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.
Salford isn’t all parkland but I couldn’t continue my surprising Salford series for much longer without covering Buile Hill Park. As the name suggests this large park climbs up the hill to Eccles Old Road in Seedley. The park is surrounded by houses and is always popular; there are always walkers here whatever time of day or week you visit. This is also the park where many Salfordians will gather on Bonfire Night for the best firework display. What we call Buile Hill Park is a combination of spaces that started with Seedley Park; the second public park in Salford, opened after Peel Park in 1876. In 1903 the park was enlarged when the grounds of Buile Hill House were opened as a park, in 1927 the grounds of Springfield Villa were added and in 1938 the grounds of Hart Hill House were opened to the public. Of these buildings only Buile Hill House still remains; Salford Council bought this house in 1902 and local people raised money to help with the conversion to a public park.
Buile Hill House was built in 1827 as the home of Sir Thomas Potter, the first Lord Mayor of Manchester, a linen draper and co-founder of the Manchester Guardian and was one of many mansions along Eccles Old Road, known locally as Millionaires Row around 100 years ago when you were more likely to see a Rolls Royce than a dog walker. Times have changed and these spaces are now for everyone’s use.
Buile Hill House became a mining museum, with a mock mine and pit cage and by the 1990s had a wide collection of mining memorability. It closed in 2000 and has been boarded up ever since, a cause of much sadness in Salford.
This incremental development makes the park more interesting. We always start at the ‘bottom’ of the park, in the original Seedley Park that is laid out as traditional parkland with a central avenue. Walking up the hill, I like to wander through the woodland looking for birds and squirrels before following the paths around the back of Buile Hill House to the large expanses of grassland. Walking around the hall, the best view south across Greater Manchester can be found from a sunny path below Buile Hill Park Hall and it is always worth pausing here. As we walk down the hill, if there are no young people around we might have a go on the adventure playground or try out the exercise machines before walking around the allotments to see what is growing.
Peel Park is undergoing a transformation. Once the city park of Salford this was the place to stroll by flower beds, watch the fountains, play quoits, listen to a band and watch the ducks on the river while the children frolicked on the playground. Named in honour of Robert Peel, the prime minister who died in 1850, the year before Queen Victoria visited Salford and Manchester and Peel Park was at the centre of the celebrations. It is reported that 80,000 Sunday School children sang the national anthem for the royal visitors. The park was paid for by public subscription and was the first of three parks to be opened on 22 August 1846, the other two were opened later that day in Manchester. Peel Park was built on the gardens of the former Lark Hill Villa, which overlooked the park and later became a public library and is now the Museum and Art Gallery. Lark Hill Villa was built in the 1790s high above the river to make the most of the then rural view. The year after Peel Park opened, in 1847, 30,000 people visited the park in one week, in 1901 there were 29,385 bowlers using the greens. Salford was proud of its park and over the years improved and modified the original design and LS Lowry painted Peel Park a number of times in the early 20th century.
Being alongside the River Irwell and in the river’s floodplain Peel Park has flooded a number of times, the first of these in 1866 and again in 1870. Most recently the park flooded in the Boxing Day floods of 2015.
The University of Salford buildings now hide Peel Park from the traffic of the A6 and visitors have to make their way through the campus to find the park. When we moved to Salford we sought out Peel Park and found a neglected green space which despite this was still pleasant to walk through following the path by the River Irwell. Heritage Lottery funding now means that this summer a refurbished Peel Park will open and will once more be a park that Salford can be proud of.
Ordsall in Salford is sandwiched between the A57 and Salford Quays and close to the border with Manchester. An area of housing, Ordsall has had an important place in the recent history of Manchester and [in a way] a place in the heart of the nation. Walking around Ordsall you can still get glimpses of why the now demolished terraced streets of Ordsall were the inspiration for Tony Warren’s long running soap opera Coronation Street. You might also meet Smith’s fans who still come to Ordsall to stand outside Salford Lad’s Club [on the corner of Ordsall’s own Coronation Street] to recreate the photograph on the sleeve of The Smith’s The Queen is Dead album. Salford’s Lads’ Club opened in 1904 and is now a listed building, its tiled interior unchanged and a fantastic example of this type of community provision.
