Manchester has a lot to be proud of. Amongst other things, it led the industrial world with ingenuity, innovation and invention. But as the times a-changed, Manchester learned to apply the same ingenuity to another skill: re-invention.

No matter how beautiful a building may be, it’s nothing without people or purpose. And when so much of Manchester was built when it was the centre of world cotton trade, what’s a city supposed to do when the trade fades away?

The factories and warehouses that survive are re-purposed and re-used. The city is full of examples. And it’s this creative re-invention – applied to everything – that defines modern Manchester as much as cotton once did.

Mayfield, Fairfield Street

There was a time in the 1990s when urban explorers shared exciting stories of a ghost railway station in Manchester. Legend had it that there was a huge abandoned site somewhere in the city. Not many had the knowledge or access find out where, but the rumours were true. They were talking about Mayfield.

Mayfield Station opened in 1910. It closed for passenger travel in 1960 and even the last Royal Mail freight train rolled out in 1986. The station and depot are actually just the top end of a much bigger, largely forgotten 24-acre site. Over the next ten years, the area will be totally re-invented through an ambitious £850m new neighbourhood project.

Plans include more than 1350 homes, hotel accommodation, shops, office space and the first new public park in Manchester for more than 100 years. There’s a lot of public consultation still to do but the seeds of a thriving neighbourhood have already been sown. There’s a new social club, a co-working space and special events like the Warehouse Project and Manchester International Festival are drawing crowds to the site once more.

Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road

When Victoria Baths opened in 1906, Manchester Corporation had built a ‘water palace’ for the people. It was built to the highest standards with stained glass, mosaic floors, wrought iron gates, hand-stoked boilers and even a Turkish baths suite. It was extraordinary.

Eighty-six years later, generations of Mancunians had used the baths but the cost to keep the place open were spiralling. The end was nigh and Victoria Baths closed in 1993.

The building quickly deteriorated but supporters didn’t give up. They formed a trust, organised volunteers, chased away the pigeons, patched and repaired what they could and campaigned tirelessly for funding.

After 25 years of ups and downs and £5m of restoration, Victoria Baths is safe. It’s an ongoing project but the future is bright. It has become one of the most unique heritage attractions and arts venues in England. People get married there, it’s used as a location for TV and film, it’s a licenced venue and open days are always busy.

Albert Hall, Peter Street

Cities are great at keeping secrets. Things get built on, blocked off, locked up, boarded over or simply forgotten. One of these secrets lay in waiting, slap bang in the middle of Manchester, under the noses of thousands of people, for more than 40 years.

The Albert Hall was built as a large Methodist hall in 1908. It featured a very ornate, 2000-capacity main hall on the first floor. But congregation sizes dwindled after the war and they locked the doors of the chapel for the last time in 1969.

Over the years, the ground floor was used for pubs, clubs and various other things but people forgot all about the big hall. The gigantic old organ was silent and its pews gathered nothing but dust and cobwebs.

Skip to 2013 and an independent local company took control and renovation had begun. We don’t know how they discovered it but they had big plans for the grand hall. It officially opened in 2014 as a genuinely awesome music hall and gig venue. It’s been a jewel in Manchester’s live music crown ever since.

Image credit: The Monastery

The Monastery, Gorton

It’s hard to imagine friars in Manchester but it’s true. From 1872 right up until 1989 (peak Madchester), Franciscan Brothers lived and worked in Gorton, just outside the city centre. Even more interesting is the place they called home: the incredible Church and Friary of St. Francis. Better known locally as Gorton Monastery.

It’s exactly what you imagine a monastery to look like. It’s big, beautiful and undeniably imposing. But by the eighties, shrinking congregations made the Monastery untenable. It was closed in 1989.

The 1990s were a period of vandalism, neglect and disrepair. The Monastery fell into a terrible state and was added to the World Heritage list of endangered sites alongside the Taj Mahal and Pompeii. But there was a glimmer of hope when supporters formed a trust and raised enough money to buy the place. The asking price? £1.

Since then, the trust have succeeded against all odds to secure more than £6.5m for renovation and re-development. It’s nothing short of miraculous. The Monastery is now a fully functional visitor attraction and a venue for conferences, weddings, business meetings, performances and special events.

Manchester Cathedral, Victoria Street

It’s old. Very old. And pre-dates the industrial revolution by around 500 years. But it’s a cathedral, right? For God and worship? Well, yes. Absolutely, but that’s not all it does.

Alicia Keys played a special one-off show there. As did Elbow, Sinead O’Connor and Bonobo (the latter as part of MIF 2017). Yoko Ono will be ringing Bells For Peace there as part of MIF 2019.

Manchester as a whole is embracing what a special place the cathedral is. And in turn, the cathedral is open to more suggestions that it might’ve been 20 years ago. As well as gigs, Manchester Cathedral can host conferences, gala dinners, awards ceremonies, fashion shows, classical concerts and even brand launches.

Science and Industry Museum, Liverpool Road

Imagine the moment when someone came up with the idea to build a railway between two cities. That simple idea revolutionised transport forever and for everyone.

The first two cities in the world to get a rail link were Manchester and Liverpool. It opened in 1830 and was a huge success but it had to overcome almighty obstacles and fierce opposition. Impressively, most of that original route is still in operation and even the original Liverpool Road terminal at the Manchester end survived too. It’s just not a station anymore.

Liverpool Road station closed in 1975. The council took control in 1978 with some very exciting ideas up its sleeve. Perhaps the most apt re-invention of them all, the station re-opened in 1983 as part of Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum.

Today, the Science and Industry Museum has expanded to fill the whole of the old station and warehouse complex and beyond. It’s Manchester’s most popular tourist attraction with more than 680,000 visitors every year. And the star attraction for 2019? Stephenson’s Rocket: one of the first trains to run on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. It’s back at Liverpool Road for the first time in 180 years.

Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square

Is it a sign of successful re-invention if people can’t remember the original purpose? Perhaps. Does anyone think of a stock exchange when they see the Royal Exchange? Does anyone talk about how the world watched the Royal Exchange for the price of finished cotton right up until 1968? We think not. That’s history.

When the Royal Exchange Theatre opened in 1976, the founders were serious about drama in Manchester. It was part of a bold movement, with pioneers like Granada Television, that believed the north could be at the cutting edge. That vision lives on today.

Even without a theatre ticket, we invite anyone to walk through the doors of the Royal Exchange and not be impressed. The scale, the columns, the domes, the café, the 1968 cotton trading board still on display – it’s an amazing space. But it’s the ticket holders who get to see the real magic. The Royal Exchange’s unique ‘in the round’ theatre, actually suspended from the giant columns, puts the actors amongst the audience and creates a powerfully intimate space. Dramatic stuff.

Related

Royal Exchange Theatre
Theatre
Royal Exchange Theatre

Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre Company transforms the way people see theatre, each other and the world around them.  Its historic building, was taken over by artists in 1976. Today it is an award-winning cultural charity that produces new theatre in-the-round, in communities, on the road and online.

Manchester Cathedral
Cathedral / Minister
Manchester Cathedral

A stunning interior with the best late medieval woodwork in the north.

Albert Hall
Event Venue
Albert Hall

Albert Hall is a Grade II listed former Wesleyan chapel now a thriving music venue.

0 Comments

Comments

Nobody has commented on this post yet, why not send us your thoughts and be the first?

Leave a Reply