It was a chilly winter morning when I last visited Agecroft Cemetery. We wrapped up and walked along the River Irwell carrying a flask and biscuits in a rucksack and sat on a sheltered bench in weak sunlight looking over the gravestones. A few other people were here tending to graves and, as always, the cemetery felt soothingly calm.
Agecroft Cemetery is Salford’s newest cemetery. Designed by Manchester Architects Sharp and Foster and built by Gerrard’s of Swinton, the cemetery was opened in 1903. More than 53,700 interments have been carried out within the cemetery’s 45 acres.
The cemetery has splendid ornate entrance gates on Langley Road. Inside there are neatly arranged roads and rows of gravestones. The buildings were all designed by Sharp and Foster; the crematorium building was converted from a Non-Conformist burial chapel in 1957 and there was also once a Roman Catholic chapel within the cemetery. It is hoped to save the disused chapel with a clock tower and many stunning features that was abandoned in the 1980s and can be seen in the photograph. Work is being carried out to protect this derelict gothic-revival chapel from the weather and there are plans to seek funding to restore it. The group’s website has more information on the history of the cemetery.
Later I explored the graveyard, reading inscriptions on stones that took my eye. I like to visit Salford’s cemeteries at this time of year as many of the graves have seasonal decorations and I find this makes the graveyard feel part of the spirit and movement of the seasons. The cemetery has plenty of interesting burials, including Commonwealth war graves. A stone memorial to the crew of a Lancaster bomber carrying a full bomb load that crashed nearby in 1944 is near the entrance. All seven members of the crew and two civilians on the ground died in the crash. Reports at the time said that around 80 people were injured.
The Stockport air disaster of 1967 killed 72 of the 84 people on board. The passenger aircraft full of holidaymakers returning from Palma de Mallorca crashed near the centre of Stockport, just a short distance from Manchester Airport. Astonishingly no one was killed on the ground. Arthur and Elsie Kemp from Salford, who sadly died in the plane crash, are buried together at Agecroft Cemetery.
The opening of the Salford flood storage basin was a big deal. Anyone who remembers the terrible floods of 2015 will be relieved to see improved flood prevention up and running. The River Irwell has burst its banks many times over the centuries; notably in September and October 1946 5,300 homes were flooded. The most recent flooding was on Boxing Day 2015; after a day and a half of constant rainfall 2,250 homes across Greater Manchester were flooded and over 500 businesses. Water rushing into your home is devastating and for many of the families it took many months for their lives to get back to anything like normal.
The Salford Flood Basin opened in 2018. I intended to visit earlier but other things got in the way and it was a fine but cold wintry day when I eventually got there. I cycled along the River Irwell to the flood basin and entering along the path from Great Cheetham Street West. Arriving at the flood basin I was firstly aware of the size, it is huge (five hectares apparently).
At a cost of £10 million, we are told that the basin is big enough to hold more than 250 Olympic-size swimming pools of water and will protect almost 2,000 homes and businesses from flooding. In addition, the scheme has created an urban wetland habitat and a green space for Salford residents. A 2.5 km footpath runs around the periphery of the basin and on a sunny day this will be a peaceful place to stroll, well away from the bustle of the city.
The photograph at the top of the post shows one of the two kiosks on the site. The colourful designs were decorated by Manchester graffiti artist, kELzO.
How does a flood storage basin work?
The basin is a sort of natural flood plain in the middle of the city. Sitting within a sweeping meander of the River Irwell, the area was excavated and the soil used to create an embankment around the edge of the site. This embankment is a flood defence in itself but if needed the storage basin can be flooded in a controlled way. through an inlet in one corner. When the river levels are high excess water can be diverted into the storage basin where it will be stored and released back into the river when water levels have subsided.
It is hoped that this and the existing flood storage area at Littleton Road will prevent devastation like that seen on Boxing Day 2015 in the future.
It was a fascinating heritage walk around Seedley and Buile Hill Parks that sparked my interest in Caroline Birley. She lived in a house, no longer standing, that looked over Seedley Park on Seedley Terrace and we were told she kept her huge collection of fossils and rocks in a building that was constructed on the back of the house that she called the Seedley Museum. She opened this home-museum to the public in 1888.
Born in Manchester in 1851 [or 1852] Caroline came from a wealthy family that made money from textiles and rubber in Manchester. She was the youngest of four and had an early passion for science and despite having no formal education was lucky enough to be able to follow interests that were considered the realm of men at that time. She travelled widely collecting specimens; between 1887 and 1907 she travelled across the world from Denmark to North America and South Africa with her friend Louisa Copland. A number of fossil species were named after her and although Caroline collected and catalogued her own finds publication about her findings had to come from a man, Dr Henry Woodward, the Keeper of Geology at the British Museum.
She left Salford and moved to London in 1896 and her collection moved with her so didn’t make it in to the Salford Natural History Museum in Buile Hill House. Before she moved she made a will stating that she wished her collection to be given to the London Natural History Museum and The Manchester University Museum. During her lifetime Caroline also gave many specimens to Oxford University. Her executors wanted to see some museums in the north-west of England benefit after her death and so her collection was further fragmented as specimens were sent to Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Radcliffee and Warrington and the Manchester Grammer School museum.
Between 1879 and 1898 Caroline Birley also wrote several children’s books, including the intriguingly titled Jessamine and her Lesson Books, and How She Missed the Gypsy Tea in 1887.
