The mystery of Mary Ellen

One of the most interesting exhibits in the Manchester Police Museum’s Crime Room has quite an intriguing story attached to it – it goes back 40 years and asks more questions than it answers but as yet has no real ending. It’s the story of Mary Ellen and not only is it local to me but it features a house not far from where I worked at the time.
Back in mid December 1982 John Baxendale, who had recently come to live in a Victorian detached house not far from Bolton town centre, decided to have a clear out in the cellar to make a den for his two boisterous German Shepherd dogs. With no functioning electric light down there at the time he was working by candlelight and behind some furniture in a small dark alcove at the back of the cellar he came across what he first thought was a tailor’s dummy wrapped in cardboard and newspaper. Then he realised a tailor’s dummy doesn’t have bones – it was the partially mummified remains of a human body. He contacted the local police station, which was only a couple of streets away, and a major investigation was launched that day, an investigation which has never truly ended.
The house, now a modernised family home, where the body was found – screenshot from Google street view
The remains which were found were mainly bones but with the hands and arms in a mummified condition, and the clothing pointed to the body being female. It was wrapped as if this person had lain down and rolled over in cardboard and paper in an effort to keep warm so it was thought that maybe this had been someone homeless who had crept into the cellar from the outside, gone to sleep and never woke up. A later forensic examination concluded that the woman had been white, about 40 years old and of small stature, possibly only about 4ft 10ins tall, and there was no indication of foul play. A News of the World paper found around the body was dated March 13th 1966, leading police to surmise that she could have lain undiscovered in that cellar for up to 16 years.
Fingerprints were taken from her mummified fingers and descriptions of her clothing – pink underwear, a turquoise jumper, yellow cardigan and brown stretch stirrup trousers – were shared with the media, along with descriptions of her jewellery. She was found wearing one gold cross earring, a gold and diamond eternity ring on her left hand, and black rosary beads – police traced the ring to Birmingham but a jeweller there could offer no help as the jewellery had been mass produced and could have been purchased anywhere.
Two months later the Bolton CID team still had no leads so in a ground-breaking move for that time they turned to the pioneering new technique of facial reconstruction, asking forensic artist Richard Neave, who worked at Manchester University, to create a possible facial likeness using scientific measurements of the skull. It took a week to construct using modelling clay with a wig, eyebrows and eyelashes being glued on by a make-up artist from Granada TV and although it couldn’t be the woman’s exact face it was a face which would have been broadly similar. To give her some form of identity detectives named her Mary Ellen and the facial reconstruction was unveiled at a press conference in February 1983, gaining national attention as it was the first time the technique had ever been used in a public appeal by a British police force.
Mary Ellen and her creator Richard Neave – photo from BBC News archives
Following a tv news report detectives were contacted by Lily Jones who lived in Liverpool and thought Mary Ellen could be her mother, Ruth Hanratty, who had been missing since the early 1960s. Lily had been ten years old at the time her mother went missing and now only had a few old photos to go off but the facial likeness and description of Mary Ellen’s clothing were enough for her to contact the police, however DNA profiling wasn’t around at that time and Ruth Hanratty’s name didn’t show up on any missing persons list so there was no concrete proof that Mary Ellen was Lily’s mother.
With no way of knowing how Mary Ellen had died the coroner at the inquest recorded an open verdict and she was laid to rest in an unmarked common grave in a corner of a local cemetery, however the advancement of DNA profiling over the following years was enough for detectives to reopen the case in late 2009 in a bid to find out if Mary Ellen was Ruth Hanratty. Of course it wasn’t a matter of simply digging up a body – Mary Ellen had been buried in consecrated ground so strict procedures had to be followed which all took time. With DNA samples taken from Lily Jones and members of her family permission for an exhumation had to be sought from the Chancellor of the Diocese of the Church of England, forms had to be filled in and a specialist exhumation company had to be brought in to oversee the proceedings.
To avoid any unwanted attention from members of the public the exhumation, costing £10,000, was carried out at 4am one day in December, attended by Detective Rick Armstrong who had worked on the case from the start, a forensic anthropologist, a forensic pathologist, the police chaplain, a Church of England chaplain, the local authority grave diggers and members of the specialist exhumation company. The grave held six bodies and Mary Ellen had been the second one to be buried there so four others had to be taken out first – they all had identifying tags but Mary Ellen was just ”body of unknown female”. She was taken to Oldham mortuary where DNA was taken from a leg bone and some of the ribs then she was re-interred in the presence of the Church of England chaplain.
It was a few weeks before Detective Armstrong got the DNA results but sadly they weren’t what he was hoping for – with not enough points of match it was proved that Mary Ellen wasn’t Lily Jones’ mother Ruth. And from that day to this no-one has ever come forward to identify Mary Ellen. So who was she and what really happened to her?
Although detectives always held the opinion that she had been homeless and had sought shelter in that cellar Bolton Evening News crime reporter Steve Howarth, who covered the story from the beginning, held a different theory. Had she been homeless she would probably have had a coat and carried a few possessions in a bag, maybe even had a sleeping bag or blanket, but she had nothing only the clothes she wore. She also had the gold and diamond eternity ring which, although maybe not worth a great deal, she would surely have pawned if she was down on her luck and needed money.
The external access to the cellar was just a small door through which a coalman would have tipped the coal so it would have been difficult for someone to get in there without going through the house, which led to the theory that either she lived there at some time or knew someone who did and had been invited there. The house, like many large properties in that area, had once been bedsits often lived in by students who didn’t stay very long before moving on – the mid 1960s to 1970 was the height of the hippie culture and recreational drugs were popular so maybe Mary Ellen had gone to a party there and possibly died of an accidental drug overdose. She could have been a sex worker visiting a client or maybe she wasn’t local and had come to Bolton from another part of the country. The rosary beads suggested she was of Catholic faith so possibly she was Irish and had no family over here.
Although it’s all pure speculation it was Steve Howarth’s firm opinion that she had somehow come to an unfortunate end in that house and someone had wrapped her up and dumped her in a corner of the cellar hoping that nobody would find her, and for 16 years no-one did, although Greater Manchester Police didn’t share the same view. The cold case review unit was confident in the original theory that Mary Ellen had been homeless and there was absolutely no evidence that she was the victim of crime or that anyone else had been involved in her death.
Mary Ellen’s facial reconstruction is on display in the Crime Room at the Police Museum although not knowing the name detectives gave her at the time she was created the museum staff have always referred to her as Jane. Having been chipped around the nose and eyebrows over the years she is sadly looking a bit worse for wear, but then she is 40 years old after all.
The Crime Room information for Mary Ellen concentrates mainly on the facial reconstruction and how it came about so I’ve written her story using information from news archives and recent BBC podcasts featuring interviews with Detective Rick Armstrong, now retired, and crime reporter Steve Howarth, also retired. It would be nice to think that even after all this time someone would identify her and provide her real name but had she still been alive today she would now be around 90 years old so probably anyone who could have identified her may also no longer be alive. Sadly the mystery may never be solved and she will always remain Mary Ellen, the body in the cellar.

Stories from the Crime Room

During my recent look round the Crime Room at Manchester Police Museum I came across many interesting exhibits and stories, some which intrigued me more than others, so here are five of them which I thought deserved more than just a few cursory lines in my previous post.
On display in a corner of the room were the tools used by Manchester’s ‘King of Forgers’ Herbert Winstanley. Born in Liverpool in 1885 he worked in his father’s painting and decorating business until getting employment in Manchester as a design painter and engraver, however in 1937 his health failed somewhat and he was never fully employed again. After taking up etching as a hobby and making a few successful prints he decided to try his hand at copying a £1 bank note using both copper plates and lithographic stones. He obviously had some success as during the years of the Second World War a serious amount of forged £1 notes were found to be circulating round several areas of the country though mainly around Manchester and Salford and in particular at horse and dog racing tracks. Many suspects, mainly known forgers, were arrested and interviewed over the years but all were released through lack of evidence.
On June 2nd 1945 a bookmaker at Salford’s Albion Greyhound Track alerted two detectives on duty to two forged notes which had just been used to place a bet – both notes had exactly the same serial numbers. The detectives had seen the bet being placed and caught up with Winstanley who said he must have got the notes from another bookmaker. He willingly agreed to be searched but having only genuine money on him he was allowed to go free, however the detectives decided to keep him under close observation and discreetly followed him to a house in Rusholme, Manchester.
With backup from another detective the premises were later entered and searched in Winstanley’s presence and on opening a locked bedroom door they found a complete forger’s workshop containing a hand-operated printing press, inks, lithographic stones, copper plates and sheet copper, brushes, parcels of paper and many other tools. Winstanley was arrested and held in custody. The full search of the premises lasted four days and it was finally established that almost £20,000 of forged £10, £5 and £1 notes in various stages of process were hidden around that room.
A month later, on July 5th, Winstanley pleaded guilty to forgery at Manchester Assize Court and was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude. He was released in 1952 and returned to his lodgings, then 12 years later, in February 1964 and at the age of 79, he collapsed and died in the street near his home. He never revealed the method he had used to print the forged notes and his secret was taken to the grave with him.
The plates, lithographic stones, brushes and tools on display in the Crime Room are the original ones used by Winstanley. They have been examined by many experts over the years and even with modern technology it’s still been impossible to figure out the printing process developed and used so many years ago by Herbert Winstanley – ‘King of Forgers’.
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On June 21st 1943 Walter Graham Rowland was convicted of murdering his 2-year old daughter Mavis. He should have faced the death penalty but on the recommendation of the jury was sentenced to life imprisonment instead. In 1945 he was released on condition that he joined the armed forces, which he did, then in 1946 he was discharged from the forces and became a free man. On October 20th that year a woman’s body was found on a bomb site on Deansgate – later identified as Olive Balchin, a 40-year old prostitute from Birmingham, she had been battered to death with a hammer which was found nearby along with a piece of brown paper showing an imprint of that same hammer. The time of death was estimated to be around midnight on October 19th.
A description of the deceased was circulated in the media and enquiries were made about the hammer, resulting in three vital witnesses being interviewed. A waitress in a cafe near the murder scene remembered seeing a woman matching Olive Balchin’s description with a man and another woman around 6pm on the 19th, the licensee of a nearby pub had seen a man and woman arguing later that same evening and identified the woman as Olive, and the shopkeeper who sold the brown-paper-wrapped hammer also came forward with a description of the purchaser. Rowland was traced to his city centre lodgings and arrested as he resembled that description – all three witnesses picked him out in an identity parade and though he admitted to having known Olive Balchin for about eight weeks he totally denied killing her.
In his defence Rowland put forward an alibi to account for his whereabouts during the day and evening of October 19th and this was corroborated by various people including his mother, however the police forensic scientist stated that he had taken samples of soil and leaves at the murder scene and found identical material in Rowland’s trouser turn-ups when he was arrested. Rowland was charged with murder and his trial began on December 12th. He was found guilty and given the death sentence but he denied the charge and lodged an appeal, however on January 27th 1947 David John Ware, who was at the time in prison in Liverpool for theft, admitted that he was the person responsible for Olive Balchin’s murder – it was an admission which caused the adjournment of Rowland’s appeal.
In his statement to the police Ware said the murder took place at 10pm, not midnight, and the deceased’s name was Balshaw, not Balchin, but the High Court wasn’t happy with this statement and sent a barrister to question him, however he changed his story and completely denied he had carried out the murder. Rowland’s appeal recommenced but was dismissed and on February 27th 1947 he was hanged at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison, though he proclaimed his innocence right to the end. Four years later David John Ware was found guilty, but insane, of the attempted murder of a woman in Bristol – she had been battered round the head like Olive Balchin and the weapon used was a hammer.
