This is the sacred mountain of Greater Manchester! It was on a trip to a Saturday afternoon match at Salford City Football Club that I first spotted Kersal Moor and added it to my list of Salford places to explore in retirement. Google maps and research revealed that this is a Local Nature Reserve and an area of moorland and perfect for exploring on a sunny day. I walked to Kersal Moor, climbing the hill from the Irwell, following the straight and narrow Blackfield Lane from Bury New Road, a lane that can be seen on the 1848 map when Kersal Moor was not the peaceful spot it is today but was the busy Manchester Race Course. What is now Moor Lane cut across the centre of the oval course. My route bought me out in front of St Paul’s Church, which isn’t on the 1848 map but is shown on the 1894 map, along with a school further west on Moor Lane which has since been demolished. This church community first met in the old grandstand of the race course in 1850, as the race course was no longer in use, and a fund was set up to build the church which was consecrated in 1852.
I wandered through St Paul’s graveyard first, enjoying the hint of spring in the air and failed to find the grave to the chemist Robert Angus Smith, an environmentalist who is known as the ‘father of acid rain’ after he made the connection between industrial pollution and acidity of urban rainfall in the 1850s.
Leaving the graveyard by an old gate I was on Kersal Moor and soon climbing up to the viewpoint across the sand and gravel soil that was formed from glacial deposits at the end of the last ice age. Kersal Moor is covered in heather, gorse and birch trees and is lively with bird song. The reward for my uphill walk was views over the trees with Manchester to the south and Prestwich to the north.
I followed the well-marked paths above Singleton Brook that is the boundary between Salford and Bury, looking down on the site of a former dye works and found some of the remains of the school that was on Moor Lane. Returning back to St Paul’s I found the plaque telling me that the race course was here for around 160 years, from 1687 to 1846. Manchester Confidential wrote about some of the goings on at the races here. Whitsuntide was the main race meetings with crowds of over 100,000 gathering to enjoy the racing, betting and drinking and it was a profitable time for pick-pockets.
The plaque also remembers that this was the site of Chartist rallies in 1838 and 1839 when over 30,000 workers met to demand the right to vote and for parliamentary reform. It was this history of public gatherings that caused Friedrich Engels to refer to Kersal Moor as ‘Mons Sacer’ [sacred mountain] of Manchester, referring to the hill in Rome that the common citizens withdrew to in 494 BC as part of their civil protest that led to political representation for the common citizens through the offices Tribune of the Plebes.
If you have never visited Kersal Moor take the time to get there and think about the layers of history here, from the Neolithic people who left tools here, the riotous race meetings, the worshippers, reformers and school children playing games.