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Castlefield's Roman Gardens Reimagined

Plans to transform the unloved Roman heart of Manchester

Written by . Published on July 9th 2014.

Castlefield's Roman Gardens Reimagined

A 'MASTERPLAN' has been put forward to tranform one of the Manchester's most important cultural and historical sites.

This is a shove in the right direction. A local non-profit organisation teaming up with city management bodies to draw up plans, slap them on the table and say 'how do you like that Castlefield?'

Unveiled by the Castlefield Forum and the Manchester Garden City initiative, the plans, designed by Building Design Partnersip, showcase a re-imagining of Castlefield’s presently uninspiring Roman Gardens on Liverpool Road.

The new plans, to open for a consultation period from Tuesday 15 July, reveal an ambitious project to modernise and brighten the area running along the original Roman road from Liverpool Road to Beaufort Street, in the green (and often muddy) space between the replica North Gate, the White Lion pub and The Oxnoble pub.

Designs include new Yorkstone feature paving, further exposure of cobbles, feature walls with seating, timber tops, fruit trees, flower beds, sloped grass mounds, a timber and concrete stage, bold lighting schemes and a Roman 'rain garden'.

Roman Gardens stageRoman Gardens stage

Roman Gardens plans between White Lion and The OxnobleRoman Gardens plans between White Lion and The Oxnoble

"It's one of the most important historical sites in the city centre," Carol Middleton, Chair of the Castlefield Forum, told Confidential. "Yet the area around what the Romans called Mamucium lays tired and unloved.

"We want to brighten up and open out the whole area for residents and visitors," Middleton continued. "Retain the Roman features but make it more accessible and permeable to avoid the muddy patches.

"Put in some low level staging, tables, chairs, grow boxes, lighting, gardens, fencing. We're even looking at the possibility of closing off the top of Stone Street and incorporating that area. If it were possible, we've also been advised there's the possibility to open up a new archaeological dig site in the area."

Roman Gardens terrace furnitureRoman Gardens terrace furniture

Proposed lighting in the Roman GardensProposed lighting in the Roman Gardens

Given the significance of the area (explained in the yellow box below), it's a shame it looks like a Parks Department afterthought at present. As with the world's first ever passenger railway station at the MOSI around the corner, Mamucium is another example of how Manchester can ignore its past to the detriment of development as a tourist city.

Where's the love?Hidden ancient masonryThe oldest example of Roman Castlefield masonry, from around 200AD (nearly a thousand years older than any other masonry in the city), sits locked and hidden away in a brick and metal fenced prison. See here.

Just another bit of the old stuff.

Mamucium shouldn't be.

Ok, the site is mostly replica and rebuilds buoyed by the odd information board and extraneous sheep statue (something to do with peace, which is ironic when you consider what noisy little gits they can be). Still, it should be honored as the site of the Manchester's birth. These plans to rejuvenate the area could see to that.

ShabbyCurrently the park looks shabby

Roman Gardens wallsRoman Gardens planned walls

It all looks a touch expensive, mind. Does Middleton worry the plans are overly ambitious?

"They might look it, but what we wanted was to get the project out there, make residents and interested parties aware of what the Forum and our partners at BDP and Manchester Garden City are trying to achieve."

"Obviously the project is subject to funding, reaching up to £2m in total, but we want to see if this project is possible for starters. We want to consult locally, are we heading in the right direction? Is there anything people particularly like, or are horrified by even?

"We've thought about the possibility of crowdfunding, applying for grants, the National Trust, the Lottery, that's what the consultation period is for," Middleton continued. "We just want to get it out there. Get the idea in people's heads."

Growboxes and seatingGrowboxes and seating

Those light schemes don't look cheap though

Some of the light schemes - look pricey

You have to admire the vision and intent.

This is a shove in the right direction. A local non-profit organisation teaming up with a city management body and a concerned private architectural practice to draw up plans, slap them on the table and say 'how do you like that Castlefield?'

The Forum Romanum was the beating heart of the Roman Empire, let's hope the Forum of Castlefield can secure funding and reinvigorate the decayed Roman heart of Manchester.

Follow @David8Blake

Public consultations are Tuesday 15 July 6pm to 7pm at Dukes 92, Castle Street, Castlefield, and Saturday 19 July from 11am to 1pm at The Wharf pub on Slate Wharf, Castlefield.

More from the Castlefield Forum and the consultation here.

Roman Manchester

Mamucium (meaning ‘breast shaped hill’) was built by the Romans around 79AD to display Imperial authority, the fort stood 'on a sandstone bluff, capped in places by glacial sands and gravels, overlooking the confluence of the rivers Medlock and Irwell'. 

The fort also lay at the junction of several major Roman roads, one running from Chester to York, another running towards Hadrian's Wall from the South.

Originally a timber fort built for up to 500 infantry soldiers, in 160AD Mamucium was enlarged, probably to accomodate a line of granaries. Then around 200AD, the story goes, as the Emperor Septimius Severus (the first African-born Emperor of Rome, don’t ya know) was set to visit Mamucium in order to beat down a revolt, the fort was given a stone make-over.

