The last Sunday in November saw me back on the street art hunt around the city centre but for once there wasn’t a lot of new stuff to find. That didn’t really surprise me – since before Halloween most of the month had seen nothing but rain, obviously not the best weather for painting murals on walls, so I’ve combined what I found in November with this month’s lot, plus a few quirky paste-ups thrown in.
Away from the NQ and into Ancoats I found a Bob The Builder look-alike, several random paste-ups covering a corner wall down a side street, on a vacant corner plot I found some amateur but colourful paintings on the surrounding wooden hoardings and unexpectedly came across the painted shutter of a small art gallery.
My wanderings took me from Ancoats into the unknown on the search for a certain something I’d been led to believe was in a certain place but all I found were random scribblings and graffiti, however the walk wasn’t in vain. I ended up near the Rochdale Canal and fastened to a mesh fencing surrounding a private car park were several laminated artworks depicting various locations around the city centre.
Back through the NQ, beyond Piccadilly Gardens and not far from St. Peter’s Square I found Manchester’s famous worker bee on a corner wall, then just to prove that you need to have eyes everywhere when looking for street art I unexpectedly spotted two very different artworks next to each other and a huge and very colourful bird on the wall of a modern high-rise office block
Back into the NQ and there was another unexpected find in the rear courtyard of a pub down a narrow side street I wouldn’t normally go along. I didn’t realise the significance at the time as I was trying to get the camera lens through the bars of a locked double gate but there are 22 bees in this, one for each of the 22 people killed in the 2017 Manchester Arena bomb attack. And finally in Thomas Street and just in time for Christmas the latest artwork by Hammo showing his trademark quirky characters.
Well that just about wraps up my Manchester street art finds for this year. Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my random ramblings over the last twelve months, have a great New Year and I’ll be back next week with ~ maybe ~ a few ‘looking back’ photos from this year.
Earlier this month I visited a couple of local garden centres for a mooch around their Christmas displays. Both places usually have some nice ones and they didn’t disappoint so here are some of the photos I took while I was wandering round – I think Santa must have had too much sherry in the first one!
And to round off this very short post, last week I found Santa in Manchester city centre, sitting happily on top of a huge present outside the Central Library in St. Peter’s Square. He does actually light up at night but the detail of his face isn’t easy to see when he’s illuminated.
Well the shopping is all done, work has finished until January 3rd, and I just have a few presents to wrap tonight, after that I can relax and enjoy the Christmas and New Year break. So to everyone out there in blogland, Merry Christmas from the Mouse House and I’ll be back next week with some street art.
Now I’m not one for walking, cycling or driving round with my eyes metaphorically closed but just recently I became aware of something which I must have passed hundreds, if not thousands, of times during my life without knowing what it is – the town’s only remaining tram pole.
Prior to 1900 Bolton had a fleet of horse-drawn trams which had operated from 1880, owned by E Holden & Co and serving several of the town’s suburban areas, with a town centre depot housing 48 trams and 350 horses. In 1899 Holden’s sold out to Bolton Corporation and the local authority immediately began a major modernisation programme with a total of 70 electric tramcars being ordered from a company in Preston. It was the largest single order for tramcars ever made in Britain and in less than a year Bolton’s tram network was revolutionised.
The last horse-drawn tram service operated on January 2nd 1900 and on the same date electric trams began running to seven of the town’s suburbs, while a circular network was developed within the town centre itself. One feature of the new tram system was the use of letters to denote the route, among them ‘H’ for the Halliwell area, ‘R’ for Rumworth and ‘G’ for Great Lever. Within a few short years the tram network was extended to three other outlying areas and in 1908 a parcel delivery service began to operate around the borough, while a contract was signed with Tillotson’s, owners of the Bolton Evening News, for bundles of newspapers to be picked up from their town centre offices and delivered by early morning tram to various newsagents shops.
The Corporation’s Tramways Committee had adopted a policy of keeping fares low and this policy continued despite inflation during the years of the First World War. After the war the number of passengers carried increased steadily from 32 million to 56 million and in 1928 nearly 60 million passengers were carried on the 150-strong tram fleet. Sadly though, the advent of the Second World War signalled the beginning of the end for the town’s tram network.
Track maintenance and much-needed repairs were put on hold during the war years and by the end of the war some parts of the network were in need of major investment. The Tramways Committee had already decided in the 1930s that the future of the town’s transport system lay with motor buses as these were more flexible and required less infrastructure than trams, so several tram routes had actually been abandoned before the war.
During the war years more routes were closed, one of these being the route from the town centre heading south past the local football ground – it was officially closed in November 1944 but the track and overhead wiring remained in place, with the route occasionally used by Football Specials on Saturdays. It was on such an occasion in September 1946 that a tram driver was forced to stop his tram about half a mile from the football ground when the track suddenly disappeared – the Highways Department had apparently failed to notify the Tramways Department of their intention to lift a section of what they regarded as redundant track.
