Posts tagged Manchester

Wondrous Place very kindly asked a few of this year’s curators back for a quick Christmas special. Each of us had a creative challenge; mine was "You’re a fugitive in your home city - you’ve got 20 minutes to hide. Where do you go…?"
I’m sure that among the collection of complicated minds that are my fellow Wondrous Place curators, I’m not alone when I confess that large chunks of my time are taken up by re-imagining my life as a story. My train of thought that was brought into the world with the sole purpose of deciding which crisps to buy eventually becomes a detective story – it takes only a minute or two for my thoughts to wind up here in my internal mystery, this imaginary film that my life becomes functions like a screensaver for my brain when its attention to the mundane has timed out.
Sometimes detective, other times fugitive, the scenario is still the same but what of the setting? Where in Manchester does my story pan out? Is it in the hidden rooms of an Oxford Road hotel where I chase my leads, or is it along the tow paths of the Rochdale Canal where it becomes lonely and its most ugly that I encounter my assailant?Today I am a fugitive and I have twenty minutes to find a hide out, and I already know where to go. I start out on the canal, in those parts of it between the cafe culture of Canal Street and the yuppy culture of Castlefield; the parts where only three things decide to settle – crisp packets, used condoms and the burly blue heron that sits one-legged on the corner of Deansgate, the gatekeeper of the detritus. There’s nowhere to hide here.
Where I go is a limbo; a wasteland; an island. My island can be reached within minutes from here.
I leave the canal, cross a small car park and head for the hole in the iron fence. What surrounds me is a strip of railway arches. Some retain a sort of privacy with the remnants of old facades, and in the gloom of these particular arches I am cold to the bone, but the pathway linking each new geometric arc of brick and vanquished industry is lined with thick grass – greener than anywhere else in the city, a miniature meadowland. And finding the guts to walk further into the belly of the railway line, I find myself in brightly decorated caverns whose curved ceilings are pierced with angular reveals of sunlight.

There’s a unicorn down here, no, really. It’s bright pink, and if he’s gone unnoticed for so long then I’m sure that I will too. Beyond him, his graffitied form, there’s a curtain of blue and green – sky and grass, a gateway to the water and to an open stretch of land that is the island itself.

A pathway, broken up by weeds looking like the destroyed yellow brick road, leads along the water away from the city. I know where it leads to, but it’s more than my life’s worth to tell you…


You can also read my answer over on their site, along with my previous posts and those of all the other curators of the project - it’s well worth a browse! Remember to look out for some more familiar names coming up as curators in the new year.

Wondrous Place very kindly asked a few of this year’s curators back for a quick Christmas special. Each of us had a creative challenge; mine was "You’re a fugitive in your home city - you’ve got 20 minutes to hide. Where do you go…?"

I’m sure that among the collection of complicated minds that are my fellow Wondrous Place curators, I’m not alone when I confess that large chunks of my time are taken up by re-imagining my life as a story. My train of thought that was brought into the world with the sole purpose of deciding which crisps to buy eventually becomes a detective story – it takes only a minute or two for my thoughts to wind up here in my internal mystery, this imaginary film that my life becomes functions like a screensaver for my brain when its attention to the mundane has timed out.image

Sometimes detective, other times fugitive, the scenario is still the same but what of the setting? Where in Manchester does my story pan out? Is it in the hidden rooms of an Oxford Road hotel where I chase my leads, or is it along the tow paths of the Rochdale Canal where it becomes lonely and its most ugly that I encounter my assailant?imageToday I am a fugitive and I have twenty minutes to find a hide out, and I already know where to go. I start out on the canal, in those parts of it between the cafe culture of Canal Street and the yuppy culture of Castlefield; the parts where only three things decide to settle – crisp packets, used condoms and the burly blue heron that sits one-legged on the corner of Deansgate, the gatekeeper of the detritus. There’s nowhere to hide here.image

Where I go is a limbo; a wasteland; an island. My island can be reached within minutes from here.

