects – convinced they were creating some of the most spectacular buildings ever seen in England – named them after the leading architects behind Georgian Bath and London.
Robert Adam Crescent, Charles Barry Crescent, John Nash Crescent and William Kent Crescent have gone down in history as Manchester’s biggest architectural disasters, although they did become unlikely hubs for artistic, musical and community activities in later years. They were demolished in 1992.
Now – The missing section of Stretford Road was rebuilt and the site is now home to a more traditional mix of housing, shops and green space, including Hulme Park.
BBC Dickenson Road Studios (Dickenson Road, Rusholme)
Then – In January 1964, the first episode of Top of the Pops was recorded.
The original venue for the iconic music show was BBC Dickenson Road Studios, a disused Wesleyan church in Rusholme. In 1954, the BBC bought the building – which had previously been home to independent film studio Mancunian Films – to be its first studio outside London. The early episodes of Top of the Pops were filmed at BBC Dickenson Road Studios because all of the BBC’s other studios were busy. However, the show quickly outgrew Rusholme and relocated to London in 1967.
Now – The studio was closed by the BBC in 1973 and demolished in 1975 so all that now remains of this pioneering venue is a small plaque.
The Hacienda (Whitworth Street West, Manchester city centre)
Then – The Hacienda was the club at the centre of the ‘Madchester’ scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s but it was not always so cool.
Before Factory Records and New Order took over, the building was actually a yacht showroom. Interestingly, although the Hacienda shot to fame as a club in a warehouse in the era of warehouse raves, it was actually intended to be a gig venue. Several bands at the time rehearsed on neighbouring Little Peter Street and the team behind the Hacienda reasoned that these musicians would be more likely to play at a venue close by.
Now – The Hacienda was demolished and rebuilt as trendy flats.
Corn Exchange (Exchange Square, the Millennium Quarter)
Then – The Corn Exchange has come full circle.
Rich merchants and farmers used the Corn & Produce Exchange to trade when it first opened in 1837. But by the time of the Manchester Bomb in 1996, the building was occupied by second-hand stalls and alternative shops, making it much more popular with students and bargain hunters.
Now – After an unsuccessful rebrand as the Triangle shopping centre, the building has thankfully reverted to being called the Corn Exchange once again. It is now being reinvented as a fine dining destination and boutique hotel for the great and the good to be opened in spring 2015.
Cornerhouse (Oxford Road, Manchester city centre)
Then – Manchester has always loved its films.
In 1910, the Kinemacolor Palace opened on the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street West. It was built to meet a surge in demand for motion pictures. By 1913, Manchester had 111 licensed cinemas serving a population of just 714,000 – meaning Manchester had more cinemas per person than anywhere else in Britain.
Now – The Kinemacolor Palace is now the Cornerhouse, the city’s most celebrated arthouse cinema and arts centre (although it’ll be moving to a purpose-built site on First Street in spring 2015).
42nd Street (Bootle Street, Manchester city centre)
Then – Bootle Street has long been an important site for nightlife.
In 1973, George Best and celebrity hairdresser Malcolm Wagner launched a nightclub on Bootle Street by the name of Slack Alice. Best was often to be seen standing outside from 1030pm onwards, picking women (invariably blondes) to jump the queue and join him inside.
Now – The building that once housed Slack Alice is now home to student nightclub 42nd Street.
Afflecks (Church Street, the Northern Quarter)
Then – Afflecks has been synonymous with shopping for 150 years.
The building was developed as a department store for Affleck & Brown, a huge retail company during the 1860s and 1870s. It was particularly known for providing high-quality cloth for dressmakers.
Now – Afflecks, formerly Afflecks Palace, is a hive of alternative counterculture with dozens of independent shops sprawling over several floors
Manchester Arndale (Market Street, Manchester city centre)
Then – The space between Market Street and Shudehill once looked very different.
In the 1960s, the area was home to a maze of back streets and alleyways, gig venues and hip boutiques. They were demolished to make way for the Arndale, which opened in 1975. The shopping centre’s grey, concrete exterior was criticised from the outset and the building was mockingly referred to as the ‘hyper loo’.
Now – Manchester Arndale was heavily damaged by the Manchester Bomb in 1996. The subsequent refurbishment and expansion has focused on introducing brighter colours, higher ceilings and more natural light.
Free Trade Hall (Peter Street, Manchester city centre)
Then – The Free Trade Hall was built by the Anti Corn Law League in 1856 as a base for tax campaigning. In the 20th century, however, it became the unlikely setting for some of rock’s most important gigs.
In 1966, Bob Dylan was heckled by an audience member who cried ‘Judas’ when he started playing an electric guitar. This performance was immortalised by the bootleg LP ‘Bob Dylan Live at the Royal Albert Hall’ (which helpfully got the name of the venue wrong).
And in the summer of 1976, the Sex Pistols played two legendary gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall (a small hall above the Free Trade Hall proper). The gigs were attended by the likes of Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto (the Buzzcocks), Mark E Smith (The Fall), Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook (Joy Division and New Order), Tony Wilson (Factory Records) and Morrissey (the Smiths).
Now – Today, the Free Trade Hall is the swish Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel.