Castlefield Viaduct – Manchester’s High Line

During my recent August bank holiday search for new street art in the city centre I took the opportunity to visit Castlefield Viaduct, the very new and recently opened ‘garden in the sky’, a project developed by the National Trust and four local partner organisations to transform the Grade II listed disused railway viaduct into an urban green space.
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The history of the Castlefield area and the viaduct dates back to 79 AD when Roman soldiers led by General Agricola chose the area as the site of a timber fort which they called Mamucium, later known as Mancunium. Protected by the Rivers Irwell and Medlock it was in a strategic position and well-located to guard important roads leading towards other larger forts. Over time the fort was repaired, enlarged, and eventually rebuilt in stone and a village was established nearby but once the Romans left around 410AD both the fort and the village declined and were eventually abandoned.
In 1086 a village called ‘Mamcester’ was recorded in the Domesday book as lying less than a mile north-east of the old fort. The village grew steadily, incorporating the site of the fort now known as Castlefield (Castle-in-the-field) and by the early 13th century it had become a town, though it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the area really became a significant part of an ever-expanding city.
The industrial heritage of Manchester began around 1758 when the Duke of Bridgewater commissioned James Brindley to construct one of Britain’s first canals, built to transport coal to the city from his mines at Worsley. The Bridgewater Canal proved to be a huge success, halving the price of coal and prompting a period of intensive canal-building across the country, and when the Rochdale Canal was completed in 1804 it joined the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield, cutting through the site of the old Roman fort and making the area the hub of the city’s canal network.
By this time Manchester was the fastest growing city in the world thanks to the ever-increasing number of cotton mills creating jobs and bringing in trade and eventually it became clear that the canals alone couldn’t move goods fast enough. This led to the dawning of the railway age and in 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened, with the Castlefield area becoming the site of the world’s first inter-city passenger railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, now part of today’s Science and Industry Museum.
Over the next several decades the area became recognised as the central hub for Manchester’s goods transportation network. Warehouses sprang up all over Castlefield to support the network and three railway viaducts were built over the canal basin, with the first one being opened in 1849. The second viaduct opened in 1877 and in the same year an elevated railway was constructed alongside it. In 1885 construction began on the Great Northern Warehouse, designed to be a three-way warehouse served by canal, road and rail, and in 1891 construction started on a fourth viaduct which would carry the railway line above the canal basin to both the warehouse and the adjacent Central Station.
This fourth Castlefield viaduct is a steel latticed girder construction 370yds long and 38ft wide and is an early example of using carbon steel for the girders, replacing the usual cast and wrought iron. Designed by engineer William George Scott it was manufactured and constructed by Heenan and Froude, the engineers behind the construction of the iconic Blackpool Tower, with M W Walmsley & Co. being the masonry contractors.
Supported on fifteen cast iron columns each 10ft 6ins in diameter the viaduct stands approximately 55ft above the canal basin, while the columns themselves are embedded in Portland cement, rest on solid rock some 20ft below ground, and are filled with masonry and cement. The total weight of steel and iron in the viaduct is over 7,000 tons and more than 6 million forged steel rivets were used in the construction. It was completed at a cost of £250,000 (about £20.5 million today) and in a small ceremony held on completion day a special copper rivet was fixed in the one remaining slot, though no-one these days knows exactly where it is.
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For 77 years the viaduct carried heavy rail traffic in and out of the Castlefield area but along with Central Station, now a large convention centre, it closed in 1969 and has been disused ever since. It became Grade II listed on February 14th 1988 and over the years essential periodic repairs and maintenance to keep it safe have been undertaken by what is now Highways England.
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Plans to convert the disused viaduct into an urban ‘sky park’ inspired by New York’s High Line were first proposed in 2012 but unfortunately fell through, however in 2021 a planning application by the National Trust received approval from Manchester City Council to transform around half the viaduct’s length into a temporary ‘garden in the sky’. Funded by private donations and support from local businesses and the People’s Postcode Lottery work began in March 2022 and the viaduct opened to the public in late July as a year-long ‘test and learn’ pilot scheme where visitors and locals can share their feedback and ideas for the structure’s long-term future.
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After the very pleasant Welcome Area at the start of the viaduct a wide central path leads through an experimental planting area where hessian sand bags filled with peat-free compost are being used to encourage plant growth through the viaduct’s ballast. Following on from there is the main part of the garden with long specially designed and constructed planters separating four small partner plots set back off the path. Several of the plant species used, such as cotton grass, have connections to the local area and herbaceous perennials provide pretty splashes of colour among the densely planted ferns and grasses.  
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At the end of the garden is the events space, a light and airy building where visitors can leave their feedback and any ideas for the future of the viaduct. In the far wall a glass door and large windows look out onto the ‘naked viaduct’, the undeveloped section left untouched to provide a sense of how nature has reclaimed the space since the site was closed in 1969. 
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The undeveloped section of the viaduct
View from the viaduct
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Visiting the viaduct is currently only by guided tour and though it’s completely free visitor numbers are limited to 100 per day with tickets having to be booked online – it was only the day after it opened that I’d tried to book but disappointingly I found it was ‘sold out’ right through August and with no dates showing in September. I’d almost put it out of my mind but during my recent search for street art in the city I decided to go to the viaduct on the chance that I might be allowed in and I was lucky – there was just one place left on the next guided tour. Not having known what to expect I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I saw and I really enjoyed my visit so (hopefully) if I can ever manage to book a ticket I’ll certainly go back another time.

Manchester street art – July/August 2022

A couple of visits to Manchester during the last few weeks didn’t produce as many new artworks as I expected so for this post I’ve combined the photos I took in July with those taken on the August bank holiday weekend. Following my usual route from Victoria station on both occasions my first two ‘finds’ were on the gable end walls used for advertising in Salmon Street; I really liked the bright colours of the first one although the bottom part was hidden by a fence, while round the corner a bunch of quirky animals were advertising Chester Zoo
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The centre of Stevenson Square had undergone one of its regular makeovers, this time by the current artist in residence at Fred Aldous art and craft shop, though it still irks me slightly that the old toilet block is always surrounded by metal barriers and I can never get a clear and unobstructed photo of whatever is on the walls at the time.
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Deserting the NQ on one occasion I meandered down to Castlefield – more of that in a later post – and found some more quirky artworks en route. A shutter with its decoration left over from the Jubilee weekend, colourful steps leading to a residential area, and outside a pub a board with the face of a rather sad looking dog which I just couldn’t resist.
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Although on each of my two most recent visits to the city I didn’t find as many new artworks as I thought I would I was happy with those I did find, though by the time I’d walked a zig-zag route from the NQ all the way to Castlefield and back to Victoria Station I was certainly ready to relax for a while once I got home.

Manchester flower show 2022 – 2

Continuing my quest to find more flower show displays my route took me along the last section of King Street and the first thing I came to made absolutely no sense whatsoever – there was no accompanying information board, no explanation, nothing. It was only after I got home and did a bit of googling that I figured out it was a reference to a fictional place featured in the 1990s Australian film Muriel’s Wedding but I really can’t see what connection, if any, it has with the Manchester flower show.
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Across the road was the Ju-bee-lee Garden, a series of hexagonal pavement planters set up to attract our black and yellow friends, with flowers including rhododendron, alliums, salvias and lavender, and some silver birch trees which will later be permanently planted as part of the country-wide Jubilee Green Canopy scheme.

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The Ju-bee-lee Garden

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Along a side street and round a corner was the King Street Townhouse, and though I thought the front entrance might have been decorated for the occasion there were just two window boxes which may or may not have been part of the flower show. In complete contrast, and even though it wasn’t mentioned in the flower show information leaflet, the Belvedere modern office block just along the street had a lovely display created by CitiBlooms outside the main entrance.
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From there I had quite a long walk to the next display on my list and as I zig-zagged along various roads and streets I found a display which I hadn’t expected to see, the Bruntwood Garden Office outside the premises of an office rental agency. Unfortunately I was destined to be disappointed with the next display, situated in the entrance to Refuge restaurant at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. Far from getting the ”British Welcome” which the information leaflet promised I got nothing as the place was closed, though the large wrought iron gates did have some artificial flowers and greenery poking through the bars. So I went next door and photographed the inside of Giraffe Flowers instead.
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From there it was just a short walk to the next display which featured an iconic London Routemaster bus, and unlike the previous display this was very much in evidence. Unfortunately the display wasn’t quite as it should be as some of the planters had been trashed overnight so the young couple from I Want Plants were in the process of clearing up and rearranging things but it was still a good display.