I leave the canal, cross a small car park and head for the hole in the iron fence. What surrounds me is a strip of railway arches. Some retain a sort of privacy with the remnants of old facades, and in the gloom of these particular arches I am cold to the bone, but the pathway linking each new geometric arc of brick and vanquished industry is lined with thick grass – greener than anywhere else in the city, a miniature meadowland. And finding the guts to walk further into the belly of the railway line, I find myself in brightly decorated caverns whose curved ceilings are pierced with angular reveals of sunlight.

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There’s a unicorn down here, no, really. It’s bright pink, and if he’s gone unnoticed for so long then I’m sure that I will too. Beyond him, his graffitied form, there’s a curtain of blue and green – sky and grass, a gateway to the water and to an open stretch of land that is the island itself.

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A pathway, broken up by weeds looking like the destroyed yellow brick road, leads along the water away from the city. I know where it leads to, but it’s more than my life’s worth to tell you…

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You can also read my answer over on their site, along with my previous posts and those of all the other curators of the project - it’s well worth a browse! Remember to look out for some more familiar names coming up as curators in the new year.

My second piece for Twenty Two - the little-known permanent Eadweard Muybridge exhibition in Manchester.

Minut Men

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The totems of Salford University’s Allerton Building, and other works by William Mitchell.

"I don’t give a hoot if you don’t like them, just as long as you look at them"

Whilst on The Crescent in Salford, continue towards Salford University’s Allerton Building and there you will find the striking Minut Men by William Mitchell.

Perhaps the first critique of this concrete trio was by Prince Philip, in 1967 when he opened what was then the Technical College, and exclaimed ‘What the hell is that?”. 

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Mancograph

Return of the Mancograph - Version 2 now available…

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I suspect that many of Skyliner’s readers will also be familiar with the architectural sage that is Eddy Rhead. Eddy is on my dream line-up in my imaginary quiz team, admittedly the quiz that we’re playing is Strike It Lucky but my imagination is too full up with concrete and Portland stone to make room for anything more taxing.

Eddy’s latest venture is the beautiful Mancograph, we previously gave away a print of Mancograph V1 and now the second version is available to buy - but it’s of very limited stock so grab one quickly.

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Read the article I wrote for Now Then issue 2 about the Kardomah Cafes of Manchester. The full (and quite beautiful) version of the magazine can be read by clicking the image above, or read the article below.

Kardomah Manchester

Cafe Cultured

Upon arriving in Manchester during the 1950s to work for The Guardian, novelist Michael Frayn asked where in the city one could expect to find the artists’ quarter - he was answered with a peel of laughter. But proof that there was indeed a haven for artists’ back then can be found at the Venetian Gothic Memorial Hall on Albert Square. The layers of paint that had obscured it for years have now all but vanished and in the doorway of this listed building you can clearly see a sign for one of the Manchester branches of the Kardomah Café.

The Kardomah Cafés originated in Edwardian times and garnered a reputation amongst the bohemian as the place to be seen. In fact, it was so popular a place that the Welsh branch of Kardomah became the meeting point for Dylan Thomas and the eponymous ’Kardomah Gang’; a gathering of painters, writers, artists and musicians who met regularly in the Swansea café.

Opening from around 1929 onwards, our own little Lost Generation could be found here for it was in one of the Manchester Kardomah’s that William Turner and L S Lowry would meet to famously not talk about Lowry’s work. It’s was at the Piccadilly Gardens branch of the chain (later a Lyon’s) that Lowry, in 1957, opened a letter from a 13 year old girl asking him for artistic advice. Lowry looked up from the page only to see a bus heading to the same town as noted in the letter, he boarded the bus and paid her a visit. The unlikely pair struck up an avuncular relationship and the girl, herself named Lowry, became the eventual heir to his estate.

There were at least three of these cafes in Manchester with one at St Anne’s Square that had a large Arabic following, Albert Square, and a final one at Piccadilly Gardens that was architecturally ornate and Moorish in style.

The cafés welcomed those who perhaps did not feel welcome elsewhere, be that down to sex, religion or ethnicity. Over the years the cafes kept up with the times and by the 1960s, just prior to their demise, they were the haunts of many young Mods.

