This is a provisional itinerary for a heritage walk around the Holt Town/Beswick/Bradford area of Manchester.
It is a tour to look at invisible things… Things you can’t see because they’re gone, underground or have always alwasy simply been invisible…
It is a work in progress, so mostly words at the moment. When it’s ready, all of this will be recorded as audio files. There’ll be:
- a downloadable audio version, that you can use without access to mobile data.
- An online versions of the trail to look at on the web
- An app you can use while out and about, walking the trail, as long as you have data.
- I might do a PDF so people can print the trail out on paper if that’s something people want.
Begin, Store Street, by Piccadilly Station.
POINT 1 Railwaymen’s Club
Walk down Store Street, under the railway. There are lots of arches, windows and doors bricked up, the remains of shops, clubs and warehouses. And one small arch, with two bricked up doorways is the entrance to the Railwaymen’s Club, which operated as a pub until the mid 1990s, when it closed. Behind these bricked up doorways there are no doubt still shops, offices and bars, but no one can get in to see them now. You can see an archive image of the doorway here on the Manchester Local Image Collection site.
Continue on down Store Street, under the aqueduct which carries that Ashton Canal, and up the steps to the towpath – turn left and walk over the aqueduct till you get to some trees.
POINT 2 Shooter’s Brook (audio of a stream?)
Although all around you is the solid brick and concrete modern human cityscape, only a few inches beneath your feet is an older landscape. It starts with a thick layer of clay and gravel, deposited by the glaciers and meltwaters, which once moved across this landscape. Between the Ashton and Rochdale Canals there remains a shallow valley, and flowing along it was once a small river called Shooter’s Brook. It passed beneath your feet, down the hill towards the River Medlock.
Shooter’s Brook was one of the reasons Ancoats became the site of the first ‘Industrial suburb’. Although it was only a small river or large stream, its water powered the earliest mills, perhaps with a waterwheel, which was found during an archaeological dig.
Keep walking along towpath, under Great Ancoats Street which passes overhead on the road bridge.
Across from you is a wall with large windows, but behind it is a green space now and some new buildings in the distance. This area was once densely packed with iron foundries and machine works and houses for the workers. It would have been crowded with tall buildings, narrow roads and alleyways and canal branches.
POINT 3 SOUND OF MACHINERY? IMAGE OF WILLIAM PEELE’S SOHO IRON FOUNDRY IF WE GET PERMISSION TO USE.
On the opposite bank stood the Soho Iron foundry and other mills and goods depots. These have been built and demolished and built over, over two hundred years. Remains of the Soho Iron Foundry and other buildings were excavated during work to build the Metrolink tunnel opposite you. The evidence of these demolished mills and factories was recorded and the remains partly destroyed by the tunnel and the rest grassed over.
POINT 3A CANAL BRANCH ACROSS WHAT IS NOW A GRASSY AREA.
Across from you were two canal arms, stretching across the now grassy area. They fed the works with fuel and raw material and helped transport finished products.
POINT 3B SECOND MUCH LONGER CANAL BRANCH, FEEDING THE SOHO IRON WORKS AND THE MILLS BEYOND.
Keep walking along towpath till you pass Beswick Street Bridge:
POINT 4 THE PREVAILING WIND.
Is there a breeze? Can you hear sounds carried from the town centre? The prevailing wind was a factor in establishing this area as the industrial suburb of Manchester – the win carried noise and pollution away from the wealthier suburbs.
POINT 5 THE SMELL OF HOLT TOWN SANITARY WORKS
Here, the River Medlock meets the canal. The air is probably fresh today. In the late 19th century it would have smelled considerably worse. Here was the ‘Sanitary Works’, for the processing of vast quantities of human excrement, produced by the large and expanding population of Manchester. In 1885 this was the subject of a corruption scandal which would have stunk in more ways than one. Henry Whiley, superintendant of the night-soil department was found to be claiming a handsome salary of £600 a year, plus house and bills paid, to keep him quiet about the illegal dumping of up tp 60 tons of human waste into the Medlock and Irwell rivers every day. (Source: Harold L Platt, Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reformation of Manchester and Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 2005)
Of course at that time, sewage would only have been one of the smells hanging heavy in the air round here. There would also have been heavy pollution, smoke, dust and later chemical works along the banks of the Ashton Canal.
Keep going past Etihad Stadium on opposite side, and carpark on towpath side.
The carpark was site of the gasworks. Beneath your feet there are lots of tunnels, many not even recorded, the area was mined for coal for hundreds of years. Landowners and businesses built tunnels for small canals or for workers to pass. There was a tunnel taking coal from the colliery under the canal to the gas works and the River Medlock passes under here too, and emerges in Phillips Park, nearby.
Come off canal and up onto Alan Turning Way, left.
POINT 6 RIVER MEDLOCK
Next to the pavement you can see railings over the river, as it flows into its culvert under what was the gas works and is now a carpark.
Cross the road, there is a gate to Phillips Park, go in.
Path to the visitor centre…
POINT 8 GLACIER/ BOULDER FROM CUMBRIA
During the last ice age, this land stood beneath metres of ice. It moved south, scouring out wide, flat valleys and depositing gravel and rocks. This rock arrived this way from Cumbria and ended up in Manchester. It was donated to the park in 1859.
