For a short stretch of the city centre it’s possible to bypass the crowds and the traffic and to walk across several pedestrian areas and finally down a series of alleyways. In fact you can walk almost traffic-free from Victoria station all the way to Lloyd Street, and in doing so you might spot some rather unusual artwork.
To walk this route you begin at Cathedral Gardens, down Cathedral Street and New Cathedral Street then cut through St Ann’s Square. At the heart of St Ann’s Square stands the only surviving 18th century church in the city (celebrating 300 years in 2012), the tower of which is said to mark the geographical centre of the old city and the surveyor’s benchmark can be seen carved into the stone by the tower door.
The connecting road from the church to Deansgate was once known as Toll Lane as this is where the lord of the manor would collect tolls for the animals on their way to fair after they had gathered here and been pelted with acorns by the locals!
From the back of the church the route through the city continues in a relatively straight line from here. First you cut through St Ann’s Passage, built as a temporary home for the Corn Exchange and then you meet with King Street. In 1976 King Street became the first city centre street to be pedestrianised and it’s here that you find yourself opposite Boardman’s Entry.
This entryway and the subsequent two - Dalton Entry and Mulberry Passage, which straddle John Dalton Street, are adorned with public art. Boardman’s Entry is a short passage lined overhead with sculptural metal umbrellas - this, although not an obvious tribute, is a nod to John Dalton. Although Dalton, ‘the father of science’, is best known for devising the atomic theory he also kept daily weather records of Manchester for fifty years. Perhaps the art is in tribute to these meteorological records, or perhaps it’s down to him never being without an umbrella. According to an article in The Leisure Hour by Miller, Macaulay and Stevens, at fifteen years old Dalton bought an umbrella from a shop in his hometown of Cockermouth and at that moment saw this as a symbol of his “becoming a gentleman”.
If you want to see the man himself there’s statue in the Town Hall entrance. Possibly the only scientist to have a statue made in their own lifetime; Dalton sat for the statue (carved by Francis Chantrey) and was the most internationally famous Mancunian at the time. Moved from its original home of the Manchester Institution, it now sits opposite a statue of his most famous pupil; James Prescott Joule.
A much larger version of this statue was made as further tribute to Dalton and sat in Piccadilly Gardens on the site of the infirmary, but this was moved in the 1960s to the John Dalton College building on Oxford Road.
John Dalton was colour blind, and had a theory that the fluid in the eyes was responsible for the condition. He left his eyes to science so that this theory could be explored. I hear from people claiming to have seen them that the eyes are kept at MOSI until this day.
Dalton was our city’s first celebrated man and one who transformed Manchester into the city of science it is to this day.
photo by Sam Newiss
Continuing on from Boardman’s Entry is Dalton Entry and Mulberry Passage which both feature more traditional tributes to the scientist with chemical apparatus in the decorative roundels and though not obvious at first, if you walk towards Dalton Entry here is where you’ll find a plaque explaining the works.
"The designs for these alleys are inspired by the work of the famous Manchester scientist John Dalton (1766-1844)
Commissioned by Manchester City Council 1988.
Artist Partnership Art Ltd.
Partnership: T Eaton J Waygood J Parkinson
Bronzes: A Buckingham
Metalwork: M Dennis”
From here you can cut across Brazennose Street through another passage that brings you out on Lloyd Street. You can actually continue on a few streets further in this manner by cutting through a series of pubs and car parks.
photo by Mike Rampton
If you retraced your steps back towards St Ann’s Square there’s one more passageway that’s full of history and worth a detour over Cross Street to discover. That’s Back Pool Street. This meandering alley leads off Cross Street to Chapel Walks (Sam’s Chop House is on the corner of these) and to walk through it feels like going back in time. The winding nature of the passageway is a legacy of Manchester’s agricultural past; apparently it traces the old boundaries of Plungeon Meadow (now Cross Street Chapel) and for some reason has remained unaltered in its route since at least the 16th century. Radcliffe Hall which once stood here was the location of Manchester’s original ducking stool
"…for the punyshment of lewde women and scoldes…”
The stool fell into disuse and in 1619 was relocated to Piccadilly Gardens.
The rambling route of this back alley is such that it really does take you back in time to the days before town planners, and to the way of the pack-donkey. It’s also said to be frequented by the devil - so watch out for hoof prints!
(Radcliffe Hall pictured in a 1650 map of Manchester. Acresfield is the area of Cross Street and St Anns Square)