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Blossoming Big Red Bus

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From there it was another good walk to First Street where I found the next three displays. The Punk Queen of First Street was inspired by the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and the controversial track God Save The Queen which was released during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The figure alone took around 160 hours to build and though I wasn’t too keen on the concept of the installation – I hated punk rock and thought Johnny Rotten was dreadful – the display itself was excellent and the colourful flowers round the base gave me a few good close-up shots.
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Liz Vicious, the Punk Queen of First Street

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From First Street my route took me down to Deansgate and in various places around the Great Northern Warehouse complex I found cycles decked out with different blooms and foliage, while round in Peter Street the entrance of Albert’s Schloss Bavarian bar and restaurant was surrounded by the Ukraine colours.
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A trek of just over a mile from Peter Street got me to Angel Meadow park and Live the Wild Side, the last display on my list. This was the topiary baby elephant and giraffe from last year but to celebrate both the Jubilee and ten years of the Far East Consortium in Manchester they had been revamped with ‘royal jewels’ made from real flowers and plants.
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From Angel Meadow it was only a short walk back to Victoria Station and I got there just in time for a train back home. I hadn’t found all the displays as many weren’t listed on the information leaflet and some I didn’t even bother photographing, but after six hours trekking round the city I was looking forward to spending the rest of my birthday in total relaxation.
Back home my opinions of the flower show displays have been somewhat mixed. On the whole, most of them were good and some were very informative; some were mediocre and lacking in colour with artificial flowers which looked like they had seen better days and a few, like the Arndale bee and the King Street telephone box, were just rehashes of last year’s exhibits so nothing new. In some cases it looked like the displays were just a token gesture and the Kimpton Clocktower being closed was a complete disappointment, while the Porpoise Spit thing was just totally pointless. There were, however, some really excellent colourful displays – the Changing of the Guard to name just one – and all credit must go to those involved in designing and creating them. As I write this I’m already wondering what sort of displays will feature in next year’s flower show.

Manchester flower show 2022 – 1

This year’s Manchester flower show has been taking place over the long four-day weekend, with many displays themed to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Thursday was also my birthday and as I would be alone for most of the day I decided to take myself off for a bit of photography round the city centre while the displays were fresh. An early train got me into Manchester just after 8.30am and though some of the displays were still being set up I was able to photograph a lot of them before the place started to get busy.
First on my list, and not far from the station, was The Buzz, a series of large bee-themed street planters on the pavement outside the Printworks. Decorated by Giraffe Flowers they were filled with honey bees’ favourite plants and flowers to act as foraging and pollination stations, though I hope the bees like them as personally I found them rather dull and colourless.

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The Buzz

On the ground floor of the Arndale shopping centre was The Crown, a huge crown-shaped planter supposedly filled with (quote) “a colourful mix of tropical palms and jewel-like English flowers” but the flowers I saw bore no resemblance to the brightly coloured ones featured in the internet photo. Also on the ground floor, outside the Morphe store was a display of three floral dresses made from scraps of fashion waste fabric and part of a collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan University fashion students, local charity shops and fashion stores, and the team behind Manchester International Fashion Festival. On the upper floor of the centre was Queen Bee, a display used last year but now upcycled with the addition of a floral crown designed by Frog Flowers.

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The Crown

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Queen Bee

Across the road the Corn Exchange atrium had its inner archways decorated with floral displays featuring pretty tea cups and saucers, a nearby Greek restaurant sported a colourful entrance and Exchange Square, where all the weekend’s entertainment would be, was looking exceptionally bright with its flower-topped cabins, yellow railings and painted picnic tables.

The Queen’s Tea Party

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Round the corner in New Cathedral Street I found The Queens Gambit, a display using black and white crates filled with black and white plants, with the design being inspired by a chess board where the queen is the most powerful piece, although the nearby wheelbarrow was anything but black and white. Further along the street last year’s psychedelic Pop Art arch was surrounded by flower-filled planters and wheelbarrows with the design partly inspired by Andy Warhol’s 1960s pop portraits of Her Majesty.

