January is, without a doubt, my least favourite month of the year. Even in the ‘tropical south’ that is London, it is Baltic – I can barely feel my fingers. I’m also bored of wearing my winter coat, and why is it dark, like, all of the time? With blue Monday looming, I decided to make the first stop of my British Isles adventure a city – somewhere that’s indifferent to weather and can be appreciated even in darkness. With my only Mancunian friend due to depart for Australia next month, it made sense that the first stop on my trail was the industrial heartland of Manchester.
There was the added bonus of it only costing £5 each way on the Megabus. I mean, I am Scottish #bargainhunter
The Hipster Scene
I’m not going to lie, my knowledge of Manchester beyond the existence of a Man Utd/Man City football rivalry, was non-existent before my visit. Surprising really, because it’s very much my kind of city. One of my new favourite facts is that Love Hearts come from Manchester! Yeah, man, this is one of those educational blogs.
The last three photos above were all taken in the Northern Quarter, an area of Manchester characterised by hipster cafés and Mancunian artwork. I was particularly impressed with the pavement pillars on Oldham Street, each of which illustrates a significant person in Manchester’s history. The above pillar depicts Mancunian Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement. Wouldn’t life be more fun (and educational) if all pillars looked like this?
My wanderings led me to the highly-acclaimed People’s History Museum. This museum provides a detailed insight into the history of democracy in the UK over the last 200 or so years, from the Industrial Revolution (1730-1830) up until the present day, with many a visual and audio aid to ensure engagement in the topic. Having barely studied history at school, I found myself taking a particular interest in Manchester’s role in this period of change. As industry prospered, more and more people from across the UK moved to the city for work. Employee satisfaction was at a peak, confidence soared and as a result, workers became more adamant that they should have a voice and a vote to decide what happened in their country. This resulted in many public protests taking place across the city.
Later on, I walked along the Bridgewater Canal, once used to transport coal from mines in Worsley into the centre of Manchester. Walking from one steel bridge to another gave me a real sense of industrial Manchester and I was impressed to see how city development in this area has complemented the sense of history that already exists.
Alongside Emmeline Pankhurst, whose name and face are documented in various locations (and of whom there will be a statue unveiled in 2019), I was delighted to see in Sackville Park a memorial to Alan Turing, Nazi codebreaker, who went on to work at the University of Manchester after the Second World War. This is a name in history that I am only familiar with from having watched the film ‘The Imitation Game‘. Similarly, I’m only aware of Emmeline Pankhurst’s contribution towards the fight for women’s rights because I saw the film ‘Suffragette‘. I’m glad I now know more about the instrumental role she played in the movement, but it’s quite sad that it’s taken me this long to find out, and it was only by chance. It’s thanks to people like Emmeline, amongst others, that I have the right to vote, yet until last year, I knew nothing about her. For me, this highlights the value of writing books and making films based on true stories. Regardless, it was cool to see how Manchester has made a point of recognising these significant and history-changing figures.
The John Rylands Library belongs to the University of Manchester and is the third biggest academic library in the UK. It’s an incredible Gothic structure which sits in the centre of the city and is open daily to the public. Not sure how much studying I’d get done here as a student, but as a tourist, and an admirer of Gothic architecture, it was a treat. Credit to Pete Vlahos for the photos below:
Staying on the library theme, one of my favourite discoveries of my weekend in Manchester was the Henry Watson Music Library, part of the Manchester City Council Central Library. It’s really quite simple – I love playing the piano; this library has several pianos, amongst other musical instruments, scattered amongst the bookshelves, waiting to be played. Whoever came up with the concept of public pianos is a genius. From St Pancras train station in London, to Lake Geneva in Switzerland – listening to random people play random music for the joy of it creates an unrivalled ambience which I adore.
My weekend of music continued, not just by reciting every Oasis song I know, but also by enjoying an organ recital and performance by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall, one of many arts and cultural venues in Manchester. The Bridgewater Hall is the main concert venue for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, with Manchester being one of three BBC national bases.
With only one full day at my disposal, my introduction to Manchester was brief and barely scratched the surface. There are many museums I’d still like to visit, not to mention cafés in the Northern Quarter I need to sample (and Instagram), and I would actually like to experience the football-mad image I have long held of Manchester. Do you think Alex Ferguson would pop back if I asked him?
Cheers, Manchester. I’m a fan.