North of the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal and west from Manchester is the small town of Eccles. I say ‘small town’ deliberately because this might be part of Salford and Greater Manchester but it feels like a small English town. Get off the tram at the end of the line in Eccles and you have travelled a world away from Salford Quays and Manchester city centre. In Eccles you can still find an independent cafe rubbing shoulders with a cut-price hardware store, buckets and bowls spilling over the pavement and there are a gaggle of charity shops for bargain browsers.
It is Eccles Library that is the star of the town. One of the 2,509 libraries funded by the Scottish businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie [606 of these were in the UK] and opened in 1907, the library was built in a Renaissance style. The library went through a major refurbishment in 2006 and is now a shared space with local health services as one of Salford’s innovative gateway centres. It is worth going inside the library to see the beautiful features inside the building.
Eccles has a regular farmers and makers market selling local produce and is known across England for the Eccles cake, apparently first sold in 1793 and a mixture of flaky pastry with currants, candied peel, sugar and nutmeg.
The Manchester Water Taxi or Waxi started life late in 2016 and is a great addition to the long list of things to do in Manchester and Salford. Waxi runs two routes; one along the Manchester Ship Canal from Media City to Spinningfields and the other on the Bridgewater Canal from Castlefield to the Trafford Centre and on to Sale. Both can be used for commuter journeys or just for fun. For commuters this is a traffic-free route through Manchester and Salford that must be a relaxing start to the day. As a retired person I don’t need a commute route but Waxi made a great birthday treat.
We took the Waxi from Salford Quays to Spinningfields on the edge of Manchester city centre and I loved seeing all those familiar places from a new angle. You are low on the water in this little boat and can look the Canada geese and swans in the eye as you pass. Travelling under, rather than over, the bridges gives a whole new perspective on the city. I was thrilled to get a close up view of Gnome Island and see the new Ordsall Chord railway bridge from the water.
The Waxi drivers [pilots or captains?] are friendly and helpful and will point out places of interest to visitors to the city and hand out rugs if you are feeling the cold. If you haven’t been on your own mini-Waxi cruise then get it booked and enjoy the cities of Manchester and Salford in a new way.
Monton is a bit of a Salford secret that is little known beyond the Salford boundaries. Part of Eccles, Monton is a lovely part of Salford that is as chic as Didsbury but even prettier. Monton has a village feel, a row of independent shops, smart cafes and a village green, the canal and an old railway line that is now a cycling and walking route. On our last visit we arrived in Monton after walking along the canal and this only enhanced the sense of being in a small village rather than the city of Salford. Certainly, if you didn’t know Salford well you would think you were in wealthier south Manchester.
Monton Green was part of the estate of the Earl of Ellesmere but in the late 19th century it was given to the public and is now maintained with grass and flower beds. Next to the green is Monton Unitarian Church whose building was completed in 1875. On the church is a blue plaque to John Henry Poynting FRS (1852 – 1914). John Henry Poynting was a renowned physicist born in Monton and worked in Birmingham. He developed the Poynting vector which describes the flow of energy in an electromagnetic field. In the 1890s he grabbed the public’s attention for his work calculating the weight of the earth.
The land-locked lighthouse in the photograph below is many miles from the coast. This 40-foot high modern folly was built as a weekend retreat by a local canal boat enthusiast and even has its own light for use on special occasions.
I am not sure if technically Gnome Island is in Salford or Trafford. It sits in the middle of the Ship Canal but it seems to me it is on the Salford side of the canal so I’ve claimed it and included it in my surprising Salford series. You can see Gnome Island from the canalside but I got a superb view of Gnome Island on one of my birthday treats, a Waxi [Water Taxi] trip from Salford Quays to Spinningfields. These cute yellow boats trundle the waterways from the city centre to Media City and to the Trafford Centre. The Christmas Market was in town at the time and Gnome Island had its own festive Santa Claus visiting for a month or so.
Riding by on the water you get an uninterrupted view of the jolly gnomes waving and smiling and these diminutive figurines must brighten up the day of those commuters who use the Waxi on our dark winter mornings to get to work. The gathering of gnomes appear to be both male and female and there are some child-gnomes on the island too, so who is to say their number won’t increase over time.
I see Gnome Island as a positive sign of the eccentric and fun side of life in the city. Long may it continue to be there to delight locals and surprise visitors and let’s hope no official decides it doesn’t have planning permission!
If you want to find Gnome Island yourself, it is now on Google Maps. It is just before the Trafford Road bridge on the Salford side of the quays.
May 2020 update: Follow Gnome Island on Facebook and you will see posts about the history of this wonderful Salford attraction. Read the story of Gnorman, the pioneer gnome, his partner Gnorma and their twins Gnoah and Gnatalie!
November 2020 update: On a visit to Salford Quays I noticed that it is much easier to get a good view of Gnome Island now, since they put in the new tram line to the Trafford Centre. What a big improvement on Salford Quays! If you cross the bridge by the Lowry and turn left, you’ll be able to get a great view.
If you have time to wander around the Frederick Road Campus of Salford University or as you drive along the A6 you might come across these sculptures. The three unusual sculptures are Grade II listed by Historic England. Totem-like, these sculptures were built in 1966 by William Mitchell and stand in a courtyard in front of Allerton Building at what was then Salford Technical College and is now University of Salford.
These are bold concrete public art pieces, typical of the 1960s that make reference to engineering and to Central American art. I dare anyone not to want to touch these tactile pieces as you walk around the three giant figures. The sculptures change with the light and every time I visit I see new details I had missed before. Almost six metres high these are imposing works, each made from four concrete blocks.
