At the heart of St Ann’s Square stands the only surviving 18th century church in the city (celebrating 300 years in 2012) and the second oldest in Manchester, 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.
And the church has a secret hiding in its safe.
The church was built in 1712 as part of a redevelopment of the area and is said to be designed by Christopher Wren, or one of his pupils, and was later restored by Alfred Waterhouse. At the time of erection the tower, though not seemingly large today, was visible all across Manchester - at which time was a small market town.
One of the windows of the church is dedicated to the memory of Hilda Collens who founded the Northern School of Music (part of today’s Royal Northern College of Music).
Thomas De Quincey, born just around the corner on Cross Street, was baptised at the church and you can see the gravestones of his immediate family right outside. De Quincy wrote what is thought to be the very first book about drug addiction; Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and indeed he had quite the addictive personality - taking his opium dissolved in alcohol and stating “I am bound to confess that I have indulged in it to an excess, not yet recorded of any other man”. Addiction literature was born.
During the air raids of the Second World War churches would often fall victim to the blasts, yet St Ann’s seemed to be lucky enough not to be targeted. Or at least that seemed to be the case until 1960, because St Ann’s has a secret and that secret is hiding in its safe.
In 1960, during repair works to the church, an unexploded bomb was found on the roof and since then the bomb has been locked away in a safe in the church.
Whilst I was in the church an elderly man named Ronnie came over to talk to me about the bomb, he remembered in the 70s when Cannon Morgan was on loan to St Ann’s from the cathedral. Ronnie alluded to a playful rivalry between the cathedral and St Ann’s and he’d asked Cannon Morgan what he thought of the bomb landing but not detonating: “do you think it’s because we’re such good anglicans here at St Ann’s?” to which the cannon replied: "perhaps, or alternatively it’s because the devil knows his own".
St Ann’s was once again lucky to escape further bomb damage, during the 1996 IRA bomb the upstairs windows were blown in on both sides of the church. The quite lovely stained glass windows were not damaged.
When I set out to see the bomb today my roll of film became, quite coincidentally, something of a triptych of bomb scenes.
I left St Ann’s and decided to head over to Hilton House on Dale Street
My latest article for the wonderful Now Then - the layout and naming convention of streets. Featuring a housing estate in Chorlton and a series of American grid-style streets in Trafford Park…
There’s a long-vacated wine shop in Chorlton, the exterior of which is flanked by two huge bay windows and the blue frames are that kind of salt-eroded, windswept pastel found only on British waterfronts and in polaroids. Traversing the suburban landscape that surrounds the wine shop the houses begin to take on the same seaside form, it’s subtle and difficult to pinpoint the exact similarities but they’re definitely there and that’s when you notice the street signs: Fairhaven, St Annes, Lytham, Cleveleys, and it’s quite serendipitous but there’s long winding road that wraps around this estate and it goes by the name of Sandy Lane - a tarmac beach. Were these houses designed to mirror the architecture of our seaside resorts or have the streets, like dogs that resemble their owners, taken on the characteristics of the towns they’re named after?
Le Corbusier famously outlined his plans for a new Paris in his manifesto The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning. The streets that had grown from the paths of least resistance, those traced by meandering pack-donkeys during medieval times, were not efficient for modern man. To Le Corbusier the city was a mechanism and neither character nor exploration were necessary components of his well-oiled machine. The streets in his vision were laid out in meticulous order, exact geometry that suited and served the way of man, and not the way of the donkey. Manchester, like much of the UK, is part man and a whole lot of donkey. But not entirely. Some of the order found within the grid layout of new transatlantic cities, their blocks and their numerical naming convention, made it to Manchester.
The water tower of the Westinghouse factory, Trafford Village. Image care of Metropolitan Vickers
In 1886 American owned Westinghouse Electrical Company built besides the Bridgewater Canal on what had been meadows up until the completion of the Manchester Ship Canal. Westinghouse pulled out all the stops to have his enormous factory built in record time along with a model village for his workers. He based his Trafford Park Village on the regimented blocks of America and provided four avenues and twelve streets of housing, small businesses and community centres. Today the streets have been altered somewhat but this grid layout still exists to some degree
On John Street in the Northern Quarter, and around the corner on Tib Street, you may have spotted these ornamental birds and their neighbouring ceramic parrots. There’s no shortage of street art to be found in this area yet it’s surprising how few people know the motivation behind each installment.
As Manchester moved into the Victorian Era this particular area transformed from a poorly maintained, muddy lane that was characterised by poverty to a much more amiable community. The cotton trade had brought some riches to the area and the radical, publisher and eventual major of Manchester, Abel Heywood, had brought education and free speech. The residents of Tib Street began to shape the trading community and, once where pigs roamed the lanes raiding side streets for discarded offal, there stood a thriving hub of enterprise. In true Victorian fashion, the shops pulled a crowd because they provided entertainment for the consumer and the speciality of Tib Street became a form of natural history.
Almost every shop featured live animals on display inside the window or tethered outside in the street and often the shops would remain open well into the night pulling a larger crowd still as food prices dropped as the clocks approached midnight. At one point it’s believed that almost 20,000 people descended on the area in a single evening to take in the sights and pick up a bargain.
Thanks to Sam Newiss for the image.
This old building on Thomas Street, sometimes known as the Binks Building, is on one of the busiest corners of Manchester when it comes to nightlife. The current tenant is Odd Bar and the neighbours are a collection of bars, restaurants, secret cocktail lounges and traditional boozers. But as well as all this the area is steeped in history, art and culture and the view from Binks Building is one of the loveliest in all of Manchester; the walls and gates of Speakman, Son & Hickson’s Wholesale Fish Market.
The market entrance is, for want of a better word, entrancing but look up just a little and you might be surprised to find this pottery pineapple settled on the highest ledge of the Binks Building. The exotic finial perches on the crow-stepped gables and it isn’t as rare as you might imagine to find this particular fruit incorporated into the design of a building. In terms of carvings and architectural adornment, the pineapple, was most prevalent from around the mid 1700s to the back end of the 1800s (until the influence of Egypt and Greece set in).
How did I miss this? I mean, I walk around town often enough and like to think I know Manchester quite well. I am always on the lookout for the Space Invaders that are hidden about town so I do routinely cast my eyes vertically yet I’ve come to realise that I rarely bother to look up beyond the height of say, a first floor window.
The twelve metre high tower that straddles the NCP car park is Big Boys Toy by Peter Freeman. Originally installed as part of the Northern Quarter Street Festival in 1998, Freeman wanted to reflect the vibrancy of this regenerated part of town and so the piece on Tib Street transforms into a brilliant neon beacon when night falls.