By Renée S. Gordon
“Manchester is the place where people do things. Don’t talk about what you are going to do.
Do it! That is the Manchester habit.”
–Edward Parry 1912
Manchester is one of Europe’s greatest undiscovered destinations. The city is so filled with wonderful things to do and to see and to learn that it should indeed be considered a “magical” place to visit. It’s impossible to exhaust its possibilities in one trip so I highly recommend that you visit more than once and have a plan, no matter how loose, so that you make the best use of your time. Another wonderful thing about Manchester is that it offers a multitude of evening activities so the magic extends far into the night. www.visitmanchester.com
World changing history happened here and because Manchester has so many sites and attractions we’ll be “experiencing” the city thematically and, as always, with an emphasis on its history. The city is comprised of nine distinct neighborhoods and ten districts and we will be visiting several of the districts. Manchester City Centre, where the vast majority of the sites I’ll talk about in part one are, are all within walking distance of each other. Should you not care to walk there is free bus transportation throughout the heart of the city. www.marketingmanchester.com
Visitors should take special note of the black, blue and red plaques that are located around the city. Black Plaques designate buildings that are architecturally or historically significant. Blue Plaques are attached to the home or workplace of individuals who made an important contribution to the sciences, arts, business or technology. Honorees must have been born prior to 1911 and have died prior to 1991. Events that affected the social history of the city are commemorated with Red Plaques. A list is available at www.manchester.gov.uk
Sometime between 40 and 93 AD 480 Roman legionnaires, led by General Julius Agricloa, erected a wooden fort on a breast-shaped hill on the road from Deva to Eboracum, Chester and York. The Romans called the 5-acre fortress, built to protect them from the indigenous Celts and Brigantes, “Mamuciam” after its shape. It was the first to be protected by a moat. About 200 AD a stone fort replaced the wooden one and was soon surrounded by a market colony that supplied the soldiers. In 407 AD the Romans abandoned the fort and it was not until 300-years later that the Saxons settled in the area and called their village Mameceaster. The spelling was later changed to Manchester.
An archeological dig has revealed remains of the original fort on Bridgewater St. A reconstruction of the fort’s North Gate and the foundations of three structures outside of the walls are on the site and s series of panels interpret the history of the site.
The Manchester Cathedral, Victoria St., is one of the most storied structures in the city. A church has existed in the location since 623. The current Gothic building dates from 1420 and was dedicated by Henry V to Saints Denys, George and Mary and served a 60-sq. mile parish. In 1506 the church was deemed a cathedral.
In the mid-1500s Edward VI sought to complete Henry VIII’s work and convert the Mancunians to the Anglican Church. People refused to cooperate and John Bradford was sent to convert them. Legend has it that while watching one who refused to convert being drug off to execution he is said to have uttered,” There but for the grace of God go I.” He would go on to martyrdom when he was burned at the stake in 1555 for his Anglican conversions when Mary I gained the throne.
Highlights of tours include medieval woodcarvings, handcrafted choir stalls and misericords and Margaret Traherne’s stained glass Fire Window located where the cathedral took a direct bombing hit during the 1940 Manchester Blitz. The Saxon “Angel Stone,” a carving from the first church, is on view under glass. The choir presents a daily program that is awe-inspiring. The tour and concert are free. www.manchestercathedral.org
One of the grandest civic buildings in the city centre is the neo-Gothic Town Hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse and constructed in 1887. The 286-ft edifice is situated on Albert Square in view of a monument dedicated to the prince. The walls of the Great Hall feature pre-Raphaelite murals on the history of the city and of particular note are the mosaics on the secnd-floor adorned with bees, the city’s symbol reflecting its fame as a “hive of activity.”
The sandstone neo-Gothic John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. The building is stunning and the collection nonpareil. Enriqueta Rylands commissioned the library in 1899 as a memorial to her husband. Originally it was to be a lending library but as Enriqueta purchased outstanding private collections it changed to become a research library filled with rare books and manuscripts. It opened in 1900 and was the first building to be completely illuminated by self-generated electric lighting.
The collection includes a 1476 edition of Canterbury Tales, an original Gutenberg Bible and Biblical texts in more than 400 languages. The star of the collection is a fragment of the St. John’s Testament, the earliest New Testament fragment in existence.