The Queen’s Gambit

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Also in New Cathedral Street was the Flower Power Perch utilising flowers grown in the North West, and the Commonwealth Tuk-tuk nicknamed Queenie. The customised Indian tuk-tuk is a tribute to all those nations who call our Queen their head of state and is decorated with blue and purple flowers grown in Cheshire.

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The Flower Power Perch

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The Commonwealth Tuk-tuk

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Round the corner in Market Street were the knitted trees, this year decked out alternately with British colours and those of Ukraine, then across in Exchange Street the Fatface clothing store had a small display with colours matching the outfits on the models, while the nearby HSBC bank in St. Ann’s Square had a red, white and blue display in the corner window although there was so much light reflection through the glass it was difficult to get a decent photo of it.
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In the Royal Exchange Arcade I found the Crown Jewels, a display commissioned by the Royal Exchange itself and featuring a golden throne surrounded by a combination of fresh and dried flowers. Back out on St. Ann’s Square was the Jubilee Urban Garden with three native trees and raised beds of cottage garden plants and flowers – quoted as being ”the star of the show” I personally found it to be anything but as this was another display which sadly lacked any real colour.
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The Crown Jewels

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Jubilee Urban Garden

Not far from there was Journey to Kimpton, a 3-wheeled bicycle decked out in Jubilee-coloured plants and flowers with the concept being that the bicycle was perfect for a leisurely ride through the city to the Kimpton Clock Tower Hotel, advocates of sustainable travel and tourism.

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Journey to Kimpton

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The best display in St. Ann’s Square, for me at least, was the red, white and blue themed Changing of the Guard. Inspired by Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square the installation was designed and created by Northern Quarter florists Frog Flowers and was far superior to the Urban Garden display.

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Changing of the Guard

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Apparently one of the first things the Queen did when she ascended the throne was to modernise the British telephone box with an updated version of the Tudor crown design, and at the bottom end of King Street was last year’s iconic red telephone kiosk, this time filled with red, white and blue flowers but to be honest I was less than impressed. A world away from the vibrant artificial blooms of last year these were dull, drab, and looked like they had been dragged up from the bottom of a bin.

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Jubilee Kiosk

With a woodland planter containing a native tree and a bug hotel, a wildflower planter and a pollinator planter providing food for bees and butterflies the Climate Resilient display further up King Street showed how it’s possible to be eco-friendly in the smallest of spaces.

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Climate resilient garden

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The Seedling to Bouquet display was inspired by a time-lapse photography sequence and follows the path of a tiny seedling as it grows, blooms, and finds its place in a colourful arrangement of British cut flowers. All the flowers on display were grown in the UK with many being nurtured by North West members of Flowers from the Farm, while others came from growers in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

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Seedling to Bouquet

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Further up the street two very tall young ladies with extremely long legs and dressed as butterflies were providing a silent display, continually opening and closing their wings in unison. From the back the open wings looked quite spectacular but unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo of them as every time I pointed the camera the ‘butterflies’ turned round the other way.
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At the top end of that section of King Street was Horse Play, a one-off display created by Twig Twisters in recognition of the Queen’s love of horses. Capturing a horse and rider in motion the sculpture itself was made entirely of twisted willow, and with flower-filled ‘drinking troughs’ at its base the display made a quirky celebration of horse racing and show jumping.

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Horse Play

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Those were to be my last photos taken in and around the main festival zone; the next section of King Street would take me on a quest to find some of the fringe displays but those photos will be in a following post. This post has been scheduled as I’m now away on a 10-day camping holiday in North Wales so my apologies in advance if I don’t reply straight away to any comments – that will be one of the first jobs when I get back.

