Article by Peter Robert Hayes
Do you ever visit a city, but you don’t have much time to research and explore its sights and history? You may just have one evening or morning to take a look around. Where do you start to understand the history and culture of the place? You don’t have time for a guided tour and really just want to explore and have a few drinks. Well, this is the perfect guide for you. Together we will take a stroll around Manchester’s compact city centre, taking a look at some of the more interesting things, and of course, having a few drinks in some typical and interesting pubs along the way.
1 Piccadilly Gardens
Let’s begin in Piccadilly Gardens where the buses and trams from the MetroLink system come in. This is no more than a 5 minute walk from both Piccadilly and Victoria train stations. This city centre transport hub is a natural starting point for our trip. This busy interchange underwent a total re-design in 2001- 02. Following the 1996 IRA bomb (which led to over 200 injuries but no fatalities), a huge redevelopment campaign was implemented in Manchester city centre with an international competition being held to identify the best architectural proposal for Piccadilly Gardens. Much of the redesign and re-building investment that is evident walking around Manchester today can be traced back to this era and the investment attracted from the Millenium Fund and as Manchester prepared to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
The 4 Statues
Historically, Piccadilly Gardens is the original site of the Manchester Royal Infirmary from 1755 until its relocation to Oxford Road in 1910. There are 4 statues surviving todaythat were erected on the original infirmary esplanade:
Sir Robert Peel 1788-1850 (founding father of the modern Police force giving origin to the slang word for the Police “bobbies”)
James Watt 1736- 1819 (whose improvements to the steam engine helped to drive the explosion of economic growth during the cotton centred industrial revolution
Queen Victoria 1819-1901 (on the throne for 63 years and 7 months she was the longest reigning female monarch)
The Duke of Wellington 1769-1852 (a leading political and military figure most famous for commanding the defeat of the French in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815).
2 Market Street and Corporation Street
Walking away from Piccadilly Gardens down Market Street, one of Manchester’s principal shopping areas, you will pass the Arndale Centre, Europe’s largest inner-city shopping centre. Originally constructed in the 1970s, its proximity to the 1996 IRA bomb meant that it suffered extensive damage as a result. At the crossroads at the bottom of Market Street we turn right into Corporation Street. Passing the Marks & Spencer store on the opposite side of the road we walk under the bridge linking the store with the Arndale, close to where the van, containing a huge amount of Semtex explosive was parked on Saturday 15 June. An estimated 70 000 people were in and around Manchester city centre on the morning of that day, with usual numbers being swelled by the presence of international football fans. The following day Russia were due to play Germany at Old Trafford in the 1996 European Cup. The game went ahead in front of 50 000 people and Germany won 3-0.
3 Exchange Square
Here you will find the “Manchester Eye”. This was first installed in 2004 and is a 60 metre tall Ferris wheel with 42 passenger carriages giving wonderful panoramic views of the city centre and beyond. Opposite this, on the corner of Corporation Street and Withy Grove you will find a modern entertainment venue named “The Printworks”. Up until 1996 this was the home of a huge printing press owned by newspaper mogul Robert Maxwell. The complex contains mostly bars and night clubs including the Hard Rock Cafe’, a leisure centre and a 23 screen Odeon Cinema which incorporates an IMAX 3D screen. Back to the other side of Exchange Square we find another shopping complex called The Triangle, on the front of which facing the street is a huge tv screen showing the BBC news.
4 URBIS, Chethams College and Manchester Cathedral
Continuing along Corporation Street and crossing Fennel Street we come immediately to Cathedral Gardens and URBIS, a huge futuristic building that is an exhibition centre dedicated to city life. The National Museum of Football is also currently being transferred here and will soon be open to the public. The building opened in 2002 and was part of Manchester’s Millennium Quarter redevelopment. Exhibition space hosting many visiting temporary displays of art is spread over 5 floors.
Chetham’s School of Music
Opposite and in stark contrast to Urbis’ contemporary architectural design, is Chetham’s School of Music or “Chet’s”. The school motto is “Learn To Love And Play”. This building originally housed an Orphanage founded by Humphrey Chetham in 1653. In 1969 the music school was launched and now hosts up 245 young people. Entry to Chetham’s is open to all regardless of financial means with generous grants available to those who successfully audition and are selected. Selection is based purely on musical potential. As well as having an excellent reputation for musical tuition, Chetham’s also has an enviable academic record being one of the top achieving schools in the UK.
At the other end of the triangle that is Cathedral Gardens you will find Manchester Cathedral. The church was extensively reconstructed during the 19th century which gives a deceptive impression that the cathedral is a relatively modern structure. However, its origins can be traced back to 700 CE. The cathedral is a beautiful hidden gem and it is well worth taking time to look in. Its Visitor Centre effectively guides you around bringing to life the amazing history that is responsible for the fine and impressive building still standing today. It is free to enter and there are volunteer guides available to make sure that you get the most from your stay.
5 The Shambles
This is the collective name for what are two separate buildings: The Old Wellington Inn dating back to the 16th century and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar originally constructed in 1720. These two buildings were almost totally demolished in the early 70s inner city developments but escaped by being raised 15 feet above their original level and reopened in 1981. However, many people at the time complained that this new scheme hid the buildings from view. When the IRA bomb exploded in 1996 the surrounding buildings took all the blast and effectively protected the Shambles that remained intact within. In the interests of post bomb regeneration, the city council decided to move the two buildings, brick by brick, to a new and prettier site by the Cathedral, a distance of 300 metres away!
Sinclair’s Oyster Bar is now an excellent Sam Smith’s pub serving fresh oysters and a wide range of interesting beers. This provides us with a natural resting point on our tour.
6 The Royal Exchange
We now walk past the shopping giant “Harvey Nichols” towards St. Anne’s Square, the home of The Royal Exchange Theatre. The theatre is a seven-sided, glass-walled capsule, literally suspended from huge marble pillars situated in the Great Hall of the former Cotton Exchange. The unique design means all seats are less than nine metres from the circular stage giving views from all angles. This theatre’s policy is to express the bewildering, complex wonderment of life through the full spectrum of theatre. Looking up at the St Anne’s Square side interior wall you can still see the old prices displayed from the cotton markets all over the world: New York, Alexandria and Liverpool from an era when cotton was king. The cafe bar is a really pleasant place to linger, have a drink and browse the unique art and craft shops within the Royal Exchange.
7 Mr Thomas’s Chop House
Coming back outside on to St Anne’s Square, we turn left and continue to walk away from the Shambles. Here we will stumble upon the unique and wonderful “Mr Thomas’ Chop House” an authentically preserved Victorian pub set on the ground floor and basement of a narrow 4 storey Victorian building tacked on to the end of the majestic neo-classical Royal Exchange. This really is a special place from it’s authentic black and white mosaic flooring to the fine lime green and white ceramic wall tiles and wooden bars with brass fittings, this is a place to just buy a drink and take the time to absorb your surroundings. Founded back in 1867, the New York Times described the place as “probably Manchester’s most venerable pub”. Should you be feeling hungry, the fine local menu and excellent friendly service will never disappoint. And let’s face it, by now you deserve a rest! You have just completed the first of our Manchester city centre walks!
About the Author
Peter Hayes welcomes hundreds of foreign students of English to his English language training centre every year. If you enjoyed this guided walk, why not take a look at all the other information on Manchester on his website at =>http://www.inlingua-manchester.co.uk/visiting-manchester/