I’ve been living in Manchester for just under a year; Lancashire before that and Edinburgh before that. Out of them all, Glasgow still feels the most like home – every time I come back, it’s like the warmth of slipping on a favourite jumper on a cold day. Seeing photos of the city always strikes a pang of nostalgia in my heart.
For the last few months, I’ve been following the blog Walking Talking. My favourite segment is that series Streets of Glasgow, described by its author Kev as a “psychogeographic project”, featuring his walks along the streets of my home city. Each post is a delight to read, and, as well as highlighting familiar sites, also reminds me that there’s still so much of the city for me to explore. The same could also be said for Manchester, whose streets I have barely scratched the surface of.
The city has adopted the image of the worker bee as its symbol – you can find it emblazoned on buses and litter bins and even the people. This harkens back to the days of the industrial revolution, but still serves as an apt metaphor for the energy and bustle of the city and its occupants. More poignantly, in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombings in 2017, the bee became an icon of Mancunian resilience and hope.
A wonderful quirk of Manchester (and indeed, most other former industrial powerhouse cities) is the juxtaposition of Victorian and Georgian architecture with modern edifices of steel and glass. Oxford Road exemplifies this perfectly. I’ve taken it as a route into the city centre numerous times, but this was my first opportunity to adopt the role of flâneur (albeit one garbed in an oversized jumper and raincoat, rather than top hat and cane). A chance to observe and absorb…
I started my walk at what I would term “the bottom end” of Oxford Road, before it turns into the mammoth concourse that is Wilmslow Road and the start of the so-called Curry Mile. Whitworth Park is a large public park, which also houses the Whitworth Art Gallery. My visit was on a bleak February afternoon, which doesn’t convey how lively and lush the park can be in spring through to autumn. It is also the only place where I’ve encountered so-called fairy rings in real life.
Whitworth Park, Oxford Road.
The Whitworth Art Gallery
Across the road is the Old St Mary’s Hospital building, and what remains of the original buildings of Manchester Royal Infirmary. There has been a hospital on this site since the 18th century. As with many pre-20th century hospitals which have remained on their original grounds, it’s evolved into a medley of distinct architectural styles from different eras – featureless concrete tower blocks juxtaposed with Victorian architecture and buildings of coloured glass.
Tucked in amongst the assortment of glass and bricks of variable eras, there’s the hidden historical gem of the Pankhurst Centre. This was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst, and host to the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union. It now functions as a museum, run by a team of volunteers. How many other hospitals can claim to have a piece of British social history tucked in amongst education centres and out-patient clinics?
The Church of the Holy Name, Oxford Road.
Oxford Road is also home to three institutions of higher education: the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Royal Northern College of Music. Most afternoons, the street is teeming with students rushing to and from lectures. On the day I took my promenade, there were several banners outside the student union, in preparation for a Reclaim the Night march. Manchester has a long tradition of activism and socialism, from the hustings on St Peter’s Fields in August 1819 which tragically turned into a brutal authoritarian clampdown on the starving protestors; to the Suffragettes and the Women’s Social and Political Union; and this continues to this day in the form of student political action.
I took a detour through the archway of what I understand was once Owen’s College, an institution which later evolved into the modern University of Manchester. This building’s quadrangle was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect responsible for the design of Manchester Town Hall, and the Natural History Museum, London. It also became the home of the Manchester Museum. Please don’t ask me to give an unbiased opinion of the museum, because I can’t – it’s a beautifully eclectic mix of Egyptology (complete with mummified remains, human and animal alike); Oceanic culture; and (my personal favourite) the Vivarium, home to hundreds of tropical frogs covering dozens of esoteric and endangered species. The whole place reminds me very much of the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.
The former Grosvenor Picture Palace – now a student bar
I’ve touched already on my odd fixation with old hospital buildings, and now seems like a suitable time for confession – I also love old cinemas too. Sadly many have fallen into disrepair or, in the case of listed buildings like the former Grosvenor Picture Palace, been repurposed as restaurants and pubs. Manchester is sprinkled with old churches, offices and others which have been adapted for new means. The former Refuge Assurance Building has also been converted into the Principal Hotel. This building actually lay unoccupied for nearly a decade in the early nineties after the company abandoned with premises in 1987. Whilst this may be regarded as a slight against such architectural beauty, these empty years were also during a homelessness epidemic in England and Manchester.
The buildings of Oxford Road are an eruption of colour; from red brick and terracotta, to sandstone, to white faience and back again. So many times I’ve journeyed down it, on foot or by bus on my daily commute. How many times do we truly appreciate the city in which we live; how often do we drink in its splendours, as opposed to just rushing around our lives?
I want to thank Kev for introducing this idea to me – I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to simply stroll and drink in familiar sites through fresh eyes.
- Walking Talking: The Streets of Glasgow
- The meaning behind the Manchester bee symbol: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/manchester-bee-symbol-meaning-tattoo-11793163
- Whitworth Art Gallery: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/
- Manchester Museum: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/