Chapel Street is a truly delightful, as well as an historic part of Salford. The street runs from Blackfriars Bridge which crosses the river Irwell in to Manchester and cuts across a wide meander in the Irwell until it merges in to The Crescent where it meets the river again at Peel Park. Chapel Street is packed with historical buildings and has long been an important street for both Salford and the nation, as the street is also part of the A6 London to Glasgow road. The street runs through what was the heart of Salford in medieval times and back in 1806 it was the first street in the UK to be lit by gas lights. Walking down Chapel Street there is always something I haven’t spotted before among the religious buildings, pubs, public buildings and relics of Salford’s industrial past.
The name Chapel Street comes from the lovely Sacred Trinity Church surrounded by garden and Salford’s oldest church, its name was formerly chapel. Lowry painted Sacred Trinity in 1925 along with the Flat Iron Market that was in front of the church until the 1930s. Further along Chapel Street is St John’s Cathedral and the neo-classical St Phillip’s Church with its semi-circular columned portico and clock and bell tower.
Strolling along the recently improved pavements of Chapel Street you can spot the old Town Hall , the former Gas Works Offices, the old Education Offices and various court buildings, as well as the old Salford Royal Hospital which is now apartments. It was on Chapel Street that Vimto, that fantastic sweet and fruity cordial that is a treat served hot, was made from 1910 to 1927.
The small tree-lined Bexley Square in front of the old Town Hall is a pretty spot today but it was the site of the Battle of Bexley Square on 1 October 1931 when the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement demonstrated against the cuts in unemployment benefit. After the crash of 1929 unemployment was out of control in Britain and in austerity measures that mirror those of today, the National Government under Conservative leadership implemented cuts of 10% to unemployment benefit and introduced the means test which put many people in to extreme hardship. Thousands marched on the Town Hall to have their voice heard. Walter Greenwood was present at the demonstration and included it in his novel Love on the Dole and Jimmy Miller was involved in organising the demonstration, he later became well known as a folk singer and actor under the name of Ewan MacColl. The unemployed people marched peacefully but they were obstructed and then brutally attacked by the police.
Chapel Street is pretty good for a Salford pub crawl and some old characterful pubs still survive here. Good beers are available at The New Oxford, The Kings Arms just off the main drag with comedy nights and music and at the top end of the street nearer to the University is The Crescent, previously called The Red Dragon and reputedly a haunt of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they were here. Salford Council produce a heritage trail of Chapel Street which is fun to follow in between your visits to the pubs and gives more information about the buildings and the history of the street.