Manchester flower festival – 2

Continuing my trek around the city centre I decided to seek out some of the fringe displays and in the cobbled courtyard of the Science & Industry Museum I found Planting Stories which is actually a permanent display. A series of planters and raised beds filled with trees and flowers represent the goods which would once have passed through the site when it was Liverpool Road Station, with small information boards relevant to the plants and flowers in each bed.
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In Lincoln Square near the Town Hall ‘The Lincoln’ contemporary office building sported columns of flowers at its entrance and a cute little garden in one corner while at the top end of King Street was the Town Hall Clock display. The Town Hall itself has been closed and kept under wraps while undergoing a long and major restoration and refurbishment, due to be completed in June 2024, so this display was a tribute to the grand neo-gothic architecture of the building and its clock tower.
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Also at that end of King Street was the Rain Garden which, according to the description, utilized clever planning to aid nature, but having read the online information and got the impression that it was something I could walk through I was quite disappointed to see how small it was. With a tiny stream running through it was actually quite pretty but it was so small that I could quite easily have walked past without seeing it or even tripped over it. In the middle of the pavement a few feet away from it, and part of the exhibit, was a painted 6ft x 4ft garden shed supposed to represent Manchester in the rain, but plonked there with no plants or flowers for enhancement it just looked stupid. Heaven knows what was going on in the artist’s mind when she painted it but needless to say that was the one exhibit I wasn’t impressed with.

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In the lower part of King Street the Kuoni travel shop had an American-themed display complete with a 4-piece band to entertain visitors, and though the Wildlife Trust stand didn’t have an actual display there was a very cute looking spikey-leaved hedgehog on the ground in front of it, while a couple of nearby shops had their own flowery installations.

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Farther down the street was The Gracienda, a garden themed around Manchester’s iconic former Hacienda nightclub (now modern apartments) with a soundtrack of 90s club classics and planters painted in the venue’s well-known bright colours and stripes.
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Before the establishment of Manchester’s Gay Village around Canal Street Deansgate was at the heart of the city’s gay scene and specifically placed at its junction with King Street was the red telephone box containing an explosion of vibrant flowers in the colours of the LBGTQ progress flag. After last year’s dull and disappointing display it was nice to see it looking so bright and colourful.
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Although not actually the final section of my trek round the city I’ve saved this one till the end as I was really impressed with it, though my attention was initially caught by a giant-sized deck chair on the terrace of the InnSide Hotel and a colourful arrangement above its main entrance.

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Great Mancunians of First Street consisted of five individual displays honouring five Mancunians (some born, others ‘adopted’) and celebrating each individual’s contribution to Manchester’s successes. First was a tribute to radio and tv presenter Tony Wilson, founder-manager of the Hacienda nightclub and co-founder of Factory Records. Known as ‘Mr Manchester’ he was behind some of the city’s most successful bands including Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays.

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Next was a tribute to Jack Rosenthal, award winning writer of countless television plays, sitcoms and films who also scripted 129 early episodes of Coronation Street. One of his sitcoms was the 1969/70 The Dustbinmen and the display included a flower-filled domestic wheelie bin sporting a picture of the series cast.

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A flower-filled writing bureau and an old typewriter on a stand paid tribute to Isabella Banks, born in 1821. A novelist and poet, she is most widely remembered today for her novel The Manchester Man, published in 1876. It brings to life 19th century Manchester, its people and the events they lived through and a quotation from the book forms the epitaph on Tony Wilson’s gravestone.

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Annie Horniman, born in 1860, became an independent-minded free-thinking woman of the times, supporting the Suffragettes, sexual equality and freedom. She founded the first regional repertory theatre company in Britain at Manchester’s Gaiety Theatre and went on to establish many others across the country. She smoked in public, cycled around London and twice over the Alps, and a lady’s cycle formed part of her tribute display.

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Lastly was the tribute to Scottish-born James Grigor OBE who was chairman of the Central Manchester Development Agency from 1988 to 1996. His energy and expertise were instrumental in the re-invention of 460 acres of Central Manchester including the current site of First Street where all these tributes were situated, as well as Castlefield, the Northern Quarter, Canal Street and many others.
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Well that just about wraps up my long but very enjoyable trek around the city centre. Apart from the American-themed display in King Street all the installations were connected to Manchester in some way and especially with the last five it was nice to learn a bit about some of the people who have contributed to the city as it is today. As for all the different displays, there were so many which were unique and with colour everywhere this had to be the best flower festival yet.