Known as the New Barracks Estate, the houses of Ordsall were built on the site of a former army barracks in the early 1900s. Before the barracks the area had been countryside and it was the development of the docks that led to the need for decent workers housing. The estate was designed by Manchester architect Henry Lord following a competition in 1899 and was Salford’s first public housing scheme. The scheme was ambitious and community buildings were an integral part of the plan for the estate along with the housing. During the 20th century many of the streets were cleared and by the 1980s the area had became derelict. Since then local residents have worked tirelessly to renovate the houses and the area.
St Ignatius’ Church, next to Salford Lads’ Club, had a different architect to the houses. Alfred Darbyshire, a local architect who also worked on various theatres in Greater Manchester, designed the romanesque style building in red brick and terracotta. The design of the church compliments Salford Lads’ Club and the houses of the New Barracks Estate and is a local landmark, although no longer in use and falling in to disrepair.
Ordsall today has a profusion of new housing built on the cleared areas of land but it is the older houses near to Salford Lads’ Club and around Regent Square that are the most attractive. These handsome Edwardian terraced houses with gardens face in to a small park and yet, in a clear example of how important location is, when occasionally offered for sale [they are mostly social housing] these houses fetch around £160,000, whereas a similar house in the south of Manchester would cost you two or three times that amount.
In any city I will seek out the parks, those green spaces that are important for the health of people and wildlife. I therefore found my way through the streets of Salford to Chimney Pot Park soon after we had moved here. Although this handkerchief-sized park is not the most beautifully landscaped it is unusual and I always make the effort to walk through it when I am nearby as I love the airy views this elevated park gives across Salford. Everyone calls the park Chimney Pot Park, although Salford City Council call it Langworthy Park on their website and local people are familiar with and pass down the park’s singular story. That first day I came looking for Chimney Pot Park I was initially confused as at street level all I could can see was a long brick wall facing Liverpool Street. Exploring I found the sloped entrance from Highfield Street through St Ambrose Gate, with a plaque remembering those who worshipped at St Ambrose Church nearby and I climbed up to find a small park that has everything a park needs and an unrivalled view over Salford; to the south the lights of Salford Quays and to the north the neat rows of red brick terraced houses.
The park was opened in 1915 on the site of the former Highfield Reservoir and Salford Online reports that there were originally plans to create a boating lake here. Instead, a park with bowling greens and tennis courts was built for local people. Whenever I walk along the paths looking across the rooftops of Langworthy I think about the enormity of the task of filling in the reservoir to create this park early in the 20th century. Salford Online reports excerpts from the Mayor’s speech on the opening of the park, when he suggested that ‘ladies could “bring their sewing and mending to the park” and sit in comfort doing their work in pleasant surroundings.’ Today you are more likely to meet dog walkers in the park than anyone with a sewing basket.
Harold Riley, a local artist and friend of LS Lowry, dedicated his working life to documenting life in Salford in paintings and photographs, although he is best known as a portrait painter. His dark and brooding stylised painting of Chimney Pot Park shows the small park lost in the circle of terraced streets and tall chimneys. This isn’t the park I know today and on a sunny day it feels to me that the park suspends me above the bustle of the streets and the houses to somewhere just a little more peaceful.
The memory of the reservoir survives in the surrounding street names; there is a Reservoir Street, Wall Street and Highfield Street. The former two streets were part of a recent award winning and innovative redevelopment by Urban Splash that turned the terraced houses upside down, putting the living areas on the first floor and the bedrooms on the ground floor. The development got caught up in Urban Splash’s financial difficulties and failing to deliver the final phase this was handed over to another developer in 2014 and the houses are now almost completed. Many of the brick terraced houses here retain the attractive ornamental brickwork fans over the doorways that always catch my eye.
You might forgive me for thinking I was in Cheshire when I stepped off the number 33 bus at the end of the line in Worsley, surrounded as I was by handsome black and white timber framed buildings. Think of Salford and many people will bring to mind rows of terraced streets in the style of Coronation Street but on the edges of Salford are suburbs that challenge that stereotype in a big way and demonstrate the variety of this city. The Tudor-style building in the photograph is The Packet House which dates back to 1760. The building stands on the banks of the Bridgewater Canal and is where you would have bought your ticket for the packet boat. By 1781 there were daily sailings from here to Runcorn along the Bridgewater Canal; the boats were pulled the thirty or so miles by horses and the journey took eight hours.
