The ‘Old Salford’ Explorer City Walk, 6th November 2016
Reporters: Brian and Hellen Richardson
For this year’s guided city walk, thirty four members and guests met at Victoria Station, - in something of a wind tunnel, - close to the tiled ‘Railway Clearing House’ map of ‘Manchester and Leeds Railways’ depicted in 1910. Our Blue Badge Guide, Ed Glinert, as usual brought to life the area’s history and traditions, regaling us with amusing anecdotes, whilst simultaneously keeping us in touch with history’s darker side as well. His first tale related to the map, which omits the world’s earliest passenger steam-powered double track signal-operated line, opened in 1830 between Liverpool and Manchester. Why is this?—Well, it belonged to a rival rail Company!
A stone’s throw from the station, we passed Chetham’s School, crossed the River Irwell and were immediately in Salford—separated from Manchester by the river. We learned of some distinct contrasts between the two cities: in the mid-seventeenth century, Salford was Royalist, whilst Manchester was Parliamentarian—Salford Bridge being the location of one of the first battles of the Civil War; in the nineteenth century, during another Revolution—this time ‘Industrial’ - Manchester was the city of commerce, wealth and banking, whilst Salford was characterised by mills, grime and smoking chimneys, - the subject of Ewan McColl‘s song ‘Dirty Old Town’.
A particular challenge for Ed in guiding us around Salford soon became apparent—most of ‘old Salford’ has disappeared. Many buildings of historic or architectural interest have been demolished and replaced by striking ‘glass’ edifices, leaving mainly pubs, clubs, roofless facades and ground level relics as evidence of the cultural life and political turmoil of yesteryear. Our first stop in Salford was a good example: Queen Street car park is no ordinary car park! A few headstone flagstones, almost obliterated, are the only visible remains of a cemetery of the former chapel ‘Christ Church’ that stood on the site from 1801. Its founder, the Rev. Cowherd, was known for promoting abstinence from meat and alcohol, and reputedly introduced vegetarianism in the UK (note the irony of his name!). The practice led eventually to founding of the Vegetarian Society in 1847. We were surprised to learn that, as hallowed ground, planning permission for building on the cemetery could not be granted, but use for parking is allowed! Other uses now made of old cemeteries include recreational parks, such as Islington Park on East Ordsall Lane, opened in 1987, still ‘home’ to about 22,000 bodies.
Soon we came to the roofless dilapidated facade of the old public baths, much used in earlier times by Salford’s poor, who worked in grimy mills, and lived in homes without bathrooms. What a shame that, unlike Manchester’s beautifully renovated Edwardian ‘Victoria Baths’ on Hathersage Road, this building has not yet been restored.
We paused briefly outside the ‘Tennis and Racket Courts’, opened in 1880 as a ‘Gentlemen’s Club’ on Blackfriars Road. It is still a sports facility, and is now also open to the public for refreshments, - we only just resisted the strong temptation to go in and escape the rain!
We heard the tale of two sisters active in the Suffrage movement, Eva Gore-Booth, who worked tirelessly to improve women’s working rights and conditions, and Constance Markiewitz, who was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons—though as a Sinn Fein member, she did not take up her seat. The women reputedly played a pivotal role in preventing a Liberal motion to ban women from working as barmaids in pubs. After handing out thousands of leaflets in Piccadilly in support of their father, Sir Henry W. Gore-Booth (Arctic explorer and landowner in Sligo), running as Tory for the adjacent Parliamentary ‘Exchange’ seat, and against the ban, their father won the seat, so leading to protecting bar women’s working rights. We stopped outside a building identified by the letters ‘A.M.D.G.’, of which Sir Henry Gore-Booth had laid the foundation stone in 1891.
We passed several pubs of note, including the original ‘Rovers Return’ (as distinct from its Coronation Street namesake), George Best’s old haunt the ‘Brown Bear’, now a pizza restaurant—(we learned how on arriving from Belfast, he was so homesick that he returned home, and nearly missed becoming a famous Man U player!), the ‘Kings Arms’, and ‘The New Oxford’ in Bexley Square.
Outside the County Court and the old Magistrates Building, which have now been converted into apartments, Ed was telling us their history when a young lady emerged from the apartments, looking rather bemused to see so many tourists on her ‘doorstep’!
At Salford’s oldest church, Sacred Trinity, in Chapel Street, we learned that the stone cross is a memorial to all Salford people fallen in the first World War, including Salford’s ‘PALS’, the first battalion to ‘go over the top’ at Thiepval, as well as to non-Salfordian, Edith Cavell, the nurse executed for helping British Intelligence. Here, we were adjacent to the old ‘Flat iron Market’, now a conservation area but once a hive of activity, selling all manner of household items, and depicted in one of Lowry’s paintings. Close by is the former Police Station, still with its old sign, where Hyman Purdovitch, handed himself in after stabbing a fellow worker, and became the only Jew to be hanged in Britain. We heard also about the Manchester Martyrs: three Irish men hanged in public outside Salford’s New Bailey Prison, for the murder in 1867 of a Manchester police officer during a raid on a police van to free two Irish political prisoners.
At the former Town Hall, now a Magistrate’s Court in Bexley Square, a brown plaque commemorates the 1931 ‘Battle of Bexley Square’, when trade unionists protested against injustice to Salford’s working class.
A surprising change of use with time awaited us at a nearby ornately decorated building that started life as a Presbyterian Church in 1846, later became the New Harvest Christian Fellowship Church, then Salford Cinema in 1912, and more recently a Bingo Hall from 1967 until 1985.
We passed the Lowry Hotel, an imposing ‘glass’ building, with some seriously smart vehicles outside (including one with retracted number plates). We wondered whether coach Jose Mourhino might be staying? We felt it’s a pity that the hotel approach doesn’t match up to the building!
We ended our tour by returning across the river for a meal at Carluccio’s Restaurant, at Spinningfields, where all seemed to agree that this venue was even better than Giorgio’s (also very good), where we have eaten after the city walk in several recent years. Not only was the food excellent and service slick, the venue was better suited to our party, being more spacious and allowing us to feel more comfortable and to move around more easily. An excellent choice!
It would be impossible to recount all that we saw and learned about during our guided tour, but hopefully this account has given you a flavour of some of the gems we encountered along the way. Some of Tom’s images can n be found at here.
A very big ‘thank you’ to Barry Lewis for once again organising this year’s city walk.