So did Rowland really kill Olive Balchin or was he innocent all along? No-one will ever know, but whether he was or not, Walter Graham Rowland went to his grave with the distinction of being the only man reprieved for a murder he did commit and hanged for one he possibly didn’t.
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In the afternoon of Friday May 4th 1962 57-year old Sarah Isabella Cross was working in her sweet shop in Miles Platting, Manchester when sometime around 4pm 26-year old James Smith entered through the shop door and attacked her, hitting her numerous times with several large full mineral bottles he grabbed from behind the counter. He then forced open the till and stole what money he could before making his escape through the back door of the premises. Mrs Cross sustained bruising, lacerations and a 9-inch fracture of the skull and died where she lay, behind the counter and surrounded by the shattered remains of the five broken bottles.
Unfortunately for Smith the back door of the shop had not long been painted and was still wet so he left a good set of fingerprints on the door frame – these matched perfectly with his fingerprints from a previous conviction so on that evidence he was arrested and charged with murder. The fragments of the glass bottles found at the scene were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Chorley and were painstakingly glued back together by Detective Chief Inspector Albert Allen, however some fragments of the glass were missing and when Smith’s home was later searched small particles were found down the side of his settee. The pieces were sent for forensic testing and were microscopically matched to the rebuilt bottles.
The evidence against Smith was overwhelming and he was tried at Liverpool Crown Court on October 15th 1962. The trial lasted just three days before a jury found him guilty of murder and Mr Justice Stable passed the death sentence. James Smith was executed at Strangeways Prison on November 28th 1962 and because of the way the broken bottles had been pieced back together the case became known as The Jigsaw Murder.
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Late on Friday November 27th 1970 seven months pregnant Lynda Stewart, aged 22 was walking home alone after a night out with a friend when, in a completely random and unprovoked attack, she was dragged from the main road and through a hedge, punched, kicked, bitten, raped and beaten to death. Her partly clothed body was found the next morning in the garden of a house just a few minutes walk from her home. A footprint had been left at the scene and a crudely made metal ring was found nearby – forensic experts managed to trace the ring to a local engineering company
On learning that detectives were making enquiries at his place of work 18-year old apprentice Ronald Bennell left a suicide note in the locker of another apprentice and disappeared. He was found that night hiding in the larder at his girlfriend’s home, he had taken an overdose of aspirins in an attempt to kill himself. The boots he was wearing when arrested matched the footprint found at the crime scene and plaster impressions taken of his teeth matched the bite marks on Lynda’s body. His clothing contained fibres and skin fragments from Lynda as well as particles of tarmac from the crime scene, and police had also found her handbag and shoes thrown into different bins along the road leading to Bennell’s house.
After Bennell eventually admitted to the murder he was charged, pleaded guilty in court and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1983 then after causing two marriage break-ups during the next few years he killed again in 1989, raping and murdering 42-year old mum-of-three Pamela Noone who was walking through a Stockport park. He was arrested, convicted and given another life sentence in Strangeways Prison but possibly unable to face a second lengthy stretch behind bars he took his own life just a few weeks later.
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Sometime in the 1980s two businessmen contacted a Manchester bullion dealer and offered a quantity of gold bars for sale. They arranged to meet at the dealer’s office, having with them a metal strong box from which they carefully took out 274 50g gold bars, telling the dealer he could pick any four, test them for purity, and if he was satisfied he could pay them in cash for the whole consignment. The dealer picked out four random bars and was about to go off and test them when he was distracted by one of the men and without his knowledge four genuine bars were quickly swapped for the four he had chosen. On testing the four bars he found they were genuine and happily handed over the cash to the men who carefully put all the bars back into the strong box and locked it for safety. With the deal done they then left the shop, purposely ‘forgetting’ to give the dealer the key.
The dealer then spent quite some time sawing open the strong box and when he finally tipped the bars out onto the table he found that many were chipped on the edges. On testing them he found that all the gold bars he had bought, except the four genuine ones, were made of gold plated brass and only weighed 30g instead of 50g – he had paid out £84,000 (over £283,000 today) for 270 fake gold bars. The two businessmen were traced as far as Manchester Airport but were never seen again.
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These five stories are just a handful of those in the museum crime room which piqued my interest. There is another one from the early 1980s, a story which features a pioneering new technique in the forensics of that time and which, up to now, has no end, but I’ll save that one for another time. 

