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Manchester View Of The Week: Bars, Lawns, Brothels, Summer Houses

Jonathan Schofield takes a look out of the window

Written by . Published on May 31st 2013.

Manchester View Of The Week: Bars, Lawns, Brothels, Summer Houses

I COULD be accused of laziness over this view since I literally leant out of the Manchester Confidential office window to take the picture.

The result of the area being levelled by Allied London and rebuilt has been to create a new inner Manchester district. The public areas in this private space have become a real asset for the city.

In justification, the vista over Hardman Square is a fine one. It illustrates the extraordinary changes wrought in the city centre over the last decade or so. 

PanoramaPanorama over Spinningfields

The picture was taken from the second floor of Quay House, on the south of the Spinningfields site, and takes in the superb Civil Justice Centre with its protruding bits, the silver wrap office buildings and on the right, the lovely old Friends School of the Quakers, now offices, from 1886, and then the back-end of the Opera House from 1912.

The key feature perhaps is the lawn, or lawns. And the bars on each side. The lovely sward here rests the eye and makes you yearn to loll on its green mattress and think of nothing but sunshine and warmth (and maybe a cheeky drink). 

Manchester being an old town, but a fairly modern city in European terms, means that if you trip back 250 years this area was on the fringe of the city and famous for its pretty riverside location.

The houses of the rich dribbled down from Deansgate on Wood Street, Hardman Street and Atkinson Street, then known as the delightful Cupid's Alley. Grand gardens hung with fragrant blossoms and rich with fruit and vegetables and summer houses were a feature of the area. 

Spinningfields is on the left with the gardens and the summer housesSpinningfields is on the right with the gardens and the summer houses from the 1750 map by Berry

Even in the early nineteenth century there was a pretty garden just adjacent to the present lawns on the site of Quay House. That soon went and the big houses gave way to smaller dwellings and then poorer housing, the river went filthy. The area became known as the 13th District and one report said the boozers in this densely populated area hosted 46 brothels. Wood Street Mission opened in 1873 to help the poor children of the area - its work continues across Greater Manchester to this day. It seemed like an appropriate area for the Manchester and Salford Hospital for Skin Diseases to be located.

After WWII and bombing, elements of Manchester College of Arts and Technology occupied the site, together with the Manchester Evening News, the Registry Office and the courts. The place was a right architectural mess.

Some cynics still say it is. But they're in the minority.

The result of the area being levelled by Allied London and rebuilt has been to create a new inner Manchester district. The public areas in this private space have become a real asset for the city.

Look at those deckchairs. Look at the grass.

Anybody for a pint? 

Here's the first Manchester View Of The Week: The Meadows.

The area in 1772The area in 1772

The area in 1824The area in 1824

The area in 1884The area in 1884

Panorama before the deckchairsPanorama before the deckchairs

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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32 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

James CleggMay 31st 2013.

Sweet. Love the old maps.

Manc GuyMay 31st 2013.

Nice little story. I'm not sure about "has been to create a new inner Manchester district." though. Only local office staff use it and only when it's sunny. It's not a 'district'.

AnonymousMay 31st 2013.

How do you know only local office staff use it? Have you asked them all? I disagree anyway. With the two bars located on the lawns, plus The Oast House, The Alchmemist, Carluccio's and Slug & Lettuce (yes, crap place, but nice riverside location), Spinningfields is now almost as good a daytime drinking spot as by the canal in Castlefield.

6 Responses: Reply To This...
Manc GuyMay 31st 2013.

"How do you know only local office staff use it? Have you asked them all? I disagree anyway." I work there...so yeah...the people that I see in the grassy area, when it's sunny, are just that. Local office workers. Sure, the overated and overpriced bars you mention do business after working hours, but the service in the Oast House is dreadful and the Slug' is dead at night, even if the local RBS staff get 50p off a drink. As for 'riverside location'? You only see it if you lean over the railings and look down. The apartments over the Slug' along with all of the 'wonder' of Spinningfields are just a sterile, soulless vacuum of a place, blighted by the daily presence of prison vans, police, barristers and scrotes. Get a grip ANON'!!!

Jonathan SchofieldJune 1st 2013.