The main entrance is a new construction that houses a café and shop and provides access to the six levels of the library. The Introductory Gallery features exhibitions and relates the history of the library. The Historic Reading Room is an enormous space with stained glass windows, ornate fixtures and statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands at either end. It is located on the third-level, a choice made so that readers could avoid 20th-Century street noises. Entrance is free. www.library.manchester.ac.uk
Imperial War Museum North (IWM), designed by Daniel Libeskind in his signature defragmentation-style, opened in 2002. The stainless steel clad structure was designed to bring to mind a globe shorn into three shards by war on land, water and in the air. The museum is located inside the earth shard. Exhibits are chronological from 1900 to the present and creatively employ showcases, freestanding artifacts and state-of-the-art technology. Individual war themes are presented in galleries called silos. Visits should begin with “The Big Picture,” a 15-minute sound and light presentation, using 60 projectors on 20, 360-degree, 50-ft. high screens. There are approximately 150,000 artifacts and at Time Stack kiosks visitors are allowed to handle some of them. www.iwm.org.uk
The IWM is situated on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal at Salford Quays directly across from the Lowery Centre. The Lowery, a multi-use arts complex is accessed by another Libeskind creation, the Lowery Footbridge.
The Lowery is home to two theaters, exhibition space, a studio, a bar, café and two galleries of the paintings of L. S. Lowery, the community artist after whom the building was named. It is the size of 5.5 football fields and incorporates more than 25,000-sq. ft. of glass. This award-winning structure is a must visit. www.thelowery.com
No visit to Manchester is complete without checking out its internationally famous nightlife. This is the home of the Manchester Sound, Northern Soul, and a host of cutting edge rockers. You might see anyone on Jersey St. at the internationally renowned Sankeys where everyone notable drops by to be a guest DJ. Swan Street’s Band on the Wall, because the stage is literally on the wall, has been a world famous jazz venue since the 1930s.
The Printworks, once the Withy Grove Printing House, was built in 1873 and functioned for more than 100-years. In 2000 it was restyled as an entertainment complex featuring 15 restaurants, a cinema, gym and 4 super clubs. One of its anchors is the UK’s largest Hard Rock Café. The gems in this Hard Rock’s memorabilia collection are handwritten letters from the Beatles, Little Richard’s cape and Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. Live performances make this one of the hottest places in the city and the wait can be as long as three hours. www.theprintworks.com
Manchester’s main shopping district was the scene of an IRA bombing on June 15, 1996. There were no deaths but more than 200 were injured. Almost immediately Manchester spent more than $1 billion on rebuilding Exchange Square and it is now one of the trendiest shopping areas in the country. Visitors can make purchases in designer boutiques, specialty stores and the largest Marks and Spencer in the world as well as dine in two medieval pubs that were relocated brick by brick. The pubs, Old Wellington and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, are the oldest structures in the city This district is a shopper’s paradise. www.citylife.co.uk
Ironically the bomb was placed inside a mailbox that blew up but remained unscathed. It is on its original site and a small plaque has been attached.
Manchester offers 30 different types of cuisine but it is most notable for its more than 50 Asian restaurants along what is known as the Curry Mile.
If you are in search of great gourmet dining in a historic setting “Room,” 91 King St., is a best bet. The food is outstanding and you dine in what was once a private gentleman’s club. Winston Churchill gave a speech from the balcony and more recently it has been the in place for in people to relax. www.roomrestaurants.com
Your best bet for historic accommodations are the Palace Hotel, Oxford Road, or the Midlands on Peter St. Both hotels are 4-star and are close to all the attractions.
Nonstop flights to Manchester leave from Philadelphia International daily. You can have breakfast in Philadelphia and spend the afternoon touring Manchester’s City Centre. In case you need a connection prior to arrival you can contact Emma Fox (www.showmemanchester.com), Jean Bailo (www.discovermanchestertours.com) the best guides for walking tours and Geoff Collins the most witty, knowledgeable and reliable driver in all of Manchester (07919 594813).
We will be in Manchester a while longer. In part two we travel the Afro British History Route and see how it impacted on the cotton trade in the American South. I think you’ll be surprised. www.visitbritain.org
I wish you smooth and magical travels!