English Heritage note:
‘William Mitchell was a leading public artist in the post-war period who designed many pieces of art in the public realm, working to a high artistic quality in various materials but most notably concrete, a material in which he was highly skilled, using innovative and unusual casting techniques, as seen in this sculptural group. He has a number of listed pieces to his name, both individual designs and components of larger architectural commissions by leading architects of the day.’
Salford University has other public art, including ‘Engels’ Beard’ [below] positioned by the Adelphi Building. This five metre high fibreglass sculpture doubles as a climbing wall. Greater Manchester now has two statues to Engels who spent more than twenty years here. The poverty he observed influenced his writing of The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Lightwaves has become a regular at Salford Quays in the run up to Christmas and is as much part of our Christmas preparations as writing cards and remembering where we have stored the lights. Over the years we have had huge white rabbits, Dr Who and tiny boats bobbing on the quay. As has become traditional, we walked down to Salford Quays on the opening night and joined the throng on a bitterly cold but fine night to see the art works for the first time.
The 100 photograph light boxes with images from across Greater Manchester came first. I had expected these to be landscapes and was surprised how many were portraits, some showing real Mancunian character but I had looked forward to having to guess the views and would have enjoyed more scenes from the ten boroughs. After reminiscing about the Sooty Show, always a favourite in our house, we found the breathing tent and sat practicing our deep tai chi breathing, watching the lights climb up and down the side of the tent as we inhaled, filling our lower dan tien and fully exhaling. We walked beneath the grid of rope by the quayside watching the lights change colour from bright green to yellow. This light responds to a microphone that is in the river, translating the sound in to light
In front of the Lowry are Jackie Kay’s neon words, ‘I forgot to say.’ This is supposed to get you thinking and anyone can call the number and leave a message about what they have forgotten to say … but ringing slipped my mind.
For the last couple of years Lightwaves have co-operated with Blackpool illuminations and we have had some of their spare installations. I like the combination of the technical and artistic light structures and the brash lights of Blackpool. This year as well as Sooty Show images we had the pirates below and some nostalgic Star Trek images.
There haven’t always been allotments in Ordsall and it took a long community-led campaign and lots of work and planning to get them. For some time the Ordsall Allotment Association had members but no allotments but eventually the allotments were completed and the site was officially opened in 2014. The allotments have transformed an area of derelict land in the centre of Ordsall in to a green oasis. The site was formerly part of the centre of the estate and the Jubilee pub, a post office, and library were cleared as part of the redevelopment of Ordsall. The former St Clements School site on Robert Hall Street had originally been identified for the allotments after the school closed in 2007.
The 23 allotments have now matured after three years of growing and I always stop to peer through the fence when I pass and see what is growing on the plots and admire the neat rows of sheds and vegetables.
In September the allotment members have an annual show where they showcase their produce, celebrate their achievement and compete for the best vegetables.
Wandering through the residential streets of Swinton in Salford on a sunny afternoon recently I stumbled across Swinton Cemetery. The cemetery creates a beautiful square that is surrounded by housing. The rows of graves are neatly arranged and the trees provide colour and shade. There is a small red brick mortuary chapel within the cemetery. This beautiful, peaceful and neat cemetery has been used for burials since 1886 and is still in use today.
Today the cemetery includes the re-interred remains of over 300 burials from the previous Unitarian Church in Swinton that was closed and demolished in 1985. The burial ground land was undisturbed until 2013 when the land became part of a development for a new supermarket. The development caused considerable concern locally. The Unitarian burial ground included a war grave and the graves of three men who lost their lives in the Clifton Hall Colliery Disaster in 1885.
In his book From Salford to Tucson and Back Again, Robert Carter describes his childhood in Swinton in the 1960s and a character on his street who was the gravedigger at Swinton Cemetery. This man always wore clogs that ‘clanked as he walked’ and owned a scary black dog that would walk a few yards behind the gravedigger often with a piece of meat in its jaws, apparently to tenderise the meat.
In 2007 the Manchester Evening News reported that Salford was getting its own version of Central Park. I have never been to Central Park in New York but it must be a point to debate whether the regeneration of this former brown field site quite managed to meet this extravagant aspiration. That said, the Lower Irwell Valley Improvement Area [Livia] is an improvement on the previous derelict site, joining together a number of smaller green spaces that give wildlife the green corridors that allow them to move around in.
Livia is in Pendlebury and lies between the railway line and Bolton Road and is surrounded by housing. The 1950s map shows the land was previously Newton Colliery with some farms surviving at that time. There is a public art memorial to the colliery on a grassy corner of Bolton Road and Queensway.
The regeneration created woodland and wild flower areas and the whole park is criss-crossed by a network of winding footpaths. There are some sculptures and structures that are now overgrown and it seemed to me that there is currently little management of the area ongoing. The green space seems to be mostly used as a route away from the traffic between home and the main road for local people. Even on a sunny day it was quiet here and the wildlife are probably all the happier for that.
We are lucky at Salford Quays that the Manchester Ship Canal is orientated east-west. Every year on the shortest day we walk down to Salford Quays to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, this day of celebration has yet to coincide with one of the beautiful sunrises that we do occasionally have over the quays but we remain hopeful. When I used to cycle to work along the canal I would often enjoy amazing sunrises in spring and autumn during my commute to work.
Not being early birds these days, what we do manage to see more often is the sunset and these are worth walking down to the Quays to see. We are always joined by other people, both locals and visitors and the bridges will be lined with photographers and those who are just enjoying the natural spectacle as the sun goes below the horizon.
Standing on the bridge by Media City you are looking across the two Mode Wheel Locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. This unusual name is a corruption of Maud’s Wheel, the name of the wheel at the corn mill that was previously at this spot. These locks were the final lock on the Ship Canal before the expanse of the docks.
The boat in the photograph is one of the boats that takes parties on short canal cruises from Castlefield in Manchester city centre and beyond are the factories of Trafford Park.