Manc Guy I take lots of tourists around the city and I walk Spinningfields constantly. It just is not correct to say that only office workers use it. If you don't believe that go down on the weekend. Secondly the Oast House has good service from my experience and the Civil Justice Centre is a cracker. Spinningfields is a very good thing for the city centre - or so lots of my guests think.

Manc GuyJune 1st 2013.

I've never said Spinningfields wasn't a 'good thing', JS. I disagree with it being called a 'district' and I'm only referring to the grassy area when I say only local office workers use it. They're the ones that are there when it's sunny, as it's a wet and windy space otherwise. I love it when it rains and the rain water struggles to find a drain as it passes the HSBC and puddles up nicely into a lake on Gartside Street, and I love walking alongside the beauty of John Rylands Library as I head towards Wood Street avoiding the scrotiest people in the city hanging outside the courts entrance and then get a glimpse of the many prison vans that convoy through Spinningfields. As impressive from a distance as the Civil Justice Centre is, it's a pity that so much money has been spent on a structure dedicated to the legal processes of the city. The bars mentioned do get customers outside of office hours [including Neighbourhood] that don't mind paying £4.50 on average for a pint, as I have been through at weekend JS and I stand by my comment on the service in the Oast House. The place is like a reverse Tardis and it's too small a bar when it's lively. I like what they've done with the 'land of sand' in front of it though. I've no doubt Spinningfields is good for the accounting and banking industries, but visually it is soulless. The developers have spent too much time playing Sim City on the PC.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2013.

I tend to agree with manc guy, On a saturday afternoon the shops in spinningfields are so dead I'm suprised they even open, footfall being virtualy nil.

rinkydinkJune 3rd 2013.

I wish Mancguy would shut up

Manc GuyJune 4th 2013.

I wish RINKYDINK would shut up.

Ghostly TomMay 31st 2013.

I like this area, I think they have done well with it. I like the contrast between Spinningfields and the older parts of the city centre. I think it needs one tall iconic building to finish it off through. I like how the owners try, successfully, to make it a lively area of the city and not another dead office space (like it was before). I hope they can do something similar with 1st Street. I was told by someone at Cornerhouse that it wouldn't be like Spinningfields which is a shame as it looks good and is a lively bit of the city. Having seen the ideas for what is going to be built at 1st Street I'm worried for the area. lots of coloured blocks which have, recently, stripped of any decoration they originally had.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Manc GuyMay 31st 2013.

"I think it needs one tall iconic building to finish it off through." How about Manchester Civil Justice Centre [or the filing cabinet as it's known]. It's supposed to be Manchester's most expensive building or sumat. Enjoy!

Ghostly TomJune 1st 2013.

It's a good building but not tall enough. There are still a couple of sites where something could be done. Something of the quality of 30 St Mary Axe but not the same of course. Manchester has too many glass boxes.

AnonymousJune 1st 2013.

I liked Crown Square prior to the development - it had a certain peaceful dignity to it which seemed appropriate for the court. It seems ironic that that has been sacrificed for another rowdy pub, particularly one that looks as if it would be more at home in a theme park.

AnonymousJune 1st 2013.

I live in Spinningfields but agree with Manc Guy. It's a lovely manicured place to live but soulless. Serves a purpose for office workers and at the weekend full of Towie-wannabes. The bars play some faux-funk. I'm from Newcastle but lived in London for 13 years. Both have identity and proud of their rich history. Manchester is obsessed with concrete, new bars and Italian restaurants. Where are the city centre parks and gardens? Don't think I've seen a flower growing anywhere in the centre. So stop trying to be all noveau-riche, act down to earth and be a little bit more homely.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 7th 2013.

The vast majority of the concreted areas were lost or damaged beyond repair by the Luftwaffe and/or the IRA so something had to replace them. The Nazis deliberately targeted historical centres after Dresden. At least there are many fine modern buildings not just the really cheap looking stuff you see Liverpool full of for example. Not 500 yards from where you live there are two admittedly small but well-tended green spaces - St Johns Gardens and Parsonage Gardens. Having said that, Piccadilly "Gardens" as it is now was a major planning error. You can find some pictures of how it used to look online.