Manchester Flower Festival 2023 – 1

The recent bank holiday weekend has seen this year’s Manchester Flower Festival taking place over four days with many colourful displays and installations situated in different locations around the city centre, and armed with a list I spent several hours trekking round to find them.
First on the list was the giant inflatable sculpture Turing’s Sunflowers in the Arndale shopping centre, paying tribute to the brilliant mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing who believed that the spiral shapes on sunflower heads followed the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical concept which appears frequently in nature.
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Round in New Cathedral Street several displays ran the length of the pedestrianised area and in the open-sided floral marquee I found Baby Bloom, a pretty take on the world’s first electronic stored-programme computer, the Small Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) otherwise known as The Baby, invented in Manchester and running its first programme in June 1948. Another display I liked was Best Day Ever, a table set for a romantic occasion with colourful blooms including roses, hydrangeas and peonies.
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Towards the end of the row was the Grey Goose ‘Vive Le Spritz’ terrace with the world’s smallest spritz bar serving summer spritz cocktails, and on the nearby steps a large Vimto can planted with flowers and fresh berries celebrated Manchester’s iconic fruit cordial, while round the corner twinned mannequins looked out from one of the windows of M & S.

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It’s not just any window, it’s an M & S window
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Across the road and in the Royal Exchange arcade was something which made me smile – a lovely display of late spring flowers celebrating Hilda Ogden, the iconic and much-loved Coronation Street character, complete with hair curlers, mop, bucket and rubber gloves. Close to the St. Ann’s Square entrance was Suffragette City, inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst and the women’s suffrage movement which started in Manchester. The figures were made of twisted willow and the horse and rider from last year’s festival had been repurposed to represent the most infamous protest of the movement where Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in June 1913.
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Past the play zone and sensory garden was the Cotton Bud Fountain representing the county flower of Manchester, turned green with moss and surrounded by wild flowers, followed by The Hive, a unique construction of coloured ‘glass’ panels surrounded on three sides by plants and flowers, with the fourth side being partially open for visitors to walk in. It was the highlight of the festival for me though the photos really don’t do it justice.

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Round in St. Ann’s Place were the wheelbarrow gardens with the first one displaying red and blue plants celebrating the city’s two football teams, while a pair of wheelbarrows were planted with bee-friendly flowers and plants to encourage and increase pollination, helping to bring bees back to the city. Sitting under a Canal Street sign was Queer As Flowers, a tribute to Manchester-based tv writer Russell T Davies and his ground-breaking 1999 drama Queer As Folk which was set in the city’s Gay Village. A bold wheelbarrow filled with an array of bright colours representing the Manchester Pride flag, it included an abundance of pansies as a tongue-in-cheek response to the use of the word as an insult to certain members of the LGBTQ community.
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On the next corner was Mamucium, a display bringing the past and present together with the modern high rise towers of Deansgate Square contrasting with the old mosaics of the city’s Town Hall, surrounded by plants representing those first brought to the UK by the Romans including rosemary, thyme and roses.

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Although not included in the official Festival list the Belvedere contemporary office block, tucked away down a side street, had a lovely cottage garden display outside the entrance. With a wishing well, miniature watering cans, butterflies and lots of colourful blooms it was worth the extra steps to find it and photograph it.
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I got so many photos during the hours I spent in the city that it would be impossible to put them all in one post so I’ve split them into two lots and the next post will feature some of the fringe displays plus those in King Street, with lots more colour to come.