A museum with a difference

Many times while walking round Manchester’s Northern Quarter I’ve passed the police museum but have never been inside as it isn’t open at the weekends, however after recently reading some excellent online reviews I decided take some time out during my working week to pay the place a visit.
Established in 1981 the Manchester Police Museum is housed in the former Newton Street Police Station which was home to ‘A’ Division of Manchester City Police from 1879, followed by its successors Manchester and Salford Police (1968 to 1974) then Greater Manchester Police until its closure in 1979. During the building’s conversion to a museum the interior was restored to reflect its past and to show the history of policing in the city through the years from Victorian times to the present day. Funded by Greater Manchester Police it’s staffed by a group of very knowledgeable and helpful volunteers who are retired policemen and women or others who have had roles within local police forces.
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Just inside the entrance I was greeted by a very cheerful ex-police officer in casual uniform who showed me into the introduction gallery where there was lots of information about the very early days of policing and a life-size model of a 1920s police box. A typical British police box acted as a miniature police station where a patrolling officer would read and fill in reports, take meal breaks or temporarily hold detainees until transport arrived. Its telephone was linked directly to the local police station and was located behind a hinged door so it could be used from the outside, enabling members of the public to easily call the local emergency services. In addition to the telephone a police box would also contain an incident book, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. Although most police boxes were usually blue those in Glasgow were red until the late 1960s; apparently there are still around eight police boxes dotted round Glasgow city centre but most of these have been turned into coffee kiosks.
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Through the introduction gallery was the uniform gallery with several big display cabinets showing examples of police uniforms, caps, hats and helmets worn throughout the years, although a lot of light reflection rather interfered with getting really good photos. The volunteer on duty was Sandie, a lovely ex-police lady who was an absolute mine of interesting information and stories; she had also been the ‘model’ for the new uniform issued to policewomen in the mid 1970s and was the very first Manchester policewoman to wear it.
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The ‘Bobby Dazzler’ helmet on display is one of two worn by male officers who, to huge applause, famously kissed in the middle of Deansgate at Manchester Pride 2016, recreating Banksy’s ‘Kissing Coppers’ mural. The ‘Bobby Dazzlers’ were created for Greater Manchester Police by decorative headgear designer Brett Dearden using decommissioned helmets – each one is made up of 5,000 reflective tiles and took 15 hours to create.
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The Velocette L.E. was a motorbike used by over fifty British police forces during the 1950s and 60s, the model on display being in the original burgundy colour scheme of the Lancashire Constabulary and registered to that force in May 1966. Equipped with a typical radio telephone of that period, the rider had to stop at the roadside in order to pick up the phone to answer or send messages. This type of motorbike was often referred to as the ‘Noddy Bike’, which has absolutely no connection to Enid Blyton’s storybook character – police officers on foot always had to acknowledge senior officers with a salute as they passed but as it was unsafe for riders to take their hands off the handlebars they were told to nod to their superiors instead, hence they became known as Noddies on Noddy bikes.
Through the uniform gallery was the crime room with one corner decked out to look like a detective’s office in the 1950s and featuring various lethal weapons confiscated by the police over the years. There were lots more information panels, photos and fascinating exhibits on display including the tools of Manchester’s most prolific forger, a quantity of fake gold bullion, jewels and banknotes, and Greater Manchester’s first facial reconstruction. Again Sandie was quite happy to chat at length and tell me some very interesting facts and stories surrounding a few of the exhibits, including the tale of a man who was reprieved for a murder he did commit but hanged for a murder he possibly didn’t – these are all stories which deserve to be covered in a future post.
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From the crime room I went out into a light and airy atrium with lots of photos and models of different police vehicles used over the years, plus three decommissioned motorbikes and a police horse which sadly wasn’t real, although on some open days during school holidays there are often a couple of horses and their riders in attendance in the rear yard.

Left to right – Norton Commando, BMW Boxer (1990-2008) BMW 1100 RRT

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Purchased in December 1974 and used until 1979 the Norton Commando was one of the last Norton motorbikes used by Greater Manchester Police. Unlike the other 64 Nortons in use by GMP this one was originally an unmarked bike used by the Regional Crime Squad but is now fitted with the fairing as used by the uniform branch.
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Through the rear door of the atrium and across the cobbled yard I came to the Charge Office, again set up to reflect its past use and with several different truncheons and sets of handcuffs in a ‘hands on’ display, with another very friendly ex-police lady on hand to impart information and answer any questions. The pigeon hole shelves behind the counter were an early equivalent of a key safe – at the close of business shopkeepers would hand in their keys which would be kept overnight in a locked box and handed back the following day, meaning that if a policeman needed to access a property in an emergency he could do so without the owner needing to be there.
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A door from the Charge Office led directly to the cells and I have to say that in times past this place must have been pretty grim. Two Victorian sinks stood at the end of the corridor and each cell had just a basic non-flushing toilet in a corner, two wooden beds with wooden ‘pillows’ and one blanket on each. One cell acted as the Reserve Man’s ‘office’ and for the purposes of the museum the walls of another cell were set out as a photo gallery with late 19th/early 20th century mugshots of those who, for whatever reason, had seen the inside of those cells.
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In the old Manchester City Police Force every station had a Reserve Man, a constable who would fingerprint prisoners on their arrival and feed them while they were in the cells, also completing any paperwork and cleaning the police station. Apparently some Reserve Men were quite eccentric and one man could often be seen standing on his head in the cell corridor, practicing his yoga, while another would play his violin to entertain the prisoners.

The Reserve Man’s ‘office’

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Along the corridor wall were cardboard silhouette cut-outs of men, women and children with each cut-out showing the name, crime and sentence of a person who had been in the cells. The dead duck one rather amused me at the time but thinking about it seriously it really wasn’t funny. Back in Victorian times some people would have been so poor they probably had to resort to crimes like that just to put food on the table.
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Back through the Charge Office another door led to what was once the original public entrance to the police station. The double doors are now a fire exit but just a few feet in are the huge iron gates which would have protected the entrance. All the Victorian police stations in Manchester were once fitted with massive iron gates to protect them from rioting mobs and the museum riot gates are now the only ones which survive intact.
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Up the nearby stairs was the 1895 Courtroom, which was originally the police station parade room, and the Doctor’s Room which would have been used by police surgeons to attend to officers or prisoners who were sick and to write up reports of post mortems carried out in the mortuary across the station yard. The Courtroom was originally the Magistrates’ Courtroom above Denton Police Station – the courtroom itself closed down in 1980 and the police station at the beginning of the 21st century, then in December 2001 the police museum looked into transferring the courtroom to the museum’s old parade room. Thanks to a 90% grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the remainder of the cost provided by Greater Manchester Police the project went ahead in 2004, and after lots of careful repair and restoration the courtroom was restored to its former glory in its new location.
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These 19th century stained glass panels originally formed a roof light at Denton Magistrates Court

Back downstairs the museum was beginning to get quite busy and though I would have liked to get some more photos I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it without other people getting in my way so I decided to head for my usual cafe to grab a coffee before getting the next train home.
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Although I spent almost two hours looking round the museum I could have stayed longer as there was so much to see and to read about. Very much like Dr. Who’s Tardis there’s far more on the inside than it looks from the outside though I think my favourite section has to be the Crime Room as it has so many fascinating exhibits and stories. I know I didn’t see everything of interest as there’s so much of it but my visit was so enjoyable I know it won’t be too long before I make a return.