Manchester street art – May 2022

My original intention on Sunday was to head to the coast but a look at the webcam for where I wanted to go showed dull skies with lots of grey cloud so I decided to go to Manchester instead even though it’s only a little over a month since I was last there. Now the first train from my nearest station to Manchester Victoria is usually so empty on Sunday mornings that I can almost pick my own carriage but this time it was heaving and I only just managed to get a seat. Speaking to the woman sitting next to me it transpired that the Great Manchester Run was taking place and the city centre would be awash with thousands of runners and spectators, although I didn’t think they would be frequenting the side streets and back alleys I would be wandering round.
Sunday was also the 5th anniversary of the arena bombing when 22 people tragically lost their lives after an Ariana Grande concert and the usual corner of the station concourse contained recently placed photos, poems, cuddly toys and flowers, while festooned along the nearby railings were hundreds of hand crafted hearts made by people from all over the UK and as far afield as New York and Australia as gifts for anyone who wanted to take one or two.
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The #AHEART4MCR group/campaign was set up in the days following the terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena on May 22nd 2017. Crafters from all over the globe came together to show their love and support for the city by making handmade hearts, with the group receiving a total of 26,435 which were then distributed throughout the city, handed to members of the public and sent on to the victims’ families. The campaign is run every year and strings of hearts are distributed in various places around the city centre on May 22nd. Each heart has a small ticket attached with the name of the person who made it and where it came from – of the two I selected the dark blue one came from Mary Jane Lennox in Hamilton, Scotland and the light blue one came from Vanessa in Stockport.
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Now although I don’t normally photograph advertisements the first mural I found was so colourful I just had to include it in this collection. Round the corner from this one was a huge mural of Marcus Rashford, whoever he is, advertising something on a double gable end wall; now I don’t know what the guy himself looks like but this mural was seriously ugly so it was one I definitely didn’t photograph.
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Not exactly street art, it was a window poster but I liked the picture

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Round in Thomas Street the wooden hoardings surrounding a derelict plot of land had been given a makeover with a very colourful mural which stretched almost the full length of them and really brightened up that part of the street.
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Unsurprisingly, as it was only just over a month since my last walk round the NQ, I didn’t find much new stuff but wandering round had occupied my time for a while and with no wish to go anywhere in the city where I might encounter hoards of people I made my way back to Victoria station and got the next train home, arriving back just over three hours after I set out.

Manchester street art – April 2022

After several cold, rainy and windy days the weather over the recent weekend turned out to be glorious and as I’d recently got wind of some new street art in the city’s Northern Quarter I took an early train on Saturday to go in search of it. Stevenson Square was looking very bright in the morning sunshine and though some of the artwork hadn’t changed from when I was there in January I saw that the previous parade of dogs had gone from the back wall of the old toilet block and had been replaced with a colourful geometric pattern.
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Down in Thomas Street the hoardings surrounding a vacant plot of land had some new artwork; I don’t know what the first one was supposed to be but it was quite amusing. The second one looked like one big mess of paint at first but viewed from across the street it did look marginally better and I quite liked it, though it was hard to make out the name of the artist. I was also surprised to see that the pre-Christmas spaced-out chihuahua was still on a Hilton Street shop shutter and this time there were no barriers in front of it so I was able to get a shot of the whole thing.
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Artist – Liam Bononi

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Deserting the NQ for a while I made my way to a section of the Rochdale Canal to find some street art painted on the ground by artist Vanessa Scott. Part of the Rochdale Canal art trail which runs from Castlefield to Canal Street, the artwork is ‘inspired by the diverse wildlife and waterway plants and wildflowers found along the canal’, though unfortunately quite a large section of it was in the shade.

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Heading back to the NQ I took a quick detour down a side road and found something which was so colourful I almost felt like I was somewhere in the Caribbean. The last time I’d seen this place, about two years ago, it was a cocktail bar owned by some z-list ‘celebrity’ from The Real Housewives Of Cheshire reality tv series (not something I ever watched) and it was decked out in pink, pink, and even more pink, but it now seems to have had a change of ownership and was undergoing a transformation.
While I was taking photos from the outside I noticed a maintenance man working inside and when he saw me struggling to take a photo with the camera through the railings he said he would unlock the gate so I could go in and get as many photos as I wanted; that was certainly an unexpected privilege and an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. He went back to his work and left me to wander wherever I wanted although as the place was still undergoing work I could really only photograph the wall art, which was what I was originally trying to do. I didn’t get his name but he was a nice guy and it was really good of him to let me in to get my photos.

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Back in the NQ I got my last two shots on the corner of Tib Street and Thomas Street. The kingfisher was done by Brezaux, an artist I hadn’t previously heard of, and though I couldn’t make out the artist’s name on the other artwork the vibrant swirls certainly made it stand out.

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Although I didn’t see as many new artworks as I’ve seen on previous occasions I was more than happy with the ones I did find. Being allowed access to a new venue in the making was a great bonus too, and looking at the photos I think overall this must be my most colourful collection to date.