During the peak of their popularity the cafés were always busy but we’re treated with more of a grandeur than we grant coffee shops today; they were a night out for many customers and so they would dress in best hats and gloves and sit around waiting to be seen as they ate herring roe on toast and listened to live jazz.

Kardomah Manchester

The plush interiors of the London and Manchester branches were the work of Sir Misha Black, who is perhaps more well known for designing the City of Westminster street signs, the 1978 London Transport moquette (those iconic geometric orange and black seat covers) and co-founding the Design Research Unit (a consultancy specialising in architecture, industrial design and graphics).

The Kardomah chain was founded in Liverpool and predominantly based in the UK but a handful made their way to Paris, Sydney and even a fictional Kardomah can be seen in Brief Encounter as the location of the lovers’ tryst.

After the Kardomahs were closed and Manchester began to welcome and celebrate urban street culture, these dark cafes of yesterday were forgotten as Manchester pointed an ashamed finger at itself as a city that was living behind closed doors.  The city council focussed upon investing in public spaces and encouraging urban culture and street life in line with the councils arts and culture strategy. Couple this with the eventual smoking ban and Manchester became a city living very much outdoors, but Kardomah’s ghost is still here and it’s pointing out the glaringly obvious oversights in our ‘cafe culture’, in our reluctance to utilise the three most obvious urban spaces for cafe life in the city (besides that wonderful street level car park on Aytoun Street) - and of course, they are the three sites of Kardomah itself; Albert Square, St Ann’s Square, and Piccadilly Gardens.

Before cafe culture Kardomah already had the locations nailed.

These were beat clubs before beat. Coffee shops before Starbucks. Cafe culture before Canal Street.

Now Then Manchester

Cromford Court

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The Arndale Centre’s lofty lookout

Recent news that Zhuzhou, China had built villas on the roof of a shopping mall sparked excitement across the world with the concept being labelled as the future of urban planning, however, this future had already been realised, in 1981, on top of Manchester’s Arndale Centre.

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The Arndale Centre from above, circa 1980

Cromford Court, known to tenants as ‘the podium’, was a housing association venture by Manchester City Council. In all there were 60 flats on the rooftops of the Arndale Centre

Chapel Street, Salford

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Photos by Jennifer Brookes. 

To celebrate Lowry’s 125th birthday; an article about the Chapel Street area of Salford originally published in May 2012 as the introduction piece for Skyliner From the Other City, an alternative venue guide for annual music festival Sounds From the Other City.

Despite the obvious dereliction, beneath the surface Chapel Street is bustling. What it lacks in most everything you’d except from a city’s main throughfare, it makes up for with the vibrancy of its residents and visitors. On the face of things the street is barren but for the bricked up pubs and a constant stream of traffic; always passing through, and never stopping.

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During the late 50s, to make way for redevelopment of the area, the facades of the independent businesses that stood here were saved and preserved as a sort of toy town. Named Lark Hill Place this ghost street

The first issue of the lovely Twenty Two magazine, for which I am a contributor.

My feature all about art out on the streets of Manchester can be found on page fifteen.

A Wondrous Place

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Last week I was asked to curate the Northern Spirit theatre company’s new project A Wondrous Place. The project is a collaborative piece from some of the best writers in the north of England and I am over the moon to have been chosen to be part of that. In the build up to a new show by Northern Spirit a collective of writers, whose own blogs and projects are fundamentally based upon a love for where they live, have come together to celebrate the north.

My week followed in the footsteps of many wonderful writers, some of whom I already followed with interest, including Natalie Bradbury of The Shrieking Violet and Dan Feeney of In a Town So Small. 

The theme for my week was Cottonopolis: A Skyline Reimagined, a journey through the skyline of Manchester with architect Joseph Sunlight as head of the city’s planning department. I cover proposals that the city denied and buildings we demolished, but with Sunlight at the helm approving these visions and denying demolitions. It’s a fictional account of actual plans and buildings and it’s Manchester as Cottonopolis - a Chicago-inspired, noir novel of a city. 

The Albert Hall & Aston Institute

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Inside the Albert Hall, Manchester. A site visit, September 2012.