Manchester street art – January/February 2023

Since the beginning of the year the street art scene around the city centre hasn’t produced very much new stuff – presumably various artists have been staying out of the cold wet weather – so again I’ve combined what I found over two months, plus a couple of paste-ups, into this one post.
Two of the gable end advertising walls have been blank for some weeks and the one which has been painted featured something I wasn’t interested in photographing so this collection kicks off with a long artwork by Sheffield-based Marcus Method and one of Jay Sharples’ distinctive ape faces in Thomas Street, while the window decoration at the nearby pet shop is something I don’t normally see as the shutter is usually down.
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The artists of the next three works are all unknown though the collection of bees on a shutter, which I came across unexpectedly and is best viewed from a distance, were instantly recognisable as being by Qubek, while I loved the amusing ‘A’ board, done by another unknown artist, outside a bar.
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The quirky paste-ups were on a corner wall not far from Stevenson Square and the monochrome drag queen, if that’s what it was supposed to be, was at the bottom of the main staircase in Afflecks – it was part of an advert for a series of artworks further up the stairs but when I got there I found the top floor and its staircase closed off so I couldn’t find any others. Another typewriter by Wrdsmith was a chance find as it was right down at the bottom of a corner wall and quite easy to miss.
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Away from the Northern Quarter and somewhere off Deansgate yet another multi-storey multi-purpose office building was being constructed, with colourful pictures on the surrounding street-side hoardings of what it would (presumably) look like once finished. On Deansgate itself I came across the highly decorated window of a design and print shop – it looked so nice I thought it deserved more than one photo – then back in the NQ and down a narrow side street I found an artwork by Alex Cullen, only the second one of his/hers I’ve found so far.
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The final artwork in this batch is a vibrant piece done by very talented London-based artist Katie Scott on a section of Afflecks wall in Church Street, although due to the number of nearby poles, street signs and passing cars photographing the whole thing wasn’t an easy task.
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Well that just about wraps up my finds for January and last month. I’ve already got a few new finds for this month after my most recent visit to the city last weekend so I’m hoping that, weather permitting, I can add to them over the next two or three weeks for another post at the end of the month.

Manchester’s Hidden Gem – St. Mary’s Catholic Church

On one of my recent wanderings round the city centre I discovered, almost by accident, St. Mary’s Catholic Church otherwise known as the Hidden Gem. Tucked away down a narrow side street near the Town Hall and surrounded by taller modern buildings it isn’t immediately obvious and I only found it after going down an alley in search of street art.
The parish of St. Mary dates back to 1794 though the first permanent Catholic chapel to be built in Manchester following the Reformation was St Chad’s, situated a short distance away in Rook Street (now Fountain Street) and opened in 1774. In 1778 St Chad’s was taken over by Father Rowland Broomhead and in 1792 he decided to set up a second Catholic chapel in the city, purchasing a suitable plot of land on Mulberry Street not far from Deansgate.
Intentionally positioned in one of Manchester’s worst areas, St. Mary’s was built to serve the poorest of the city’s population and was officially opened on November 30th 1794 with Father Edward Kenyon, who had been assistant to Father Broomhead, becoming the first Rector. Contrary to popular local myth the church was never built in secret or meant to be hidden, in fact Mulberry Street, although in a deprived area, was actually a busy residential and commercial thoroughfare and the church’s opening was announced in the local newspapers.
When Father Kenyon left St. Mary’s to take charge of Pleasington Priory, Blackburn, in 1816 he was succeeded by Father Thomas Lupton who was in turn succeeded by Father Henry Gillow in 1822. In 1833 Father Gillow decided to have the building re-roofed and redecorated with the help of some of the congregation who were in the building trade but without employing a master builder to oversee the project, a decision which was to prove very unwise. Just two years later, on August 8th 1835, a large crack appeared in the dome above the altar; the church was closed and locked up and later that evening the whole dome and part of the roof collapsed, damaging the structure itself and much of the interior. With the church unusable services were moved to the companion school in nearby Lloyd Street and the search started for a new site for St. Mary’s.
Father Gillow died in the Manchester typhus epidemic of 1837; he was succeeded by Father J Billington but plans for a new church site were put on hold. Father Mathias Formby took over in 1844 and the decision was finally taken to rebuild St. Mary’s on the existing site, with Father Formby making the arrangements. Designs by architects Weightman & Hadfield of Sheffield were approved with Matthew Ellison Hadfield overseeing the rebuild; St. Mary’s was completely demolished and rebuilding began that year. Rhenish Romanesque in style, the new St Mary’s was completed in 1848 and formally opened in October that year.
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Mosaic entrance porch

In 1869 Father John Newton became Missionary Rector of St. Mary’s and along with having the adjacent presbytery remodelled in a Venetian Gothic style he also commissioned sculptor Mr Lane of Preston to design and carve the intricately decorated high altar, side altar and shrine of Our Lady of Manchester. It was as a result of these carvings that the church first came to be known as the ‘Hidden Gem’ when Bishop Herbert Vaughn, who became the second Catholic Bishop of Salford in 1872, commented that ”no matter on which side of the church you look, you behold a hidden gem” – the description was so appropriate that the name stuck and has been used ever since.
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Medieval font obtained from Germany by Bishop Vaughn

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Side chapel with Pieta centrepiece

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Shrine of Our Lady of Manchester

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Stained glass window in the shrine

After the First World War a memorial meeting room was constructed above the south aisle of the church, accessible by an internal stairwell in the church tower as well as from the second floor of the presbytery. The church was designated a listed building in 1963 then a few years later various alterations to the sanctuary included a new lectern and altar though the reredos was left intact.
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Decorative panels in the porch screen

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In 1993/94 both the church and presbytery had a thorough restoration and the Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 contemporary paintings, were commissioned from noted religious artist Norman Adams RA to be installed on each side of the nave in 1995. Now I admit that a lot of modern art is beyond me as much of it bears no resemblance to what it’s supposed to be and these paintings, to me at least, are a case in point. I liked them for their bright colours, in complete contrast to the rest of the church’s interior, but most of them were hideous and enough to give a small child nightmares so I only photographed a few.
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In the 19th century Father George Ignatius Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, preached at St. Mary’s and during the 20th century the church grew to be known by Catholics far and wide. The world famous Italian opera star Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) once sang at High Mass and the church has also been the subject of paintings by L.S.Lowry and Salford artist Harold Riley.
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Although when St. Mary’s was originally built it was never meant to be hidden, progress through the years means that it’s now surrounded by much taller buildings, some only built fairly recently, but with its beautiful interior, understated yet colourful stained glass windows and calm peaceful atmosphere it really is a Hidden Gem.

