Monday, 28 February 2011

An ill-kept muddy lane, held in place on one of its sides by wild hedgerows

That was how Oldham Street, at the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Dscf3363was described in the early 18th century. Following an extremely pleasant Tweetup at North Tea Power on Tib Street (on the right there), I took my camera on a #wander around Manchester’s Northern Quarter, described nowadays in Wikipedia as “a centre of alternative and bohemian culture”. 

This is a fascinating area of the city, often overlooked by the daily visitor Dscf3364which is a shame since it nestles between both major rail stations and is therefore easy to find. This photograph shows David Kemp’s “Tib Street Horn” opposite the eclectic shopping emporium that is Affleck’s Palace. Kemp says “It's not really a saxophone, nor a dragon, coiled on the gothic stump of a Victorian hat factory. Perhaps it's a listening device, filtering the left-over sounds from the street corner below, where the past bumps into the future, shooting the lights”.

Dscf3366Many of the pavements here are metal edged, the extreme wear on the studded strips indicating their age. They were built during the area’s industrial heyday, when warehouses and mills abounded. Their purpose was to act as protection against wear and tear by horses hooves and cartwheels, and also possibly to act as a sort of Victorian ‘rumble strip’, since cart drivers could not see the wheels of their vehicles.

Dscf3368Friedrich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England described this area as insanitary and down at heel, where houses were "dirty old and tumble-down, and the construction of the side-streets utterly horrible … pigs walk about in the alleys, rooting in offal heaps". I saw no pigs, and people take much more pride in the appearance of the streets, even calling in Dscf3369Totoro to help with boring shop shutters. Bare brick walls seem to be an anathema round here, and are more usually used to present brightly-coloured and cheerful graffiti (although that seems to ordinary a word for many of the artworks).

Dscf3370Just round the corner is the Manchester Craft & Design Centre, a collection of eighteen small studios lurking in the shell of an old fish market, and housing artistic types producing jewellery, sculpture, clothing, furniture and god knows what else. All a bit pricey for me, mind, although I did enjoy the opportunity to drop stuff off the balcony (not really).

Dscf3371I’ve tried to find out why the gable end of The Wheatsheaf pub displays these somewhat chubby acrobats, but all I unearthed were glowing reviews of it as a pub to visit if you want to get away from trendy types called Farquar. Nothing about the blue tumblers.

Dscf3367More industrial memories now, with the preserved frontage of the old Smithfield Fish Market. What was once a busy, bustling Market Hall has been pulled down to make way for modern apartments and shops. The slender sliver of the front wall has been left standing as a reminder of times past.

Dscf3375Just off Shudehill is Withy Grove Stores, which has always looked as if it has seen better days, and offers a delightful contrast with the modern Arndale buildings just across the road. Home to some of the most amusingly boring window displays in the world, it’s always worth a look, though it’s hard to tell now whether they are still actually trading. Look closely at this pic, and you’ll see the Manchester Wheel peeping into the corner.

Dscf3376Speaking of modern buildings, while you’re in this area, pop in to the old Printworks which is an old, well, print works. The inside has been tarted up into a neon-fetishists delight, and provides us with a night-life experience at any time of day. The emporia therein are somewhat meh (cinema, Nandos, big screen showing adverts), but it is worth a look.

Finally, I can’t finish without a couple of shots of Victoria Station, where I catch the tram to Bury. Admire the fine wood-panelled ticket offices, and the intricate tiled railway map towering above your head at the far end. Wonderful stuff. Don’t buy food from the hot dog stall though, cos ew.DSCF3377Dscf3378