Caroline returned to Salford just before her death in 1907 at the age of 55-years. She had not married and had no children. Her obituary, published in The Geological Magazine, said of her:
‘By the death of Miss Caroline Birley, a most ardent and enthusiastic student has been lost to the science of Geology, one who from her childhood to the end of her life never wavered in devotion to this her cherished pursuit, nor thought any fatigue or personal sacrifice too great in order to visit places of geological interest and obtain specimens for her beloved museum’
Blackfriars Road in Salford crosses Trinity Way, going under the railway line. From the Chapel Street junction this becomes Blackfriars Street and continues up to the River Irwell where Blackfriars Bridge crosses the river in to Manchester. Along Blackfriars Street a few impressive buildings from old Salford remain.
The sandstone three-arched Blackfriars Bridge replaced a previous wooden footbridge and was opened in 1820. The tollbooth on the bridge was removed in 1848.
On the corner of Blackfriars Bridge and chapel Street is the Black Lion Hotel, where John Cooper Clarke gave early performances and the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain was born. This organisation was founded at the UK Van Dwellers Protection Association in 1889 to protect the rights of fairground workers and changed its name in 1917. The Guild represents travelling funfair businesses and I remembering finding their lovely and moving memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum that remembers the Guild members who died in the First and Second World Wars.
The splendid building in the photograph is the former Baerlein’s warehouse and was built in 1877. The building is listed and today it has been converted to residential use and is known as Textile Apartments. Baerlein & Co were an engineering company that made machinery for the textile industry.
This is surely one of the most attractive police stations you have ever seen. The old police station on Chapel Street in Salford is near to the junction with Blackfriars Road and on the junction of Chapel Street and Salford Approach. The latter went to the former railway station. This is the historic core of Salford and at one time this police station would have faced the busy Flat Iron Market place, a bustling area of second-hand clothing stalls and auctioneers with lively patter and a fairground with roundabouts, shooting galleries and a boxing booth. A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4 originally published by Victoria County History, London in 1911 described the market as a ‘sort of rag fair.’
This charming red brick building was built in 1888 and above the door you can still make our the ‘Police Station’ sign. The single-storey building has an unusual curved end with a short spire above it and a decorative baluster around the roof line.
For a time the old Police Station was boarded up and its future looked dismal. Today, despite being surrounded by new build offices and flats the building appears to be safe at least in the short-term, it is listed and is now used as offices. Apparently between its life as a police station and its current use it was also used as a tram ticket office.
Salford City Council plan to improve this part of Salford, known as Greengate, in their Chapel Street East Scheme. The proposals include cycle and pedestrian friendly routes which can only be an improvement on the area which is currently a nightmare for those on foot and two wheels. The Greengate Regeneration Strategy states:
‘The Vision of the Strategy is to deliver a dynamic residential and commercial place with an exceptional public realm. Greengate will be a focus of cultural activity for both residents and visitors alike, building on the current strong brands within the area and developing new exciting opportunities. The area will witness the regeneration of important historical aspects of the Collier Street Baths and the Market Cross.’
The corner of Salford where you find Sacred Trinity Church has been a special place for many years. Hard up against the railway line and towards the end of Chapel Street, this lovely and well-proportioned church was originally built in 1635 and was the first church in Salford. The tower was added later but it is said the vibration of the bells affected the church’s integrity and most of the building, with the exception of the tower, was taken down in 1751 and rebuilt the following year. The tower was largely rebuilt in the middle of the 19th century and a clock added on each face. The church is built in a Gothic-classical style.
The money to build the church came from Sir Humphrey Booth [1580 – 1635] a local wealthy Salfordian and benefactor. Humphrey Booth was a church warden at what is now Manchester Cathedral but he was keen for the people of Salford to have their own place of worship. Although the town by then had a borough charter and market charter and was a growing town, there was no place of worship. Humphrey Booth laid the foundation stone in 1634 and the church was completed a year later, after Humphrey Booth’s death. At this time the church was on the edge of Salford and it stayed that way until the industrial revolution led to the huge expansion of the city. Humphrey Booth’s grandson left land in his will to ensure the upkeep of the church and asked if there was any surplus that it should be distributed among the poor of Salford. This ensured Sacred Trinity was maintained and rebuilt but it also led to the creation of Booths Charities which continues to fund many good causes in Salford.
The Flat Iron conservation area centres around this listed building and the plot that the church sits on is triangular in shape, resembling an old flat iron. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the area around here was fashionable residential streets but through the 19th century commerce and industry moved in. Today the area is once again seeing an increase of residential properties with the building of blocks of flats. The Flat Iron Market was held in front of the church until the 1930s and LS Lowry painted this scene in 1925.
Walk west beyond Eccles, heading along the Manchester Ship Canal towards Irlam and at Barton you come across the Barton Swing Bridge that carries the Bridgewater Canal over the Ship Canal. The Bridgewater Canal came from the Worsley coal mines and in to Manchester. The original aqueduct built in 1761 was an ambitious construction carrying the canal 38 feet above the Ship Canal.
To enable larger and taller vessels to use the Manchester Ship Canal this aqueduct was demolished and replaced by a swing aqueduct that was completed in 1893. The channel of water can be sealed at each end forming what is in effect a tank that is 235 feet long and 18 feet wide and swung on a central pivot that allows ships to pass either side of it. This is an engineering wonder and apparently the only swing aqueduct in the world. The Swing Bridge is adjacent to the Barton Road Swing Bridge and the two bridges share the same control tower.
Barton Swing Bridge was designed by the engineer Edward Leader Williams who was also involved in the building the Manchester Ship Canal and the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire. Rarely used today, the Barton Swing Bridge continues to be in working order and has protection as a listed building. This bridge is just another surprising feature you find when you walk around Salford.