Snowdrops at Lytham Hall

What happens when you go somewhere to take some photos only to find when you get there that the sky is cloudy and grey and doesn’t show your subject at its best? – well, you just go back again on a much nicer day. Such was the situation just recently when ten days ago I went to Lytham Hall to photograph the carpets of snowdrops in the grounds around the Hall. It was sunny when I left home but by the time I got to Lytham an hour later the blue sky had been obliterated by grey cloud, however just two days ago the weather gods decided to present me with a day full of widespread sunshine and an almost cloudless sky. It was a day not to be missed so off I went, back to Lytham to retake some of my previous photos.
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Walking round the lily pond it was nice to see that the fountain was in action and some very slow progress had finally been made on the restoration of the old boathouse. Built around 1885 it was never very sturdy and it eventually fell into disrepair under the last Squire Clifton who owned the Hall until 1963.
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The boathouse – February 2022

The boathouse – 2023

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Just as in previous years several wooden picture frames on stands were dotted about in strategic places around the grounds and though some of them were well worn or a bit wonky they were very useful in framing photos of various views.
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In the days between my two visits a few clumps of miniature daffodils had appeared here and there among the snowdrops and various things were beginning to come to life in the border near the kitchen garden. A look round the plant sales area gave me a couple of photos of some colourful things growing in pots then giving the cafe a miss as there was a long queue I set off back home.
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Although the morning had started off quite frosty the day had warmed up nicely with the sunshine and it was even warm enough to drive with the window down. It was a complete contrast to the previous week and the glorious day showed that spring is definitely hovering just around the corner.

Manchester Cathedral – a church rich in history

At the end of one of my wanderings around the city centre a while ago I had some time to spare before the next train home so as the cathedral had long been on my list of places to visit I called in to have a look round. Not far from Victoria Station and tucked away behind a triangle of bars, eateries and a couple of pubs the building isn’t exactly obvious so even on a busy Saturday afternoon there was only a handful of fellow visitors in there.
The origins of Manchester’s first churches are a little obscure but the Domesday survey in 1086 stated that the parish church of St. Mary existed on the site of the present cathedral. The land was owned by the Greslet family, Barons of Manchester, and the church was built beside their manor house which is now Chetham’s School of Music. Around 1215 the Greslets extended the church before the estate passed by marriage to the de la Warre family in 1311, then around 1350 the church was extended again, becoming the same length as the present cathedral though it was much narrower.
At the end of the 14th century Thomas de la Warre became both Rector of the church and 5th Baron of Manchester. A priest for more than 50 years, in 1421 he was granted a licence from King Henry V and Pope Martin V to establish a collegiate church dedicated to St. Mary, St. George and St. Denys, with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers. When he died in 1426 he left £3,000 for the benefit of the collegiate buildings and most of this was used to convert the Baron’s Hall into a house-of-residence for the fellows of the College to live in.
During the years which followed various parts of the church were rebuilt and extended, including the reconstruction of the nave and choir stalls, with the choir stalls themselves and their misericord seats being carved at the workshop of William Brownflet of Ripon between 1500 and 1506. The college was dissolved in 1547 under the Dissolution of Colleges Act which came into force that year then ten years later it was re-established as a Roman Catholic foundation by Mary I. In 1578 it was re-founded again by Elizabeth I as the protestant College of Christ with a warden, four fellows, two chaplains, four singing men and four choristers.
Fast forward to 1840 and under the Cathedrals Act of that year the warden and fellows of the collegiate church were promoted to Dean and Canons in preparation for the church becoming the cathedral of the new Manchester Diocese which came into effect in 1847. Initial proposals for a new cathedral to be built on Piccadilly Gardens didn’t proceed and a period of major restoration and building work was started on the church the same year. In 1864 the original tower, which had fallen into disrepair, was demolished and replaced with a new tower – identical to the old one but six feet taller it was formally opened in 1868.
In 1897, to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Victoria Porch was built below the tower and adorned with a sculpture of the Queen carved by her daughter, Princess Louise. In the years between 1898 and 1936 more building work was undertaken which included a new West End and porch and extensions to provide a library, refectory and choir school. In 1925 ten bells, to be hung in the cathedral tower for change ringing, were cast by bellfounders Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, with the tenor (largest) bell weighing 1.3 tonnes. In 1936 the Derby Chapel, previously the St. John the Baptist Chapel dating from 1513, was refitted as the Regimental Chapel for the Manchester Regiment.
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On December 22nd 1940, during the Manchester Blitz, a German bomb exploded a few yards from the north-east corner of the cathedral, severely damaging the roof and demolishing the medieval Lady Chapel and the chantry chapel. All the Victorian stained glass windows were blown out, the medieval choir stalls toppled inwards so as to meet one another and the organ case over the pulpitum was destroyed. It took almost 20 years to complete all the repairs to the building during which stop-gap measures were taken to repair the organ re-using the old pipework, and the Lady Chapel was rebuilt to the designs of architect Hubert Worthington.
In 1966, Margaret Traherne’s  ‘Fire Window’ was installed to commemorate Manchester’s part in the two world wars and also as a symbol of renewal and reconciliation. This was followed over a period of almost 30 years by five new windows on the western side of the Nave : St George in 1972, St Denys in 1976, St Mary in 1980, The Creation in 1991 and The Revelation in 1995.