Afflecks, Manchester – all things weird and wonderful

During one of my many visits to Manchester’s Northern Quarter last year I finally went to have a look round Afflecks indoor market and emporium on the corner of Church Street and Tib Street; it was something I’d been meaning to do for quite a while but somehow never got round to it.
Back in the 1860s Affleck & Brown was started as a drapery business, with the original premises being in Oldham Street. Over the years the business gained a good reputation as a credit draper and was well known for its excellent range of cloth for home dressmaking. Eventually the store grew to occupy the whole block between Oldham Street and Tib Street, finally becoming a fully fledged department store and one of Manchester’s best.
After WW2 the business went into a gradual decline as shopping trends moved away from Oldham Street. In the 1950s Debenhams, who already owned Pauldens, another city centre department store situated near Piccadilly Gardens, took over the Affleck & Brown store but the continued decline of the Oldham Street area eventually led to its closure in 1973. In 1982 the store was re-opened as Affleck’s Palace, with separate units and stalls which could be rented at reasonable rates by entrepreneurs and small businesses on a week-by-week basis, and the atmosphere and colourful maze-like layout led to the building becoming a mecca for alternative culture.
During the 1990s, when local bands such as the Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets were at the height of their popularity, Affleck’s Palace was the ‘go to’ place to get oversized flared jeans, tie-dyed t-shirts and all the latest underground dance tunes of the time. On March 31st 2008 the market and emporium ceased trading when its 25-year lease came to an end but it re-opened just one day later under new management and simply called Afflecks. With an eclectic mix of 73 small shops, independent stalls, boutiques and a cafe the emporium’s popularity continues to this day and it can attract an average of 24,000 shoppers per week.
It was quite by chance that just a few days ago I learned that this month the emporium celebrates 40 years of trading so I think now is as good a time as any to write this long-overdue post and feature some of the amazing amount of artworks which adorn the walls, doors, and staircases of the building’s four floors.
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George the Lion made his home in Afflecks after the 2016 Art Zoo exhibition of life-size zoo animal sculptures dotted around Sale, the home town of Chester Zoo’s founder George Mottershead. The exhibition not only showcased the work of local artists but also celebrated George Mottershead’s early 20th century achievements in creating a ‘zoo without bars’. Local schoolchildren were invited to contribute to the design of each sculpture and George the Lion was decorated by Dave Draws, a local artist and supporter of Afflecks.
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Up on the top floor was the cafe with its ceiling decorated in the style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. I’d been hoping to get a coffee and a snack but unfortunately the cafe was closed, with a barrier formed from plastic chains fastened between strategically placed chairs. It was impossible to photograph the ceiling from outside the barrier but there was no-one else up there just then so I moved a chair to gain access, got my shots then put the chair back afterwards.
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Tucked in a corner on the floor below was a Japanese style anime-themed bar selling various flavoured iced teas and not much else – not my type of thing and no chance of getting a coffee and a snack there but at least I did manage to snatch a couple of photos while the young woman behind the counter wasn’t looking, then my last two shots were of one of the stairwells hung with many colourful decorations and streamers.
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Afflecks is an absolute rabbit warren of shops, stalls, staircases and corridors and I could easily have spent a lot longer in there than I actually did. The amount of artwork in various places throughout the building is incredible, it’s everywhere, and there’s no way I could possibly put everything I photographed in one post. I could quite easily have missed a few things too so as this visit was made last summer it won’t be too long before I’m going back to see what else I can find.