I had taken advantage of a wintery and yet sunny day to explore Worsley, a suburban village cut through by the Bridgewater Canal, often described as England’s first canal. Opened in 1761 the canal is named after its owner Francis Egerton the third Duke of Bridgewater. He lived nearby in Brick Hall and limited his personal spending so that he could secure the best engineers of the day to build his vision of a canal system to transport coal from his Worsley mines to Manchester and later Runcorn. This now peaceful suburb of Worsley was once a bustling industrial village with lime kilns and boat building as well as coal mining. At the delph, a watery hollow below cliffs, is a tunnel entrance that once took barges in to 46 miles of underground canals to access the coal; two main underground canals were built, one 100 feet above the other.
Recreating the Tudor style became popular in the nineteenth century and Worsley is teaming with these attractive buildings, including the Court House. After walking around the lovely buildings in Worsley and Worsley Green in the sunshine I followed the canal towards Boothstown. I soon lost the roar of the traffic on the motorway and I was surrounded by fields and trees on this lovely and rural-feeling section of the canal. I returned by Worsley Old Hall, now a country pub in the city and followed the paths through Worsley Woods and Old Walke Dam. To reach the bus stop I crossed the interestingly named Alphabet Bridge in Worsley, so called because it is made from 26 planks and local school children would practice their alphabet as they crossed it.
Between the glitzy tower blocks of Media City and the traffic on Eccles New Road nestles Weaste Cemetery, an oasis of calm and beauty where I always find something intriguing and new. Covering 39 acres, this is a large plot and over 332,000 Salfordians have been buried here since it opened in 1857. Weaste Cemetery was Salford’s first municipal cemetery and its Victorian design of winding paths, intersections and trees provides a space to enjoy a walk and the natural environment, as well as to respect and remember loved ones who have died.
There are a number of famous Salfordian buried here and I usually make a beeline for Mark Addy’s grave when I first arrive at the cemetery. Mark Addy lived from 1838 to 1890 and as an adult was the licencee at the Boathouse Inn by the river Irwell. During his lifetime he rescued 53 people from drowning in the Irwell, starting with his first act of life-saving at the age of 13 years when he saved a child. Mark Addy received local and national recognition for his rescues, including being given the Albert Medal by Queen Victoria. The river and his selflessness finally killed him; he became fatally ill after swallowing polluted river water during his last rescue. His memorial in Weaste Cemetery was paid for by grateful local people. On the Salford side of the Irwell the Mark Addy pub has long been a local favourite but in the floods of December 2015 the pub was severely damaged and it may be many years before it is re-opened and we are drinking there again.
After I have paid my respects to Mark Addy I might look for the memorial to the pianist and conductor Charles Hallé who founded the Halle Orchestra or seek out the grave of Eddie Colman, one of the Busby Babes at Manchester United who died tragically at the age of 21 in the 1958 Munich air disaster. Wherever I wander in the cemetery I always find something to interest me. This might be a small clump of snowdrops or bluebells, a gravestone with a particularly moving tribute, a thrush pottering along the grass or the poignant view of the tightly packed gravestones disappearing down the hillside.
When I walk here I often have the cemetery to myself but it is still used and on a sunny day there are often other walkers. Mr BOTRA and I often take a turn around the cemetery at Christmas when many people leave flowers, wreaths and grave cards on the graves of a parent or grandparent who is still loved and missed.
One of the reasons I am proud of my adopted city of Salford is the way it has pulled itself up by the bootstraps in terms of redevelopment. Despite the ‘Dirty Old Town’ label, post-industrial Salford is now a better place to live and the emergence of Salford Quays from the derelict docks to must-visit destination is a remarkable story.
Salford Quays is just a ten minute walk from home and no matter the weather I always enjoy taking a stroll around the quays. In the sunshine, the reflections in the quays are beautiful and on a wild weather day the wind whipping across the water can be invigorating. In the sunshine there are plenty of visitors sightseeing and on a misty day you can feel you have it all to yourself. Salford Quays is a great place for a walk, even at night, when the colourful lighting on the bridges and the buildings reflects in the water, adding another dimension to the views. Mr BOTRA and I have a number of favourite routes for walking around the quays; we might encircle Eire Basin, or cross the two footbridges to take in the Trafford side of the quays, or stroll around Media City. We always stop to watch the wildlife; the Canada geese and black headed gulls are always in residence and we can usually spot a cormorant or two sitting on a buoy drying their wings, as well as a few swans and coots.
