Manchester 1996 – the day the bomb went off

While researching something for a future blog post I recently came across something else of interest which I thought deserved a photo or two at the next opportunity. It was something which most people take for granted and will use or walk past without thinking twice about it, in fact without realising its significance I’ve walked past it myself many times over the last few years – a humble Royal Mail post box in Manchester city centre.
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Back in 1996 Saturday June 15th in Manchester started in blazing summer sunshine. It was the day before Father’s Day, the televised Euro 96 match between England and Scotland was to be played at Wembley that afternoon, tv crews from across Europe were in the city for the following day’s match between Russia and Germany at Old Trafford, and by 9.20am the streets had already started to fill up with football fans and crowds of shoppers, none of whom had any idea of the disaster which would happen just two hours later.
A busy Corporation Street – picture from the internet
Also at 9.20 two men in cagoules and sunglasses left a heavily loaded red and white Ford Cargo box van outside Marks and Spencer on Corporation Street – it was parked on double yellow lines with its hazard lights flashing and three minutes after it was abandoned a traffic warden slapped a parking ticket on it. Inside were 3,300 lbs of homemade explosive – a mixture of semtex and ammonium nitrate fertiliser – and as the men walked away they called an IRA chief in Ireland to tell him the bomb was in place before being picked up in nearby Cathedral Street by a third man in a burgundy-coloured Ford Granada which was later found abandoned in Preston.
Around 9.40am a man with an Irish accent called Granada TV to warn that a bomb would go off an hour later; similar calls were also made to Sky News, Salford University, North Manchester General Hospital and the Garda police in Dublin, with the man giving the location and using a special code word so police would know that the threat was genuine.
By 10am an estimated 80,000 people were shopping and working in the vicinity of the bomb and an immediate evacuation of the area was undertaken by officers from a police station half a mile away. It was a mammoth task though it was helped by having extra police on duty drafted in to control the football crowds, and while one group worked to move people away from the bomb area another group, assisted by firefighters and security guards from local stores, established a continuously expanding cordon around the area.
In previous years Mancunians had become used to bomb scares which invariably came to nothing so initially many people were reluctant to go – one hairdresser refused to let his clients leave his salon as they still had chemicals in their hair and a group of workmen wanted to stay put as they were on weekend rates, while a female police officer had to tell customers in Pizza Hut ”I don’t want to die because somebody won’t finish their pizza”.
By 11.10am the cordon had extended out to a quarter of a mile radius from the truck and 1.5 miles in circumference until there were no more officers to take it any further, and the heart of the city centre was completely deserted. An army bomb disposal squad, scrambled from Liverpool, set up a base 200 yards down the road and prepared to defuse the bomb by using a remote controlled robot to blow a hole in the side of the truck followed by a controlled blast to disable it – the first smaller blast went off at 11.16 but at 11.17 they ran out of time.
The Ford Cargo van moments before it exploded – picture from ITV News
When the bomb exploded the blast issued a force so powerful it travelled round 90 degree corners, knocking people off their feet and blowing out almost every window within half a mile. It was the largest bomb ever detonated within the UK since WW2 and the blast, which could be heard from 15 miles away, created a mushroom cloud which rose 1,000 feet from the ground. Immediately after the blast there was a sudden and eerie silence then a wall of noise as every alarm in the vicinity started wailing.
Dust and shards of glass rained down from the sky along with a torrent of masonry, and even people behind the police cordon and as far as half a mile away were showered with falling debris. The cctv screens at the police station went black and within five minutes the ambulance control centre received 60 calls to every street in the area. Several people as far away as Kendal’s department store on Deansgate – now House of Fraser – had wrongly believed they would be safe under the store’s canopy but were injured when the windows blew out.
Five fire engines and 30 firefighters had initially attended the scene with that number growing to 20 fire engines, 11 special appliances, 115 firefighters and 26 supervisory officers, and under a controlled and co-ordinated operation ambulance crews toured the city centre to pick up the more badly injured victims and take them to hospital while firefighters searched buildings for anyone who could be injured or trapped. While police commandeered a Metrolink tram to take 50 walking wounded to North Manchester General Hospital many others were treated in the streets by paramedics assisted by a few off-duty doctors and nurses who happened to be in the area at the time.
