Despite the obvious dereliction, beneath the surface Chapel Street is bustling. What it lacks in most everything you’d except from a city’s main thoroughfare, it makes up for with the vibrancy of its residents and visitors. On the face of things the street is barren but for the bricked up pubs and a constant stream of traffic; always passing through, and never stopping.
During the late 50s, to make way for redevelopment of the area, the facades of the independent businesses that stood here were saved and preserved as a sort of toy town. Named Lark Hill Place this ghost street remains to this day just further along The Crescent at Salford Museum.
This street suspended in a bell jar of time appears more lifelike in many ways than Chapel Street itself, with the current street and its surrounds showing no evidence of a successful redevelopment - the area simply exists as a skeleton of its former industrial glory, hidden away in the bend of the Irwell.
Architectural journalist Phil Griffin once said “Chapel Street buildings know how to turn corners”. It’s true, look around you, it’s a street of the grandest curves - but there must be more to it than that…
Take a look beyond the burnt-out and boarded-up, start to see the richness of architecture and art. St Philip’s Greek revival church, perhaps the finest in the region, sits back from the road a little - inviting you into the streets behind the decaying backbone.
As the road becomes The Crescent the Irwell river reappears and winds through the country’s first municipal park; Peel Park, and the museum and art gallery, to which Lowry had his own key, sit nestled into the greenery.
The fact is this area remains a centre brimming with inspiration and resources for the creative community, home to countless artists’ studios including those of Islington Mill, and with notable public art ranging from the recent Irwell Sculpture Trail through to modernist architectural sculptures.
This was one of the main roads in the country and was the first street to ever be lit by gas in the United Kingdom. Chapel Street is the cultural heart of Salford yet geographically is just the periphery; it closely cradles the shimmering belly of Manchester by way of the Irwell perimeter. There’s a feeling of limbo here amongst the rough edges of a street isolated by its demise.
Approaching from Manchester you start to get a feel for that limbo - the square outside Starbucks and Mojo’s has no name. The down-winds that are created by the modernist Albert Bridge House have inspired nicknames for the square such as Windy Corner and the Great Skirt Lifter but it remains a kind of void, an anonymous full stop at the end of Manchester.
Continuing from here, The Visible Boundary was a temporary art installation now marked by a plaque that you pass on your approach to Salford and it was perhaps the most temporary art installation known after it disappeared down the river the very same day. Other artwork to have made its getaway along the Irwell boundary is the statue of politician Joseph Brotherton that once sat on the Manchester bank but has been relocated to his Salford home on the opposite side.
His plaque reads like a response to the move from the prosperous banks to the bare bones of the neighbouring Salford:
My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions but in the fewness of my wants.
Photos by Jennifer Brookes. Originally published in May 2012 as the introduction piece for Skyliner From the Other City, an alternative venue guide for annual music festival Sounds From the Other City.You can read this and the rest of the venue guide here.
You can also read about neighbouring St Philip’s church and its underground secret here.