Sherlock Holmes ran through smoggy Castlefield in pursuit of a dark villain armed with a blow-pipe. Day-to-day stuff in this derelict corner of Manchester in the early 1980s. It was a favourite Granada TV location. Abandoned by all but timber yards and car breakers, Castlefield was so Victorian you could smell the opium.
Jim Ramsbottom consistently commits to Castlefield. Without him the place is struggling. Even with him it’s on life-support. Why is it that on most days you will share Castlefield Basin with a few dedicated joggers and defecating Canada geese?
Then Castlefield was discovered, adopted and largely bought up by Salford bookmaker Jim Ramsbottom. Central Manchester Development Corporation took notice, spent money on public realm, historic reconstructions and signs, and oversaw the area’s designation as Britain’s first Urban Heritage Park. Jim opened Dukes 92. Hale Leisure and Mick Hucknall opened Barca. Followed in short order by Quay Bar, Box Bar and Jackson’s Wharf (plus a short stop over by the nice people from Corbierres). Attractive faces photographed on warm summer evenings. Castlefield became a key marketing tool for anybody involved in Manchester tourism.
Swooping white Merchants’ Bridge is by engineers Whitby Bird. Ian Simpson Architects carefully reconstructed Merchants’ Warehouse. Castle Quay is a dignified apartment conversion with the admirable Choice restaurant and Key 103 tucked in the ground floor. Dukes 92 sprouted Albert’s Shed and, most recently, the biggest outdoor designated smoking area in the world, with more to come at the back of the pub. As well as his heroic commitment to fellow smokers, Jim Ramsbottom consistently commits to Castlefield. Without him the place is struggling. Even with him it’s on life-support.
Why is it that on most days you will share Castlefield Basin with a few dedicated joggers and defecating Canada geese? People who live in the Castlefield Urban Splash annexe on Worsley Street use the tow path as a commuter route. Some people take coffee and sandwiches down here from Love Saves the Day. For the most part Castlefield is as popular as Chernobyl. The geography is attractive enough, with the outcrop of Collyhurst sand stone below Castle Street, and the gentle bend in the Bridgewater Canal. Not many places in the UK can outgun its history: Roman fort, first industrial canal, first passenger railway on the planet. Within 500 metres are the Museum of Science and Industry and the Coronation Street set. Walk west on this canal tow path and in less than 15 minutes you are at the biggest football club in the world. Steady on, this is a place maker’s wet dream.
Quay bar, designed by Manchester architect Stephenson-Bell, was never my favourite pub – or anybody’s. Surprisingly, in 1998 it was shortlisted for the Sterling Prize for UK Building of the Year. It is abandoned now, trashed and boarded up. Box Bar, in the undercroft of the Congregational Chapel never really felt right. It’s in a very pretty building from 1853, designed by Edward Walters, the man who did the Free Trade Hall. It’s been a Congregational Chapel, Mission Hall, Christian Science Church, auction room and recording studio for Kylie and Rick Astley. I’m not sure that Pete ‘the Hit Man’ Waterman doesn’t still own the building but just now it will be lucky to have any windows left in it by the end of the summer.
I guess Jackson’s Wharf is now marked for apartments, along with the vacant plot next door, and the one beyond Castle Gate that used to be a listed Georgian house occupied by a dentist - until it mysteriously blew up one night. Don’t worry if you can’t picture where I’m talking about. None of us will be able to picture Castlefield Basin soon, once it’s buried under apartments.
Next time you’re in Birmingham (seriously) I recommend a café on the Gas Street Basin tow path that offers home baked cakes and scones. It’s a bit of a crush down there, what with the kids and push-chairs. And the old people sitting shoulder to shoulder, looking out at the considerable world passing by. Very like Amsterdam. Back in the 1980’s Jim Ramsbottom had a vision for Castlefield not unlike London’s Camden Market; street traders, lots of multi-coloured candles, tie-dye and snide antiques. The Manchester Markets Department were having none of it. Shame. Had something like that happened back then we probably wouldn’t be looking at an utterly wasted opportunity now.
I hope with hindsight Deansgate Quay would not have been built to cut off the Medlock as it flows into the Castlefield Basin. I hope someone is persuaded to rescue the Congregational Chapel. I hope the redevelopment of Quay Bar is not the last nail in Castlefield’s all-enclosing coffin. And I wish Jim Ramsbottom, the Medici of Castlefield, hadn’t allowed the new entrance to Dukes to make his lovely pub resemble Next.
Why has the city abandoned its former showpiece area? Why is Castlefield collapsing into a dump? Should we care? Have your say below.
100 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.
I started work at Dial House in 1946, as a trainee telephonist . Did any body else work at the…Read more
I'm sure it will happen over time, the sprawling suburbs will start to creep back towards the city…Read more
To digress a little but in a similar mindset,why has nobody done anything about regenerating…Read more
I'm basically saying that 2 peters square is set to be an equivalent North tower. But at least that…Read more