Around 212 people were injured in the blast that day, many quite seriously, but incredibly, due to the police’s remarkable evacuation, nobody had been killed. Nevertheless, much of the city centre lay in ruins and along with many homes some 700 businesses were damaged in some way, disrupting or ruining thousands of livelihoods. The historic landmarks of Manchester Cathedral, Chetham’s School of Music, the Corn Exchange and the Royal Exchange theatre were all damaged and would take several years and millions of pounds to restore, while Longridge House, the office block next to Marks and Spencer, would be demolished and the bus station under the Arndale centre would never reopen.
After the explosion – Marks and Spencer and Longridge House on the right, Arndale Centre on the left – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Part of the Arndale Centre – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Remains of Longridge House and what is now part of Exchange Square – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Marks and Spencer frontage – photo from Manchester Evening News
Amazingly, in the midst of all the chaos and carnage, one of the few things left standing was the Royal Mail post box. Situated outside Marks and Spencer and only a few yards from where the bomb exploded it survived almost unscathed by the blast – the mail it contained was untouched and was eventually delivered as if nothing had happened. The box was removed for minor repairs while the destroyed parts of the area were rebuilt then three years later it was returned to its original position with the addition of a plaque marking the event.
Marks and Spencer frontage and the post box – photo from Manchester Evening News
The post box today
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Corporation Street today
The new Marks and Spencer built on the previous site
Corporation Street today with Marks and Spencer on the right, Arndale shops on the left
The Corn Exchange building, Exchange Square
Corporation Street from Exchange Square tram stop
Many people went on to say that the bomb was ”the best thing to happen to Manchester” as the aftermath kick-started a huge regeneration scheme but those whose lives and businesses were directly affected obviously thought otherwise, while Manchester City Council insisted that a redevelopment scheme had already been in the pipeline.
One significant legacy of the bomb attack though is that up until September 2022 no-one was ever arrested in connection with it, apart from the Manchester Evening News journalist who revealed the name of the prime suspect and a man wrongly accused of being his source – but that’s a story for another time.

A new experience on New Year’s Eve

After a very quiet time over Christmas the day of New Year’s Eve gave me a very new and interesting experience when I went ‘green laning’ in the Yorkshire Dales with my ex-partner’s brother and sister-in-law, Alan and Louise. This was something I’d never heard of until a couple of months ago so when I was recently invited to join them on New Year’s Eve day I didn’t turn down the opportunity to do something different.
Green laning differs from off-roading in that off-roading takes place ~ legally ~ on wholly private land and a vehicle doesn’t always have to be road legal, whereas green laning takes place on unclassified and often unsurfaced roads, byways and tracks which are Public Rights of Way or BOATs – Byways Open to All Traffic – and vehicles have to be completely road legal with all the usual laws of the road applying. The terrain can be rough, rocky and muddy with stream/river crossings and hair-raising bends but also with great views over open countryside.
My day started at 7am when I was picked up at the end of my street and via the M6 and A684 we went through Sedbergh in south Cumbria to the group meeting point in the car park of the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes, the home of Wensleydale cheese in the Yorkshire Dales. We were first there so we had time for a brew and some toast while we waited for everyone else; it was only a small group, just two other couples plus the guide, Nathan, and his co-driver, and once we were all equipped with 2-way radios we set off at 10am on the first run.
Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes
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View from the car park
A short distance out of Hawes we got onto the first rough track which took us across Snaizeholme Fell – I was sitting in the middle of the rear seats so I could take photos through the front windscreen and it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. It wasn’t too long before we encountered our first obstacle when the track went steeply down to a gully then rose just as steeply up the other side; the gully was full of large rocks and we got momentarily stuck but with a bit of reversing, some wheel spin and lots of acceleration we got out and up the other side.
Snaizeholme Fell
Around the end of Dodd Fell and right along its eastern base a winding lane took us steeply downhill past the hamlet of Countersett to Semer Water, the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire. Along the north eastern end is what should be a tree-lined shingle parking area where overnight stays are allowed but the level of the lake had risen so much that it was completely covered by water which was almost up to the road.