Manc GuyJune 7th 2013.

Dresden was controversially bombed by the Allies in February 1945. After V1's were launched from Heinkel bombers over the North Sea to hit Manchester on Christmas Eve 1944, I'm not sure Manchester or the rest of the U.K. was atacked bt the Nazis again.

AnonymousJune 7th 2013.

Sorry, Lubeck not Dresden. They infamously used the Baedeker Guide to select targets

AnonymousJune 23rd 2013.

last V1 was end of MARCH 45. I was at school is South London aged 5. As I say I was amoung the first people to be attracted by a drone.

AnonymousJune 23rd 2013.

The last V2 (ballistic rocket) fell 5miles for me in Orpington In March 1945.

AnonymousJune 1st 2013.

I do also wonder...why is Manchester's iconic building a big hotel? What does it say about the city and people? Obsessed with appearance and materialism?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 3rd 2013.

because they had the money to pay.

AnonymousJune 1st 2013.

Also agree with Manc Guy about Oast House. Woeful service. The bar staff (similar to some in the Northern Quarter) think they're too cool for Ryan Gosling. This is Manchester NOT London. Put a lid on it.

JanusxxxJune 1st 2013.

I hear all staff will move out of the town hall in time, does anyone know what's going to happen to the building?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 3rd 2013.

Probably pull it down....

AnonymousJune 4th 2013.

Town Hall's contract was won by Manchester Central so the staff are just based over there...

Poster BoyJune 1st 2013.

Nice view when the sun shines but the whole 'district' gets bloody cold when the wind blows. And in answer to the critics, it is a Little London. Spinningfields is what happens when an infamously pragmatic City Council effectively privatises a large area of a City Centre and a developer brings it's London sensibilities to create 'Broadgate-lite'.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2013.

All the green spaces in Spinningfields are great but they're not green spaces. They're merely footprints of buildings that haven't been built yet. They clearly illustrate that these spaces are vital and should be made compulsary when a large scale development like Spinningfields or the Regen of Granada Studios is planned.

JoanJune 3rd 2013.

There's more than one iconic building in Manchester. The Town Hall for one. Much of the best use of the Beetham Tower shows it in contrast to the brick if Gt Northern or the brick, canals and bridges of Castlefield. The Town Hall, by the way, is not about to be emptied of staff.

AnonymousJune 6th 2013.

As previous posters point out, your beloved vista & public area here Jonathan is ONLY TEMPORARY. (So how much more souless, windswept and dead - is the place going to be when that's built on then?) Spinningfields, Piccadilly Gardens and now St Peter's Square & First Street (so off our city centre's beaten track) too - what a legacy of "poor town planning" Leese & Berstein are bestowing on Manchester. Yet nobody in our local media (what's left of it) dare hold our town hall leaders to account! They're totally unaccountable and don't they arrogantly just know it?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Roger BarberisAugust 5th 2013.

Your post says it all about Jonathan & his chums who have (possibly even unconsciously) invented a new architectural speak/chatter to try to justify the rampant commercial objectives of the local state. I don't think you will find many of the hundreds of thousands of Mancs in the adjacent suburbs on low or no wages will spending any time or even less so, money in the concrete jungle that is laughingly called 'Spinningfields'. It was never meant for them anyway, but for those who built it.

Jonathan SchofieldAugust 5th 2013.

Dear Mister B and Anonymous I have no idea what you are complaining about. If you missed the thousands of people enjoying themselves in the sunny weather down in Spinningfields then you really don't know what you're talking about. And what sort of public place was Spinningfields when it wasn't Spinningfields? Nothing of course. It was cut off, avoided. Nor have you clearly been using the city centre this summer with all the free public events on and people, even those on low wages, enjoying the city centre. Manchester has been shocking with litter this year but it's never been more alive with events and people enjoying the city centre. And Mister B listen low wages has never been an accuse for not knowing what's going on. If you allow people that excuse then you allow them any excuse.

ScoteeeJune 12th 2013.

Now all we need to do is pull down the building that Jonathan took the photo from - that place really is an eyesore and does nothing for the view from the opposite side...

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