During one of my many visits to Manchester’s Northern Quarter last year I finally went to have a look round Afflecks indoor market and emporium on the corner of Church Street and Tib Street; it was something I’d been meaning to do for quite a while but somehow never got round to it.
Back in the 1860s Affleck & Brown was started as a drapery business, with the original premises being in Oldham Street. Over the years the business gained a good reputation as a credit draper and was well known for its excellent range of cloth for home dressmaking. Eventually the store grew to occupy the whole block between Oldham Street and Tib Street, finally becoming a fully fledged department store and one of Manchester’s best.
After WW2 the business went into a gradual decline as shopping trends moved away from Oldham Street. In the 1950s Debenhams, who already owned Pauldens, another city centre department store situated near Piccadilly Gardens, took over the Affleck & Brown store but the continued decline of the Oldham Street area eventually led to its closure in 1973. In 1982 the store was re-opened as Affleck’s Palace, with separate units and stalls which could be rented at reasonable rates by entrepreneurs and small businesses on a week-by-week basis, and the atmosphere and colourful maze-like layout led to the building becoming a mecca for alternative culture.
During the 1990s, when local bands such as the Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets were at the height of their popularity, Affleck’s Palace was the ‘go to’ place to get oversized flared jeans, tie-dyed t-shirts and all the latest underground dance tunes of the time. On March 31st 2008 the market and emporium ceased trading when its 25-year lease came to an end but it re-opened just one day later under new management and simply called Afflecks. With an eclectic mix of 73 small shops, independent stalls, boutiques and a cafe the emporium’s popularity continues to this day and it can attract an average of 24,000 shoppers per week.
It was quite by chance that just a few days ago I learned that this month the emporium celebrates 40 years of trading so I think now is as good a time as any to write this long-overdue post and feature some of the amazing amount of artworks which adorn the walls, doors, and staircases of the building’s four floors.
George the Lion made his home in Afflecks after the 2016 Art Zoo exhibition of life-size zoo animal sculptures dotted around Sale, the home town of Chester Zoo’s founder George Mottershead. The exhibition not only showcased the work of local artists but also celebrated George Mottershead’s early 20th century achievements in creating a ‘zoo without bars’. Local schoolchildren were invited to contribute to the design of each sculpture and George the Lion was decorated by Dave Draws, a local artist and supporter of Afflecks.
Up on the top floor was the cafe with its ceiling decorated in the style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. I’d been hoping to get a coffee and a snack but unfortunately the cafe was closed, with a barrier formed from plastic chains fastened between strategically placed chairs. It was impossible to photograph the ceiling from outside the barrier but there was no-one else up there just then so I moved a chair to gain access, got my shots then put the chair back afterwards.
Tucked in a corner on the floor below was a Japanese style anime-themed bar selling various flavoured iced teas and not much else – not my type of thing and no chance of getting a coffee and a snack there but at least I did manage to snatch a couple of photos while the young woman behind the counter wasn’t looking, then my last two shots were of one of the stairwells hung with many colourful decorations and streamers.
Afflecks is an absolute rabbit warren of shops, stalls, staircases and corridors and I could easily have spent a lot longer in there than I actually did. The amount of artwork in various places throughout the building is incredible, it’s everywhere, and there’s no way I could possibly put everything I photographed in one post. I could quite easily have missed a few things too so as this visit was made last summer it won’t be too long before I’m going back to see what else I can find.
Three days ago, on Wednesday, it was the second anniversary of losing my faithful little friend Sophie, almost five weeks on from a stroke she suffered soon after New Year 2020. I’d nursed her almost 24/7 and promised her that when she was feeling better we would go to Lytham Hall to see the snowdrops but sadly it wasn’t to be. She closed her eyes to life and slipped quietly away on February 9th 2020 and I was heartbroken, sad too that she never got to see the snowdrops.
Sophie was buried in a sheltered corner of my garden and I made another promise, a silent one this time, that I would plant some snowdrops in her little patch just as soon as I could. Unfortunately most of that month was extremely wet so it was March when I finally got to Lytham Hall, but by then the snowdrops were almost over and there were none for sale in the small courtyard garden hub either.
Circumstances beyond everyone’s control meant that the Hall and its grounds were closed to the public for the early part of 2021 so I couldn’t do the snowdrop walk that year, but with things now finally getting back to some sort of normality I took myself, Snowy and Poppie to Lytham Hall on Wednesday to see if I could fulfill my silent promise.
After almost three weeks of what seemed like incessant rain and two named storms it was a lovely day – blue sky, sunshine, no wind and not too chilly, perfect for doing the snowdrop walk round the Lytham Hall grounds, however I’d not been there long when the sky clouded over and the sun disappeared. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and once the clouds cleared away again the rest of the day was glorious.
Dotted around the grounds were several picture frames in strategic locations, placed in such a way that they could be used to frame a shot and get the best photo of a particular view. I hadn’t really bothered with them on my first visit three years ago as it was a weekend and there were too many people around but now mid week the place was quieter and I was able to utilise each frame without feeling rushed.
Although an ‘official’ route round the grounds was marked out by discreet arrows I preferred to find my own way round and my wanderings took me to the Lily Pond, a small lake in the woodland. I’d been round there two years ago in search of a ruined boat house which could have been quite photogenic, only to find it was more ruined than I expected and seemed to be undergoing some restoration. Unfortunately the intervening two years don’t seem to have produced any work and the boat house now looks in a worse condition than before.
Next was a walk round the fishing lake known as Curtains Pond, used and maintained by a private angling club. Thought to have been created in the 17th century when earth was excavated to build the high mound known as The Mount it was once used by the Clifton family as a water supply, and it’s reputed that John Talbot Clifton, who lived at the Hall in the late 19th and early 20th century, would often throw things in there in fits of temper. The Mount is the highest point in Lytham and once provided a viewing point to the sea and to the 3-mile gallop in the parkland where the Clifton family raced their horses.
Separating the woodland from the formal garden and lawns is the Paradise Wall with several buttresses on the garden side. Dating back to the late 17th century it was originally known as the Monks Wall due to the fact that in the Middle Ages there was a Benedictine Priory on the site, but since the 18th century it’s been known as the Paradise Wall.
The Dovecote was built in the mid 18th century and is now a Grade ll listed building in need of renovation. There are 850 nesting boxes built into the walls and these would have been accessible to the gamekeeper via a revolving ladder suspended from a gallows arm projecting from a central rotating post which in turn pivots on a pad stone. It’s a pity the building isn’t accessible to the public as I’d love to see this thing working.