Leave by the gate, onto Stuart Street. Follow Stuart Street towards Velodrome.
[At junction by velodrome is a vent – ventilating one of the remaining underground tunnels perhaps?]
Make your way back onto the towpath and turn right, back towards town.
Pass under alan Turing Way. On the opposite bank you can see a short stub of a canal arm. This used to lead to:
POINT 9 Bradford Colliery (either archive pic, requested and/or miners folk song from the area, sung by folk singer Jennifer Reid.)
The ground may not be very solid beneath your feet. The Manchester area suffers from a great deal of subsidence and occasional collapse, caused mainly by old mines, but also by the many ‘voids’ dug to culvert rivers, tunnels for canals. Underground haulage in mines by water was in vogue ever since the Duke of Bridgewater adopted the practice in his Worsley Pit in 1761 and it is likely many unrecorded former pit canals still exist, along with other unrecorded and unmapped tunnels and underground structures.
Where the stadium now stands was one of the last of Manchester’s mines to close, the Bradford Colliery. Work began in shallow tunnels in the 17th century, going deeper in the 19th c. The coal was of high quality and very valuable. More and more seams were dug, allowing the development of the area for industry and housing. But the ground was being dug away beneath their feet.
Bradford Colliery closed in 1968 even though there were still Bradford Colliery closed in 1968 even though there were still substantial reserves of coal and the coal board had plans to expand the pit. The underground workings from the colliery were causing a great deal of subsidence and in particular large areas of Bradford village and Miles Platting were affected. 11 council houses in Thomas and Lewis St. damaged and demolished. Houses and factories alike were reporting structural damage and even one of the large gasholders at Bradford Gas Works was affected by subsidence. The expansion plans for Bradford Colliery at the time included working seams below Collyhurst, Cheetham and Ancoats, but with the attendant risk of still more subsidence the NCB had no alternative but to close the colliery.
Pass under Viaduct
On the opposite bank, the River Medlock emerges from its culvert and flows freely again, into the town. In the early 19th century this area would have been quiet and semi-rural. [This image shows the canal infrastructure when it was still fairly new]
POINT 10 IMAGE, IF WE CAN GET PERMISSION DRAWING OF RIVER AND CANAL WITH HORSES
Pass under Beswick Street Bridge, look back at the Bridge
POINT 11 TWO ARCHIVE IMAGES OF THE PRE-RESTORED CANAL.
The canal was badly polluted from remaining industry in last half of 20th Century, newspaper report of hundreds of dead fish floating to surface, likely ammonia poisoning. The mills in the picture have long since gone, but so has most of the rubbish and pollution. The towpath was restricted, no one was allowed to walk on it. To travel by boat, permission had to be requested from the Rochdale Canal Company. By the 1960s, only a short stretch of a mile and a furlong was navigable, in the town centre.
Canal enthusiasts campaigned for the restoration and reopening, imagining a new use for canals as recreational resources for the community, but the expense was such that they must have seemed hopelessly idealistic.
Keep walking towards town, ahead is another bridge, carrying Carruthers Street, come off the canal here, turn left and cross the canal. Walk to the junction and turn left down Every Street
POINT 12 Clogs (audio, clogged feet on cobbles, image ‘Dinner hour’ of clogged feet)
When George Orwell write The Road to Wigan Pier he noted the distinctive sound of clogged feet clumping over cobbles as workers walked to and from work. After WWII the sound became much less common. In the 19th Century though, instead of the noise of motor traffic, you’d have heardfactory whistles, machinery, the loading and unloading of materials from barges and the clogged feet of tens of thousands of men, women and children who worked in the Ancoats area.
The population was at its greatest in 1861, when 56 thousand people lived in the area. At this time cotton spinners worked bare foot, and in light clothing because the work was so hot. But they kept clogs – and shawls for the women- to wear to and from work. Weavers wore the clogs all the time – their sheds were cold and damp. After the 1850 act, they would have worked from 6am to 6pm, or 7-7 in the winter – but finished at 2pm on Saturday.
POINT 13 THE ROUND HOUSE (archive image if permission to use granted)
All that’s left is a low wall, marking the spot and grave stones. The history of the Round House as a chapel then home of the Manchester Settlement then demolished.
POINT 14 ANCOATS HALL (archive images if permissions granted)
Built in 1609 very large and grand timber framed house. 1825 demolished and a brick one built. That lasted into 1960s. It was a railway building and an art gallery known as the Horsfall Gallery and the Manchester Art Gallery. It was used by Manchester Settlement.
Turn right, up Great Ancoats Street. Turn right for a short detour into Pollard Street. Here was densely packed with mills, uses changed over the years, but became associated with machine works. On the right is the huge Vulcan Works.
POINT 15 Bridge over …no canal
Right in the middle on either side of the road is an iron bridge side, to stop people falling into the canal. But there’s no canal, just grass. Here was one of the canal arms, which came through past the Soho Foundry.
Walk back to the main road again.
Where the Vulcan Works building ends is a long narrow carpark – the canal arm turned right, then right again and ended there, next to the road. Another arm came from the main canal across the grass, and ended a few feet away, beside the road.
Rejoin the canal towpath, back to Picadilly…