Spring Fair at Bleakholt

The Sunday before last saw the first of this year’s ‘open days’ at the animal sanctuary and though I never need an excuse to go up there anyway I did have several items to donate. After dropping them off at reception I went for a browse round the stalls in the barn before taking my usual wander round to visit all the various animals.
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The smallest pony at Bleakholt is Tweedle who arrived at the sanctuary in 2010 along with his friends Deedee and Jeffrey. He has a teddy bear called ‘Ralph’ for company and standing at only 7 hands he’s so tiny you have to look right over his stable door to see him.
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A long term resident in the cat section is 6-year old Lola who arrived at Bleakholt in April 2019, given up by her owners due to her unpredictable behaviour and dislike of men. She was eventually rehomed but returned to the sanctuary for the same reason and now lives a life of luxury with a large heated pen and hideaway cabin all to herself. She was quite happy to let me stroke her nose with my finger and I spent several minutes with her; as a permanent resident she is one of several animals on the sponsorship scheme so once I’d finished looking round I went back to reception and arranged to sponsor her for the next twelve months – which of course I’ll renew in April next year.
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Lola’s official photo taken by a Bleakholt staff member
It was raining when I came out of reception but the event was winding down anyway so as I’d been round everywhere twice I set off back home. Over £6,300 was raised that day, an amount they will be hoping to beat at the summer fair in July, so here’s hoping for some fantastic weather when the time comes – and my first port of call next time will be a visit to Lola.

Lion dance and lettuces

One of my visits to Manchester at the beginning of the month coincided with the opening of a new Vietnamese bar/restaurant in the Northern Quarter, with the actual opening being preceded by a colourful lion dance. I’d found out about this a couple of days beforehand so as I would be round that way anyway I decided to see what it was all about.
The dance was supposed to start at 2pm and at first I thought I’d got my information wrong as there was no-one around and nothing happening, however it wasn’t long before the dancers appeared from a large van parked at the end of the street. After posing for a couple of photos outside the restaurant they got ready for the dance and I was quite bemused when a couple of lettuces suddenly appeared on the ground just a few feet from where I was standing.
The colourful restaurant interior as seen through the window
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The costumes for the Vietnamese lion dance resemble those for the Chinese Southern Lion dance and are part of the Chinese Southern Lion dance tradition though they have acquired local characteristics with differences in appearance. Most modern Southern Lion dance costumes are made to be very durable, with some being waterproof, and they come with a set of matching pants. They can only be custom made in speciality craft shops in rural parts of Asia and have to be imported at considerable expense for most foreign countries outside Asia.
The lion dance is performed primarily at traditional festivals as well as during other occasions such as birthdays, weddings and as on this occasion, the opening of a new business, with ‘music’ being provided by a constant drum beat, cymbals and gongs. Although there weren’t too many people around when the dance started it soon attracted quite a crowd and it was sometimes difficult to get photos without someone or something being in the way.
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After a while the lions took themselves off into the restaurant where they did a circuit round the premises before coming back out onto the street and lying down in the road, then as they stood up I was suddenly hit by several bits of lettuce as were a few other people standing near me. This happened a second time before the lions danced their way round to a bench in front of the restaurant where they reared up and to much applause unrolled banners before the dance ended, then the ribbon across the doorway was cut and the restaurant declared well and truly open.
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Although the dance had been quite interesting to watch the significance of the lettuces intrigued me so I went to ask one of the group before they disappeared. Apparently the pieces of lettuce, or greens, are part of a traditional custom and are believed to bring good luck, with the remainder of the lettuces being presented to the business owner to bring him and the business good fortune. I’d been hit by more than one piece during the dance so it remains to be seen just how much good luck – if any – actually comes my way.

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 – 1966 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 and crime reporter Steve Howarth, both now 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. 

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.

A quick review of ’22

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

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

A few festive photos

Earlier this month I visited a couple of local garden centres for a mooch around their Christmas displays. Both places usually have some nice ones and they didn’t disappoint so here are some of the photos I took while I was wandering round – I think Santa must have had too much sherry in the first one!
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And to round off this very short post, last week I found Santa in Manchester city centre, sitting happily on top of a huge present outside the Central Library in St. Peter’s Square. He does actually light up at night but the detail of his face isn’t easy to see when he’s illuminated.
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Well the shopping is all done, work has finished until January 3rd, and I just have a few presents to wrap tonight, after that I can relax and enjoy the Christmas and New Year break. So to everyone out there in blogland, Merry Christmas from the Mouse House and I’ll be back next week with some street art.