The docks closed for good in 1982 [fuller history here] and the local authority took ownership of the 37 hectares of wasteland a year later and worked with private developers to create something new and exciting. Road building started in 1986 and the heavily polluted water was cleaned and re-stocked with fish in 1988. The redevelopment didn’t happen overnight, from the first meeting of the Lowry Centre Steering Group in 1994 [with many notable founding patrons] it took three years until the building work started on the Lowry and the footbridge. Metrolink trams arrived in 1999, giving the area a much needed link with Manchester city centre and the Lowry was opened in 2000, the shopping mall with cinema a year later and the Imperial War Museum North a further year on. Alongside the public buildings, the quays has housing and offices but for many years the Lowry had an air of being on a neglected building site and it really wasn’t until 2012 with the opening of Media City and the BBC moving in that the area truly felt alive and bustling.
Salford Quays keeps changing and there is always something happening. It might be the festive lights in December, a food market or open water swimming and early in the morning it is lovely to watch the rowing teams from the water sport centre out practicing. Stopping to watch these activities is free, a great bonus for the frugally retired!
I get such a thrill when a stranger does you a big favour so here is the story of our postman who made my day this week. With so much happening at work, so many long-standing colleagues being made redundant and so many leaving presents for everyone to buy I thought I could slip quietly away in to retirement without anyone noticing. But my lovely and generous colleagues had other ideas and sent me a retirement present I will always remember, a beautiful Italian leather album with beautiful cream textured pages interwoven with tissue. This is such a lovely thing to own and perfect for creating a memento of sketches, postcards, tickets and other memorabilia from our next big trip. But how this perfect retirement present reached me is a tale of a postman who went above and beyond the call of duty.
You may recall I have been working from home since the summer and I have clearly continued to provide such efficient administrative support from my home-base that some of my colleagues never even noticed the change. I work for a national organisation and my colleagues are dotted around the North-west and the Midlands so communicating by email and telephone has always been the norm. This week I received an email from a colleague in the West Midlands that mentioned I should expect a parcel that day; however when I checked where it had been posted to found it was on its way to the ‘old’ office that is now closed up and empty. After an initial panic, he emailed me the receipt and I could track the parcel and so could see it was on its way to this abandoned office. Armed with the receipt I walked to our local Royal Mail collection depot to see what would happen with the parcel. After a long back and forth negotiation with supervisors they were happy [or at least satisfied] that I could collect the parcel from them, even without the failed delivery card, if I provided ID and headed paper from the old office [thank goodness I have been using this as scrap paper].
Back at home there was a knock on the door at lunch time. The ‘old office’ is near to my home and we share a postman. I often pass the time of day with this postman both at home and at work and he had noticed that I was one and the same person [I have an unusual second name]. He had arrived at the shuttered and deserted office with my parcel, noticed who it was addressed to and put the parcel back in his bag to bring round to our flat later on his round. He presented the parcel hesitantly, clearly worried about whether he had done the right thing, but I was over the moon. I am so grateful for his thoughtfulness and quick thinking and amazed that even in a big city like Salford it is impossible to be completely anonymous.
For the past few years Quays Culture have organised a Lightwaves event at Salford Quays and Media City during the Christmas festive period. Last year we had large white illuminated rabbits and before that we had curtains of light whose colours changed as you walked through them. This year Quays Culture have surpassed their previous offerings of light in these dark days and we have a series of light sculptures around the quays for everyone’s enjoyment. The star of the show is shown above, this collection of 198 small boats float in Eire Basin, changing colour [you can decide the colours on your mobile phone] and transforming the end of the quay into a rainbow of colours reflecting against the black water with the stunning Detroit Bridge as a backdrop. Called Voyage and designed by Aether and Hemera this is a triumph that entertains young and old and is so entrancing it is almost impossible to walk away from.
Once you have torn yourself away from the small boats, there is a further interactive light art installation is in front of the Lowry Theatre. Here Heartbeat only lights up when two people hold hands and connect with the sculpture, completing the circuit and revealing the heart symbol. Created by GNI Projects this is a sculpture for the romantics and scientists in us.
Over at Media City there are trees in a multitude of colours, a sound sculpture that resounds with cosmic rhythms when the rows of strings are struck or strummed and a large neon sign proclaiming Today I Love You. For those of us who have fond memories of visiting Blackpool Illuminations, there is also a small selection of figures that have travelled down the M61 to spend a few days in Salford.
Quays Culture’s mission is to contribute to Salford Quays being a place to visit and provide international examples of interactive art and they have certainly achieved that this year. The exhibits are only here until 18 December so get on down.