Fire window – 1966

St. George – 1972

St. Denys – 1976

St. Mary – 1980

The Creation – 1991

The Revelation – 1995

In 1996 the cathedral again suffered damage when the IRA bomb exploded on nearby Corporation Street. Restoration work followed and the Healing Window by Linda Walton was installed above the east door in 2004 to mark the completion of this work. In 2016 the Hope Window, designed by Alan Davis, was installed on the other side of the east wall, representing the journey towards new life. The donors also intended it to be a symbol of the strong bond which exists between City and Cathedral.

Healing – 2004

Hope – 2016

Further work in recent years has included new heating, lighting and flooring together with a splendid new organ sponsored by the Stoller Charitable Trust and built at Tickell’s workshop in Northampton for a total cost of around £2.6m. Installation began in July 2016 with the medieval screen between the Nave and the Quire being strengthened to support the four main divisions of the organ. The 4,800-plus pipes range from 6 inches to 32 feet high with the pipe shades designed by text artist Stephen Raw – those facing the Quire were gilded by hand using wafer-thin 23.5 carat gold leaf and the cut out lettering was taken from the words of the liturgy in Latin. After a long period of tuning the organ was officially handed over to the Dean of Manchester on April 3rd 2017 and was played for the first time on Easter Sunday that year.
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In May 2021 the cathedral reached its 600th anniversary of becoming a Collegiate Church and in July that year was visited by Elizabeth ll, then a special Anniversary Service, delayed by a year due to the Covid pandemic, was finally held on May 5th 2022 in the presence of the Lord Archbishop of York.

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Discovered in 1871 during excavation work in the South Porch area the Angel Stone is the oldest artefact in the cathedral and is believed to date from the 9th century. Now protected behind a glass panel it was difficult to photograph without reflections so I’ve taken the picture from the cathedral’s own website. The Holy Night statue was sculpted by Josephina de Vasconcellos in 1992 and represents the Holy Family in the stable.

Angel Stone – photo from Manchester Cathedral

The Holy Night statue

Medieval screen separating the Nave from the Quire

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Colourful and ornate detail on the screen

Looking through the Quire to the High Altar

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Ornate carving round the choir stall canopies

Cathedral Quire
The choir stalls themselves contain thirty 16th century misericords similar in style to those at Ripon Cathedral and Beverley Minster and considered to be among the finest in Europe. Unusual, comical and sometimes a touch bloodthirsty, one of the most notable is the earliest known depiction of backgammon in the UK. Although I photographed most of them it would be impossible to put them all on here so I’ve included just a few of my favourites.

A game of backgammon

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The stand-alone Bishop’s Throne, although in keeping with the medieval choir stall canopies, is actually late Victorian, made in 1906 by Sir Charles Nicholson. Two kangaroos were included in the carving as a tribute to James Moorhouse, third Bishop of Manchester for seventeen years from May 1886 to his retirement in 1903 – previous to his position in Manchester he had been Bishop of Melbourne, Australia, for ten years from 1876.
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Lectern c1850 made by architect George Shaw

Built around 1421 by Warden John Huntington, the original rectangular Chapter House was used as a daily meeting place for the Warden and Fellows of the Collegiate Church. Its present octagonal shape was introduced when it was rebuilt in 1506 by Warden James Stanley and the walls contain the coats-of-arms of various families, both royal and local, who have historical connections with the Cathedral, including Henry V, Elizabeth l and George Vl.

Chapter House entrance

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The Fraser Chapel was built in 1887 in memory of Bishop Fraser, second Bishop of Manchester from 1870 to 1885. Known as ‘the peoples’ Bishop’ he was renowned for his concern for the ordinary people of the Diocese and for organising collections for the families of workers on strike. Following damage from the 1996 IRA bomb the chapel was refurbished as a Chapel for Private Prayer and includes a modern painted reredos and a stained glass window designed by Mark Cazalet.
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The statue of Sir Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653) was erected in 1853 and serves as a reminder of the link between the Cathedral and Chetham’s Hospital School. The school was founded in the original manor house buildings in 1658 with money left by Humphrey Chetham on his death three years earlier; in 1952 it became a boys’ grammar school then in 1969 became Chetham’s School of Music where the Cathedral choristers are educated. The world famous mid-17th century Chetham’s Library is also located in the school buildings.
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The Lady Chapel

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A delicately carved screen, one of the oldest in the Cathedral

The Jesus Chapel built in 1506

The Regimental Chapel and Fire Window

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The High Altar

Ornate altar screen

Compared to cathedrals such as Canterbury, Lincoln and York Minster Manchester Cathedral isn’t a big place but in spite of parts of it being heavily restored after two lots of bomb damage there are still so many historical and interesting features that it would be impossible to photograph and write about everything. It was certainly well worth the time I spent looking round and I may very well make a second visit soon to see what I missed this time.

Hornby Castle Gardens and a quick trip to Morecambe

Just a few days ago the dogs and I paid a visit to Hornby Castle Gardens during the snowdrop open weekend. I’d originally been undecided about going as (according to the website) with it being early in the season some of the snowdrops were only just getting going but this was the only weekend the gardens could open, however we hadn’t had a decent day out so far this year and the weather was promising so off we went.
If I thought that getting there soon after the 11am opening time would avoid what would later be a lot of visitors I was wrong, there was quite a queue to pay at the table set up just inside the main gates. With a history talk scheduled for 12 noon at the main house most people seemed to be heading up that way so I went in the opposite direction to where it might be a bit quieter, starting with the woodland walk.
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Past the pond the path led me to the walled garden but with bare flower beds and nothing much growing anywhere there was very little to see so I went down to the riverside, walking along by the water then following a steep path up to the corner of the castle lawns. Across the front of the castle steep steps took me back down onto the main driveway and with nothing else to see I headed back to the main road and the car park.
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The Lodge

River Wenning from the road bridge, Hornby village

Still only lunch time and with the rest of the afternoon ahead it was too early to think about going back home once I left Hornby Castle so I headed for Morecambe and an excellent filling lunch of home made steak pie, mash, veg and gravy in Rita’s Cafe on the promenade, followed by a mooch round the indoor Festival Market then a walk down to West End and back along the promenade as far as the Eric Morecambe statue before returning to the van and finally heading for home.
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The daylight hours increasing slowly each day meant that I was back home before it started to go dark, with the dogs having slept all the way back. As far as days out go there had been nothing special about this one but it had been good to have a few hours away from my local area, and if dogs could talk I’m sure Snowy and Poppie would agree.