Photos by Andrew Brooks

The Albert Hall and Aston Institute, built in 1910 by W J Morley, was home to the Manchester and Salford Wesleyan Mission, though today it stands empty awaiting renovation.

The ground floor was occupied as Brannigan’s bar for several years and many people have passed through these doors but did they realise just how ornate the building is, did they know about the organ one floor above that’s big enough for a dozen people to climb inside?

Skyliner_Albert Hall Manchester_Andrew Brooks Photography

Skyliner_Albert Hall Manchester_Andrew Brooks Photography

Skyliner_Albert Hall Manchester_Andrew Brooks Photography

The building is vast, spread over four huge floors with the basement

The Ghosts of Stretford Mall

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Photos by Shirley Bainbridge

Stretford Arndale was renamed Stretford Mall in 2003 and modernised throughout, only it looks as though they missed a spot… 

Set within Stretford Mall is the market square, still gloriously sixties in appearance though sadly dying in trade. But there’s more than just these units who are struggling on despite everything; there’s a mezzanine level that houses something of a time warp. 

It was whilst stood admiring the textured frieze surrounding the market, a leftover of the 1969 decor that once covered the entire centre, that the mezzanine level above became apparent. It was like staring through a tear in the fabric of time; it wasn’t altered, it wasn’t hidden yet it wasn’t paid attention to either. Totally isolated and hidden in plain sight. 

The Ghosts of Stretford Mall_Manchester_Skyliner_Shirley Bainbridge

Looking at an archive image of that old interior still present here in the square there’s that tinge of glamour, the same tinge evident when looking back at Manchester airport when the departure lounge was framed by enormous Italian chandeliers (these chandeliers are now in various homes: one at

A guide to the venues of Sounds From the Other City 2012, featuring tales from a Chapel Street crypt, a time capsule, the smallest listed building in Salford, William Mitchell’s Minut Men and a very special wall!Photography by Jennifer Brookes 
Jennifer used lemon juice to partially destroy the film before developing.
Please click the image to read the brochure in full screen

A guide to the venues of Sounds From the Other City 2012, featuring tales from a Chapel Street crypt, a time capsule, the smallest listed building in Salford, William Mitchell’s Minut Men and a very special wall!

Photography by Jennifer Brookes 

Jennifer used lemon juice to partially destroy the film before developing.

Please click the image to read the brochure in full screen

Boardman’s Entry, and other alleyways

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.

St Anns Church_Manchester_Skyliner_Hayley Flynn

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.

Beneath Trafford Town Hall

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with photos by Andrew Brooks

If you’d ever looked closely enough at the shrubbery around Talbot Road you may just have uncovered an emergency entrance to Trafford Town Hall’s cold war bunker.

The entrance, pictured above, led to a series of rooms and passageways with concrete walls and steel doors but is now just an open space devoid of any fixtures or fittings and, at the time of our visit, flooded.

Beneath Trafford Town Hall_Manchester_Skyliner_Andrew Brooks

In November 1980, Manchester City council declared the city a nuclear free zone, and when this bunker was proposed a few years later, despite Trafford itself not being part of the zone, the anti-war feeling amongst the community led to opposition from the residents of Trafford borough.

Hulme Hippodrome

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With photos by Andrew Brooks

Although you’d never know it from the rather dowdy, reclad exterior, inside this Hulme building you can time travel.

On October 10th 1901, exactly 110 years prior to our visit, the Hulme Hippodrome as it is now known opened its doors as a spectacular melodrama venue.

Hulme Hippodrome_Manchester_Skyliner_Andrew Brooks

Originally named the Grand Junction Theatre and Floral Hall (which explains the neighbouring pub; the Junction Hotel, which has an unexplained missing third floor as illustrated in the video below),


If you’re a photographer or curator and would like to collaborate on a piece; if you're interested in booking me as an alternative tour guide; or if you’re neither of those things and are simply curious about places I’ve been to and would like to know more, then why not ask me a question; drop me a line; say hello…

I can also provide help with location scouting throughout Greater Manchester
You can email me if you'd prefer theskyliner.org@gmail.com