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Semer Water down in the valley
There’s a parking area in there somewhere
Semer Water parking area – what it should look like – photo from Google maps
From Semer Water the lane climbed steadily uphill and eventually we turned off onto a rough track leading round another fell and across a very misty Crag Moor where we got a shout out from the last vehicle – someone needed a quick comfort stop which, being in the middle of nowhere, meant nipping behind the nearest available wall. 
Past a lone farmer in the process of blocking up a large gap in a damaged stone wall the track took us through Carpley Green Farm then downhill to a tarmac lane which led us to the A684 at Bainbridge. From there we drove almost thirteen miles east to the small market town of Leyburn for our lunch stop at 1pm, then with coffee and sandwiches demolished there was just time for me to take a few photos around the market place before setting off on the second run.
Comfort stop on Crag Moor
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Leyburn market place
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St. Matthew’s Church
This time the route took us around the countryside and moorland to the north of Leyburn and somewhere between Stainton and Downholme we made our first river crossing, then from there we went up through Marske and over Skelton Moor to the second river crossing at Helwith Bridge. 
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Holgate Beck at Helwith Bridge
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It was clean when we started
A short drive up and across another area of moorland and a rough track took us down to where we could cross back over Holgate Beck – and that’s where things became decidedly dodgy. At the entrance to an isolated farm was a notice – DO NOT FOLLOW SATNAV, THIS ROUTE IS UNSUITABLE, YOU WILL GET STUCK – and as we got towards the bottom of the track a call came over the radio that the track at the far side of the river was steep, extremely muddy, and had a tight bend with some rocks right on the corner.
Down at the riverside we were given the option of carrying on or turning back and rejoining the trail by another route but we all decided to carry on and we would go first, though Louise (probably wisely) stayed by the river to get some photos. We got through the water with no problem but the tight bend was a different matter; to avoid the rocks there was very little room to get round and there was also a steep unfenced drop down the hillside. It didn’t exactly fill me with joy but Alan is a very experienced driver so I had to put my trust in him and hope we made it without mishap.
With a fair amount of slipping and lurching about we got round in one piece and accelerated safely right to the top of the hill, where Louise eventually joined us after walking all the way up with Nathan who had stayed behind to make sure everyone got safely round the bend and up to the top.
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View of the steep track and dodgy bend
Discussing who went across first – it was us
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Halfway across
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The rocks on the bend – more of an obstacle than they look
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A short drive along the track took us to a narrow tarmac lane leading past a patchwork of open fields separated by dry stone walls then at the little hamlet of Hurst, which consisted of just two rows of three cottages and a farm, we turned onto Marrick Moor, passing a restored chimney which was once part of the Hurst lead mines. 
A very misty Marrick Moor
Old mine chimney on Marrick Moor
Across the moor the track took us on a rough and rocky descent down the escarpment overlooking the village of Reeth and heading towards the hamlet of Fremington, and we were still quite a distance from the bottom when we came across something we wouldn’t have expected to see in such a quiet location. Tucked in the angle of a stone wall was a small blue Toyota car plastered with mud and with its wheels embedded in deep ruts. With a non-existent driver’s side window and police tape all round it we could only assume that it had been stolen and abandoned after getting stuck.
Overlooking Reeth – there’s a sheer unfenced drop ahead on the right
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Heading down to Fremington – photo from Nathan Yeo, tour guide
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From Fremington a ‘B’ road took us through the village of Grinton and another area of moorland to the junction with the road leading to Redmire. The daylight was fading rapidly by then and Alan didn’t fancy doing another run in the dark so we decided to split from the group, make our way back to the A684 and head for home.
It was 7pm when I got dropped off at the end of the street, and though I hadn’t done much during the day other than ride around in the back of the Landrover I still felt quite tired. It had been a long day but also a very interesting and enjoyable one; it was a shame that the weather had been so cloudy and misty as the scenery around the Yorkshire Dales would have been lovely but now I’ve had my first taste of green laning I’m looking forward to experiencing another day later in the year and hopefully in much better weather.

A quick review of ’22

Well where do I start? On a personal level there was nothing remotely interesting or exciting about day-to-day life in the Mouse House in 2022 and other than catching a cold in June I’ve been happy and healthy all year so this post is just a look back at some of the places I went to on my travels during the year.