Out of sight – but not out of danger

Just as many people of a certain age can remember where they were when they heard about the assassination of America’s President Kennedy back in 1963, the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre will be forever etched in the minds and memories of the many people and their families who were affected by it. In one of the darkest and most defining moments in Manchester’s history the huge explosion on Saturday June 15th 1996 ripped through the heart of the city centre, tearing buildings apart and hurling glass and rubble a mile into the air before it rained down on hundreds of terrified shoppers and workers.

The explosion seen from the Cross Street/King Street junction – Photo from Manchester Evening News

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Photo from Manchester Evening News, taken from Withy Grove

Later referred to as ‘the bomb that went round corners’ the blast hit people well out of its sight-line with a brute force that sent them flying. Windows were momentarily sucked inwards before being blown outwards a split second later, glass rained down from the high-rise Arndale tower and the bottom fell out of the escalators on Market Street, while outside Kendals people sheltering under the store’s canopy were showered with shards of broken glass when the windows blew out. Alarms shrieked from every street and hundreds of people on the edge of the inner cordon were terrified into a stampede down Deansgate, while others wandered round dazed and confused or lay on the ground in pools of blood, injured by flying glass and debris.

Photo from Manchester Evening News

However, where there was great terror there was also great heroism. An incredible operation by emergency services staff who put their own lives at risk to clear 80,000 people away from the immediate bomb area, treated many of the wounded afterwards and went in search of others who may be trapped in damaged buildings made sure that in spite of the devastation caused by the explosion no-one died.
Immediately after the blast the fire crews kicked into action; reinforcements raced into the city from across the Greater Manchester region and the initial 5 fire engines and 30 firefighters turned into 20 fire engines, 11 special appliances, 115 firefighters and 26 supervisory officers. With 60 calls in the first five minutes to the ambulance control centre just over three miles away 81 ambulances and their crews from across Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Yorkshire were drafted in to tend to injuries and take casualties to hospital, while an off-duty doctor on the outskirts of the city rushed to assist staff at Manchester Royal Infirmary. He was later issued with a speeding ticket but was let off because of the circumstances.
Firefighters wearing heavy breathing apparatus sprinted up shattered stairways and down into cellars, searching for anyone trapped or injured inside abandoned shops and offices; the bomb had set off the sprinkler systems in many buildings and water was trickling down through the floors. A man suffering from severe cuts was led to safety from the Corn Exchange while an aerial platform was used to rescue an injured security guard from the third floor of the Arndale Centre. In the Royal Insurance building 100 yards from the blast cries for help were heard coming from the second floor where firefighters found 15 people suffering from shock, cuts and blast injuries, while on the third floor they found a woman lying among the debris with horrific facial injuries.
That woman was Barbara Welch, the most seriously injured of all the bomb’s victims. In the split second following the blast she took the full force of a blown out window – her face was shredded by thousands of shards of glass, most of her teeth were lost and she also suffered a damaged retina and ligament damage to her hand. Unconscious for three days, she woke in hospital with more than 250 stitches in her face and her head swollen to three times its normal size. She was allowed home after two weeks but needed more than 50 further hospital appointments, extensive surgery to repair damage to her jaw and to reconstruct her face, and months of physiotherapy.

The Royal Insurance building – Barbara’s car, third from bottom right, was written off in the explosion along with many others – Photo from Manchester Evening News

A Kendal’s security guard and his colleague, on duty in the store, were knocked off their feet by the force of the blast. Despite having been hit by flying glass he went to the aid of a shopper crying hysterically and covered in blood from injuries to her neck and hand; he got her to the safety of one of the ambulances then went back to help as many more people as he could. A while afterwards that lady wrote to thank him.
On the edge of the inner cordon fifty staff working in the Co-op building had been told to stay inside and away from the windows but that didn’t stop them from feeling the force of the bomb. Part of the explosive-laden van landed on the second floor roof garden, its impact sending ceiling tiles showering down onto the workers, however following a couple of previous bomb attacks in the city all but two of the windows had been covered with protective film so they stayed intact. Thankfully none of the workers were injured and they were allowed out of the building an hour and a half after the bomb exploded.
By 3pm the heart of the city centre was desolate. Buses had stopped at the beginning of the evacuation and the streets were littered with stranded and destroyed cars, while dazed shoppers and workers made their way to the edge of the city to try to find phone boxes or transport home. The streets closest to the bomb site were just a sea of rubble and broken glass while added to the continual wailing of alarms music still played in some of the abandoned shops. Mannequins hung eerily out of shop windows where glass had once been and for hours afterwards pieces of masonry continued to fall from damaged buildings.

Photo from Manchester Evening News

Devastation on Corporation Street – photo from Manchester Evening News

Photo from Manchester Evening News

Inside the Arndale Centre – photo from Manchester Evening News

Arndale Centre – photo from Manchester Evening News

Photo from Manchester Evening News

A damaged window in Manchester Cathedral – photo from Manchester Evening News

It took three years to rebuild and redevelop the damaged parts of the city centre and looking at the modern buildings today it’s hard to believe what happened there in 1996. Sadly though, for many people the sight of those new buildings will never erase the memories, evidenced by words from a couple of Manchester Evening News readers in a feature published twenty years later –
”As one of the 212 people injured that day, the physical injuries healed a long time ago. The mental torment I’ve had ever since will never leave me”
”The following day I went into Manchester and stood at the top of Market Street looking down towards the devastation. Tears were rolling down my face and I heard the woman next to me draw a ragged breath so I held her hand – complete strangers silently holding hands and weeping for our city. I will never forget that moment or that woman.”

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.