By the end of 1946 all but one of the town’s tram routes had been closed and abandoned. The last route to survive was the ‘T’ service to the north east suburb of Tonge Moor and Tram No. 440 was picked to operate the final there-and-back service on March 29th 1947. It was suitably decorated for the occasion and driven by the Mayor of Bolton, and for the only time in the town’s tramway history smoking was permitted on board.
Fast forward to the early 1960s and Alan Ralphs and Derek Shepherd, two tram enthusiasts who had met at school and helped out at the town centre Tram Shed as teenagers, decided to rescue the shell of an old Bolton tramcar and restore it to its former glory. Most cars had been scrapped or sold off for other uses after the tram service ended in 1947 but the bottom deck of Tram No. 66 was located on a local moorland farm where it was being used as a chicken coop. After it was transported to a barn at Derek’s house a growing band of fellow enthusiasts dedicated their Monday evenings to its repair and restoration and the Bolton 66 Tramcar Trust was born.
By 1978 work was progressing well but the tram still needed a top deck – being of wooden construction none of the original top decks had survived in good enough condition after the tram fleet was scrapped so a replica had to be built from scratch. After a very generous donation from one of its members the restoration group was able to commission a custom-made top deck produced in kit form by a local cabinet maker and once this had been assembled, sealed, canvassed and glazed the interior fittings were added.
In June 1981 the now complete tram, painted in its period maroon and cream livery, was moved to Blackpool. After successfully undergoing its initial test runs it was put into service on the promenade and the restoration group had the satisfaction of seeing 18 years of their work transformed into a working tramcar carrying fare-paying passengers for the first time since the 1940s – and 41 years later it’s still providing a traditional British tram ride for visitors and enthusiasts.
The extensive network of tram routes in and around Bolton needed around 3,000 support poles for the overhead electric system and the majority of these were a standard three-section weldless type, embedded six feet into the ground and almost 27 feet high from pavement level to the ball and spike finials at the top. All the older poles had fluted cast iron bases embossed with the town’s coat-of arms and from the 1920s onwards were painted dark green with red bases and finials, though the finials weren’t just ornamental – they also prevented rain from running down the inside of the poles as well as dissuading birds from perching on the tops and making a mess.
In the years following the closure of the town’s tram network some of the poles enjoyed a second life as lamp standards but gradually they were all removed until only this one remained in situ, although I have no idea why this particular one has been allowed to stay. Dating from 1901 it stands close to the junction of the A666 and A6099 about a mile from the town centre and in 1997 the Bolton 66 Tramcar Trust renovated it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tramway’s closure. Twenty five years on and for the 75th anniversary just a few months ago the pole was given a fresh coat of paint by Bolton Council – the work was funded by the Trust and a plaque was fixed to the pole to give it a bit of history.
Bolton’s tram system and its trams had disappeared long before I was born so I was quite surprised when I recently found out about the last tram pole. This in turn sent me down the rabbit hole of researching the town’s tram history which has proved to be extremely interesting, and though I’ll probably never get to ride on Tram No. 66 at Blackpool it’s great to see what has been achieved by the efforts of a small group of people so I hope the tram – and the pole – stay around for many more years to come.
Following on from my tour of the Winter Gardens theatre in October and lunch in a nearby cafe I drove the couple of miles north to Hest Bank for another walk along the Lancaster Canal, this time heading south. Unfortunately the weather gods had decided they no longer wanted to play ball – although it had been beautifully sunny with blue sky while I was in the theatre it was now cloudy and dull, not the sort of weather to show the canal at its best and I did consider coming back home, but with the afternoon stretching before me I decided to do the walk anyway.
Parking on the foreshore at Hest Bank, directly in front of me across the grass was a rather cute looking metal shelduck sculpture with an attractive information board at its base. Created by Ulverston-based blacksmith Chris Bramall on behalf of the Morecambe Bay Partnership it’s one of seven unique bird sculptures situated in different locations around the bay, with each one being associated with that particular location.
Across the nearby level crossing and the main coast road Station Road took me up to Bridge 118 on the canal where I walked north for a hundred yards or so to check out the weird canalside people and their pets which I’d seen on my walk along there a month previously. With a large banner now fastened to the hedge they were definitely ready for Halloween and even their weird pets were dressed for the occasion.
Retracing my steps I went back to the bridge and headed south with my goal being the Milestone Bridge which carries the relatively new (opened in 2016) dual carriageway over the canal, linking Junction 34 of the M6 with Heysham and its port.
As far as canal walks go there was nothing remarkable about this one though maybe if the earlier sunshine and blue sky had still been around the surroundings would have looked a lot nicer. Reaching my goal of the Milestone Bridge and with no desire to go any farther on such a dull afternoon I turned and headed the almost two miles back to Bridge 118. Having seen no-one at all during the first part of the walk, at one point it was nice to see an approaching narrowboat and as it passed me the guy at the back of it shouted a cheery greeting. Having messed about on boats myself in previous years I’ve always thought boat people are a friendly lot.