Most of January was grey, wet and miserable but towards the end of the month some lovely sunshine and blue sky appeared so I took Snowy and Poppie for the first long walk of the year through local countryside and round by Turton Tower and the Last Drop Village.
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February was another very wet month with three named storms almost one after the other so dog walking was kept to the avenues around home, however I still managed to get to a few places. The first Sunday of the month saw me walking round a blustery and very wet Manchester to capture some aspects of the Chinese New Year celebrations, a few days later I was on the snowdrop trail around Lytham Hall, the middle of the month I went to the Michaelangelo exhibiton at the Trafford Centre’s Event City, then the last few days of the month I had a mini break down in North Wales where the weather was mostly very good.
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For some reason March was a bit of a ‘nothing’ month with no opportunities for days out though I did make up for it in April with a long Easter weekend camping break back in North Wales during which I visited Colwyn Bay Zoo, climbed a very steep hill up to the remains of Deganwy Castle, walked across Conwy Suspension Bridge and wandered round a lovely part of Conwy Mountain.
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In May, thanks to some excellent prices on ebay and lots of visits by Royal Mail and Hermes, I completed my meerkat collection with the ones I didn’t have, making a full total of nineteen. I also visited, for the first time, Bazil Point on the Lune estuary and followed that with a walk round the tiny village of Sunderland Point across the river and a visit to Sambo’s grave.DSCF2856 - CopyDSCF2818 - CopyDSCF2909 - Copy
The beginning of June saw the advent of my birthday and thanks to my ever-generous son I got what must be the best birthday present ever. With a top speed of 16 kph it came with a free floor mat, has all the features I’ll ever need and more besides, and folds up when not in use. I haven’t yet got round to photographing it in situ so I’ve pinched a pic from the retailer’s website though it’s actually bigger than it looks.
The day of my birthday also saw me wandering round the Manchester Flower Show which coincided with Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, then the following weekend started a 10-day holiday back in North Wales where I went to many places including Conwy Castle, Gwrych Castle and the very beautiful Bodnant Gardens.
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The highlight of July was an overnight weekend stay in the van and completely off-grid on the edge of Glasson Dock village. The weather and views across the Lune estuary were great, I had a couple of lovely walks around the village and nearby countryside, and though going off-grid isn’t something I would do too often the experience had been a good one.
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August saw me visiting several different gardens on their open days, from small private gardens to larger gardens of several acres, none of which I’d been to before, and the particular highlights were the RHS Bridgewater Garden and Gresgarth Hall. I also went to the newly opened Castlefield Viaduct garden, and following my visit to Gresgarth Hall I had a lovely walk along a section of the River Lune.
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During a week’s leave from work in mid September a gloriously sunny day saw me walking from Hest Bank northwards along the Lancaster Canal for a couple of miles then heading down to the coast at Bolton-le-Sands and walking back to Hest Bank via the foreshore, where I eventually found the Praying Shell sculpture overlooking Morecambe Bay near Red Bank Farm.

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October was quite a busy time for getting out and about. At the beginning of the month I made my first ever visit to Southport’s Botanical Gardens then a week later made my second visit to Gresgarth Hall. This was followed by a mid-month second visit to Bridgewater Gardens and a few days later a tour of the Winter Gardens theatre at Morecambe and a walk southwards along the canal from Hest Bank, although disappointingly the earlier blue sky had changed to dull grey.DSCF4598 - CopyDSCF4635 - CopyDSCF4824 - CopyDSCF4992 - Copy
November was mostly a very wet month, it had rained almost every day since before Halloween but on one of the very few fine days I managed to get out for a walk along a section of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal not too far from home. Also that month I discovered a large old water wheel and a packhorse bridge, both fairly local to me but which I’d previously known nothing about.
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As for December, the highlight of the month occurred just yesterday on the day of New Year’s Eve but I’ve not had the chance to sort out all the photos yet, so I’ll just say it was an experience and it was ‘different’ and all will be revealed in my next post. Thanks to all my readers for checking out my various posts over the last twelve months and here’s to a great 2023 for everyone.