A wet walk in the city

I must have been mad. Totally, absolutely, stark raving bonkers. Walking round Manchester in the wind and rain just to get some photos of something I thought could be interesting, but this time it wasn’t street art.
The city’s Chinese New Year celebrations started on Tuesday last week. Several streets were decorated with red lanterns, there was a funfair, food stalls and various events in Chinatown, and a huge tiger sculpture in St. Ann’s Square; if I was going to photograph anything it had to be yesterday as the celebrations ended that evening.
Unfortunately the day didn’t get off to the best of starts. The rail line between here and Manchester was closed for maintenance work, with replacement buses running between stations (which, unlike my attempt to get to Blackburn last summer, I was aware of) and though I assumed that the bus would pick up from my nearest local station at the same time as I would normally get the train that just didn’t happen. I got there ten minutes ahead of schedule and though I waited for twenty minutes there was no bus – it had either gone very early or didn’t turn up at all so all I could do was get the next local bus to the main station in town then get the next available replacement bus to Manchester from there, finally arriving nearly two hours after I would normally have got there.
Dodging the brief rain showers my first stop was St. Ann’s Square to see the tiger sculpture. Commissioned by Manchester BID and created by Decordia Events the tiger was made from wood and recycled plastic and was supposed to give the illusion of being made of paper. It was very cleverly constructed and I liked it but to me it looked just like what it was, a model made of wood.
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Unfortunately the bit of sunshine and blue sky which appeared while I was walking round the square was all too brief and within six minutes the sky had clouded over again and the rain was back – and this time it didn’t stop. Heading up to Chinatown my umbrella blew inside out more than once and I had to keep the camera well tucked into my bag to stop it getting wet.
The programme of events in Chinatown started at 11am and under normal circumstances I would have been able to get the photos I wanted well before the place started to get busy but my late arrival meant that things were well under way when I got there. The place was absolutely packed and the only way I could get any reasonable shots of the ornate Chinese arch across the street was to stand on a bench at the edge of the car park.
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A constant drum beat was coming from the stage at the far side of the car park and people were holding up phones and photographing something I hadn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of seeing so I managed to weave my way through the crowd to get near the side of the stage. I still couldn’t really see anything as a bank of large speakers was obstructing the view but every so often a couple of dragons would appear above the heads of the crowd in front so with the camera in continuous shooting mode and standing on the bottom of a barrier I was able to get a couple of reasonable shots.
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Fortunately for the camera the rain had stopped briefly but it soon started again and with too many people around for me to use my umbrella I decided to cut my losses and head back to Victoria Station for the next available replacement bus. I had fifty minutes to wait though so to keep out of the wind and rain I found a nearby cafe and whiled away some time over a mug of coffee.
With no reason to stop at the two intermediate stations between Manchester and here the bus journey was actually quite pleasant and didn’t take much longer than the normal train journey would have done. Just a couple of minutes wait for the local bus from town and I was back home seven-and-a-half hours after I first set out, and vowing that the next time it’s raining when I want to go to Manchester I’m staying in bed instead!

Oklahoma – a kaleidoscope of colour

My frequent photography wanderings round Manchester’s Northern Quarter over the last couple of years have often taken me past a shop with a very colourful window display but being early on Sunday mornings it’s always been closed, however on my last visit to the city centre the penguin on the pavement caught my attention and I realised the shop was open so I went to take a look. As soon as I walked through the door I felt as though I should be wearing sunglasses – the whole place was predominantly yellow and orange and it was the most colourful shop I’ve ever been in.
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Established in 1997 Oklahoma  is Manchester’s biggest independent gift shop, packed with colourful and often unusual items from around the world, sourced from both individual designers and makers and more established producers, with an emphasis on handmade/decorated, fair trade and ethical goods. From greetings cards and stationery, quirky novelties and handmade jewellery, kitchenware and homeware through to lighting, furniture and things hanging everywhere, the shop was an absolute Aladdin’s cave of colour and creativity.
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Browsing round the attractive and well set out displays I began to wish I had an endless bank account and a half empty house in need of brightening up – had that been the case I think I would have bought half the things in the shop. I especially liked the brightly decorated items of truck art and thought the floral designs looked very similar to the traditional folk art found on narrowboats and their associated canalware.
Truck art is a popular form of regional decoration in South Asia, with many Pakistani trucks and buses being highly customized and decorated by their owners. The art is a mode of expression for truck drivers and individual decoration will include elaborate floral patterns and calligraphy. Poetic verses and depictions of historical scenes are common, also features which remind drivers of home as they may be away for months at a time. External truck decoration can cost the equivalent of thousands of pounds and outfitting is often completed at a coach workshop.
Truck art has gradually extended beyond the decoration of trucks and buses and though in South Asia cars aren’t traditionally decorated there are some examples of vehicles embellished in a truck art style, while in the Indian city of Mumbai some drivers decorate their taxis. The bright colours of Pakistani trucks have also inspired some fashion designers, with the Italian company Dolce & Gabbana using truck art-based displays in a 2015 campaign, and though used more often in women’s fashion some men’s clothing has also been inspired by South Asian truck art. The pots, jugs, storage trunks and other items on display were right up my street and if I’d had a truck or a narrowboat I would most certainly have been raiding the shop.
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The quirky and colourful items and displays provided many opportunities for photos and I could have spent a lot longer in this unique shop than I actually did but I had a train to catch, however now I’ve discovered the place I’ll probably make more than one return visit during my future wanderings round the Northern Quarter.

