This morning I was on Alan Beswick’s breakfast show on BBC Radio Manchester talking about little known facts of our buildings, and about my upcoming events for Manchester Histories Festival - Faques.
I thought I’d also take the chance to quickly comment on a few of the unusual facts mentioned by callers in to the show - well, I was crowned BBC Radio Manchester’s Head of Quirk so it’s only right I fulfil the role of quirk reporting…
Alan mentioned the houses on top of the Arndale Centre:
True. This was Cromford Court and was indeed a housing estate on the rooftops. They were demolished in 2003. I wrote about the estate and have some fantastic archive images here
The Imperial War Museum is designed to look like an exploded hand grenade:
False. Not quite right but not a million miles from the truth. The building’s concept is the fragments of a shattered globe. Each fragment represent earth, air and water or land, sky and sea where battles are fought. This symbolism continues in the use of each fragment - the Earth segment is the openness and earthliness of the museum space, Air is the entrance to the museum, and Water is the canal viewing platform.
There are little hillbilly men on a rooftop in Piccadilly
True. And I wrote about them in detail for one of my very first articles. They are Alpine style men and were quite damaged by the weather over the years but have been lovingly cleaned up. You can read about the little men of 79 Piccadilly here.
The Refuge Assurance building is made from smaller than average bricks
Well…I love this fact, and I they do look smaller so yes, I guess it is true but I don’t know much about brick sizing conventions. They were certainly specially commissioned to complement the terracotta decorations of the building so the size no doubt plays a part in that sympathetic design process. Have you ever looked closely at the facade of the building and the clock? You may well spot some interesting things when you do - castles, boats and insects are hidden throughout the building including an ark on the roof that’s not visible to anyone except the birds.
There’s a train station underneath the Arndale centre
True. Indeed there is, underneath Topshop, though you shouldn’t get as carried away as to think of it as a complete station - it’s more of a cavity in the foundations that would have been a station if the Picc-Vic line went ahead. I talk a little of it in my fictional account of how Manchester might have been if architect Joseph Sunlight was head of city planning (here)
There’s a steam train underneath Victoria Station
False. The caller said that he’d seen this himself so I don’t want to doubt him but I’m positive it wasn’t there in the 70s when archivist Ken Howarth explored the tunnels, and it almost certainly isn’t there now during the renovations. I did some research and what I think the caller was referring to is the front end of a pacer cab that crashed into the buffers at Liverpool Lime Street. I’m not sure why it ended up under the station at Manchester and I have confirmation that it’s no longer there - there’s a photo of it in this article.
There was a graveyard under the station, and last summer you may have found yourself in a secret location, taken through a dark, man-made tunnel, and it may or may not have led you to a gig that was maybe held in the underground arches of the station which is normally used for storage of old furniture. Maybe.
Toilet and catacombs under All Saints Park
True. Kind of. I actually don’t know about the toilets but it seems unlikely if they’re directly underneath the park because the catacombs the caller speaks of is a part truth - All Saints park is a mass grave for cholera victims (like many of Manchester’s parks) so it is consecrated ground and can’t be built on as a consequence. There’s a plaque to commemorate these burials at the park, on St Augustine’s church side of the park.
There are BT tunnels underneath Piccadilly Plaza
True. City Tower itself is an important site for the city - during the war Manchester made the decision to protect communications as a priority and as a consequence we have the Guardian tunnels (now owned by BT). The entrance to the tunnels is just over by China Town and they do indeed reach far out of the city, going as far as Ardwick and possibly beyond. City Tower hosts a variety of masts for communications so the tunnels leading here is no surprise. A further tunnel just behind the tower exists, or at least it did, and this was for the banks. There’s a photo of the bank tunnel on my article about City Tower here.
There was an underground swimming pool on Oxford Road.
True. It belonged to the Gaskell’s and much of it would have been underneath the former BBC building. You can read about it in our visit to the partly demolished BBC site from early in 2013
Alan also mentioned a little garden outside of a signal box in East Manchester, I don’t have a story on this one but I have seen it and can confirm its presence.
Faques event details and booking can be found here, I will also be selling illustrated maps of all the locations closer to the time.