Almost back to civilisation I saw just three more people, a couple walking a small dog and a guy sitting on a bench, then no-one else until I got back onto Station Road. Back at the level crossing I found the barriers were down so I crossed the line via the overhead bridge where I took my final shot of the day looking north along the shore to the hills across the bay.
With hindsight, if I’d known that the afternoon would turn out to be so cloudy I would have booked a later theatre tour and done the walk first while it was sunny but as the saying goes, hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Would I do that walk again? It would be nice to see that section of the canal in better weather so I might be tempted sometime next year.
Following my tour of the Winter Gardens Theatre in October I had a walk along the promenade to the artists wall. I’d noticed one or two new artworks as I’d driven along to the theatre and though several from last year were still there others had been replaced and I was quite surprised to see just how many new ones had been added since I photographed last year’s batch.
It was good to see that the artists wall is continuing to brighten up what is otherwise a redundant and derelict section of the promenade. Morecambe isn’t a place I would purposely visit in the winter months so it will be a while before I return but I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing some more new artwork on the wall next season.
The middle Sunday in October saw me heading to Morecambe for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Winter Gardens theatre situated on the Central Promenade. The late Victorian building became Grade ll listed in 1987 and since the formation of the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust in 2006 the theatre has been undergoing the long slow process of major repair and restoration, and in September 2020, after being intrigued by some photos of the ornate interior, I booked myself onto one of the guided tours. I wasn’t disappointed, the theatre’s history was fascinating, and though I intended to go back in 2021 I decided to wait until this year to see what progress had been made with the various renovations.
The tour guide this time was a very friendly and knowledgeable volunteer named Lesley and with only three other people in the group I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions and discuss things. Although I’d already seen many areas of the theatre on the previous tour other areas were now accessible and it was interesting to see photos and things I hadn’t seen before and to learn some more fascinating and quirky facts about the place.
Unfortunately there is no knowledge of the various entertainers advertised in the photo above – I would love to know what the ‘monkey music hall’ was and if it featured actual monkeys – although I have managed to find out about Cullen & Carthy. Johnnie Cullen (1868–1929) was born in Liverpool while Arthur Carthy (1869-1943) was born in Birkenhead and they met while working together in the machinery room of the newspaper printers producing the Liverpool Echo. They were eventually fired for entertaining their co-workers with singing and dancing and soon afterwards went on to form a comedy double act, achieving popularity on the British and Irish music hall, circus and variety stages and with the Winter Gardens theatre being a venue where they regularly appeared. With a career spanning almost four decades their partnership lasted from 1890 until Cullen’s death in 1929.
Just as previously the tour went from the ground floor of the auditorium, along different rear corridors and up and down various staircases, with stops along the way to see different interesting features. In an as yet unrestored area behind the Grand Circle it was nice to see a few more of the original seats uncovered for the tour and intriguing to see that they are of two different designs, with the red seats and arm rests being deeper than the blue ones, although no-one knows why.
The upper level of the central staircase featured typical late Victorian flocked wallpaper, ornate marble columns and balustrades, and though it’s not really noticeable in the photos all the carved cherubs have slightly different features and a different shade of hair colour.
Above the Grand Circle stairs led up to the underside of The Gods, now undergoing restoration, and halfway up a door led to the void underneath the seating, something which I hadn’t previously seen. Apparently in the past some of the theatre cleaners, rather than removing any rubbish properly, would just throw it into the void where it lay undisturbed for many years and it was only discovered when volunteers cleared out the void prior to renovation – a few of the items found are on display in one of the foyer’s ticket booths.
Another new feature of the tour was the opportunity to go out onto the wide balcony overlooking the promenade to get a closer view of the carved medallions on the wall above a central door – the interlinked letters MWG (Morecambe Winter Gardens) on the left and the date on the right. Access to the balcony was temporarily through the old and very basic Victorian gents’ toilets (no, I didn’t take a photo) and there were good clear views over the promenade and across the bay to the South Lakeland hills.
On the way back down to stage level there was the opportunity to look inside one of the upper boxes, which I’d seen on my previous visit, then the basic general dressing room and the star’s dressing room which now had the added ‘luxury’ of a tv, kettle, and a couple of pictures on the walls, before ending on the stage itself.
One anecdote tells of the theatre having a door big enough for an elephant to go through; sometime in the past an elephant did feature in one of the shows and behind the rear backdrop there is indeed a huge sliding door in the outer wall. The theatre has played host to many famous faces over the years and the final scenes for the 1960 Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer were shot on the Winter Gardens stage.
Although I’d seen many parts of the theatre on my previous visit two years ago it was good to see other parts which have now been made available for the tour and standing on the stage had once again brought back memories of my own days in local theatre. It’s great to see that hard work and dedication are slowly returning the Winter Gardens to its former glory and I’m looking forward to doing another tour in the not-too-distant future.