Angel of the Meadow – a Manchester mystery

I first found out about the Angel of the Meadow when I was researching the history of Manchester’s old Angel Meadow area and though at the time I only read the story briefly I was intrigued enough to want to find out more about this modern-day mystery.
On January 25th 2010, while clearing the site of a former car park prior to the construction of the Co-operative Group’s new headquarters close to Angel Meadow park, excavation workers discovered the skeletal remains of a female wrapped in sections of blue carpet and squeezed into a gap between a fence and a wall. The police were called to the scene and the site was immediately cordoned off while they conducted their initial investigations and removed the remains.

Angel meadow car park
Photo – Manchester Evening News

A postmortem concluded that the woman would probably have been Caucasian, 18-35 years old, between 5ft 1ins and 5ft 7ins tall and a size 12. She had a number of dental fillings and a missing upper right tooth which would have been obvious in life when she smiled. She had also suffered a fractured neck, collarbone, nose and jaw, pointing to having been beaten to death, with the date of her death being identified as sometime in the 1970s or early 1980s.
Found near the body were a pair of tights, a black stiletto court shoe, an empty handbag and a torn green pinafore dress with a distinctive 1970s pattern. She had been wearing a blue bra and a blue skinny-rib jumper, a style popular in the 1970s, but naked from the waist down she had probably been sexually assaulted; the absence of the other shoe and her underwear led investigators to conclude that her killer could have taken them as ‘trophies’. One of the carpet pieces which had covered the body featured a hole cut for a gear stick and was thought by police to have been taken from a Ford Cortina car.

Carpet pieces
Photo – Greater Manchester Police press office

Pinafore dress
Photo – Greater Manchester Police press office

A search of missing persons records and an initial appeal to the public in the hope that someone would recognise the items recovered with the body came to nothing, then in May 2011 a team of experts from Dundee University used facial mapping techniques to reconstruct the woman’s probable features, with the reconstruction featuring on an episode of BBC 1’s Crimewatch on the 24th of that month. She was given the name ‘Angel of the Meadow’ as it was in a part of the old Angel Meadow area where she was found. DNA analysis done that same year to try to establish whether the woman was a victim of either of two killers who were known to be active at the time showed that there was no connection.

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Forensic facial reconstruction developed by a Dundee University team led by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson

In November 2012, following input from the public, the police announced they had compiled a list of 22 potential identities for the victim. Leads were investigated from Ireland and as far afield as the Netherlands, Texas and Africa but none of them produced any positive results though detectives did rule out over 400 missing women as being her. In March 2015 police confirmed that they had a DNA profile of the victim and were undertaking a familial DNA search as part of the investigation, now being conducted by the cold case unit. That same month, five years after her remains were discovered, she was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Manchester’s Southern Cemetery, in a state-paid service attended only by two detectives who had spent four years working on the still unsolved murder case.

Angel-of-the-Meadow wreath
Photo – Manchester Evening News

Twelve years on from when she was first found this young woman’s identity remains a mystery which asks more questions than it answers, questions which detectives working on the case have no doubt asked themselves numerous times, and though her murder may still be unsolved her death hasn’t been in vain – through their investigations detectives managed to trace six women listed in the missing persons records and all were reunited with their families.
The original case hasn’t been closed though, nor has ‘Angel’ been forgotten. Othram, an American corporation specializing in forensic genealogy to resolve unsolved murders and cold cases, recently helped to fund a proper headstone to be installed on the grave in her memory.

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The 2021 headstone – Photo credit, David Mittelman, CEO Othram Inc.

Somewhere out there, even after so many years, there may still be a family member or a friend who will know who this young lady was so it’s hoped that one day the headstone can be updated with her real name. Until then she will forever remain the Angel of the Meadow.