When the Romans finally gave up on Britain around 410AD (attacked on all sides of the Empire they brought the soldiers back to fruitlessly defend Rome) the fort gradually fell into disrepair, eventually becoming a quarry for the Saxons as they moved into the area.

Still, ruins and ramparts remained, and even as railway viaducts and the construction of the Rochdale canal tore through the fort in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the area retained nuggets of original Roman features, becoming known as the 'Castlefield'.


(Click here to add text)

Current Roman Gardens - a fit tribute?

Roman Gardens

Roman Gardens

Stone Street could be incorporatedStone Street could be incorporated

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

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

Nice idea. Looks great. Subtle too. It'll be an extended beer garden for the pubs. I hope that it doesn't get swamped with chippy litter.

ShybaldbuddhistJuly 9th 2014.

I wish we could get some of the local MP's on here and ask them to try and explain to us why we make absolutely no effort at all to shout about the things we should be proud about from our past. Things other cities would love to show off to tourists. Roman masonry fenced off and hidden, The worlds oldest passenger railway station left to gather dust, talk of the worlds longest running soap opera being knocked down to make way for flats, as happened with the Hacienda. We are so far behind other cities home and abroad when it comes to promoting ourself. It must be infuriating to the people who work in the tourist trade when they see so much potential and the council are only bothered about parking fines and Christmas markets.

9 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

'talk of the worlds longest running soap opera being knocked down to make way for flats' That wasn't the original outdoor set though.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

The Hacienda would have made a great arts venue. Instead it's ben built over with a block of bland apartments.

SmittyJuly 9th 2014.

We must live in a different city shy buddhist. The only thing I absolutely despise about Manchester is the constant carping by a small and miserably vocal cabal of whiners! I know, I know, the irony of me whining about the whiners but for god's sake every one of my friends and family who ever come here absolutely adore our city. Of course we can do better, of course we can! And this site raises those kinds of issues that can help make our city better, eg litter, Castlefield, Corrie etc etc (not parking- they're well wrong on that), but to say we are behind other cities at home and abroad is just ridiculous rubbish. Manchester is amazing!

ShybaldbuddhistJuly 9th 2014.

SMITTY, I love Manchester and I know we are improving in all sorts of ways from hotels and transport infrastructure to new districts and restaurants, but if the worlds oldest passenger railway station was in Edinburgh, London or Cardiff they'd make a big deal about it, they'd have all the local schools there and target tourist who have an interest in rail, we do nothing about it. It brings nothing to the city, but it should. We don't see the appeal this has to a vast amount of people around the world. We knock down or board things up when they aren't being used while other cities I've visited make the most of the old/interesting buildings they have and are proud to tell the story behind them. We need to improve in that respect. That's the point I'm making.

SmittyJuly 9th 2014.

657,000 people visited MoSI last year. 60,000 of them were educational visits. I wouldn't describe that as nothing. It also makes it one of the city's biggest tourist attractions. I'm not saying they can't do better, which perhaps is why they've just appointed a new marketing team, with some incredibly talented people, but those figures stand up against reasonably against any museum outside of London. If you love your city then show a bit more pride. Or - better yet - if everyone's so shite from MoSI to the council to the MPs, do something about it.

ShybaldbuddhistJuly 9th 2014.

You're not getting my point at all. And i am doing something about the city I love. You may be reading about it on here soon.

SmittyJuly 9th 2014.

I think I did get your point - I just pointed out the flaws in it x

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

You are quite right. We are good at promoting somethings but we could do with having a coordinated effort to promotes all our attractions. If it's not football or shopping it does tend to get ignored. We are the third most visited city in e UK, with proper PR we could definitely be second. London might be a bit to tough a nut to crack for first place though.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

This is all you ever say Smitty. People do do things and do make efforts. They are entitled to complain about glaring issues that would improve the city. The term 'whingers' is certainly overused by you. Happy clappy about all things we should not be and your 'positivism' speeches are often anti-progress with the glaring issues facing Manchester in terms of power politics and disenfranchised unheard communities in disparities in other areas cannot be a blanket for shutting down people. This is good news for that area and the city. There's many areas, people and businesses that need a lot of help and ways to pioneer that do not need to be overlooked with PR spin. One possible good outcome does not short change peoples opinions. But I am sure you can make the same point over and over again, which really involves only say positive things and compliment failures and don't discuss possible improvements as it is 'whinging'. It's like you belong to cult of saccharine 'positivism' and it is irksome.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

Great news

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

It is great news BUT other areas of the city centre are struggling. Castlefield cannot be the only area of priority. I live at Piccadilly/Whitworth Street area and the whole place is a mess. I do feel certain Councillors etc. make far more effort in this area than anywhere else. Some focus has to return to the main entrance of the city too. Any would be 'nice'.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGJuly 9th 2014.

This is being led by us residents and not by the Council. What are you doing in your area?

AnonymousJuly 10th 2014.

Lot's actually but seems to me the link of Councillor's interests in that area and roles in the Forum mean the area might be receiving some preference. Just a hypothesis. Also I do not have millions of pounds to buy wasteland, disused property with uncertain futures or the ability to enforce changes in legislation. So despite the efforts I think it could be said the is an uneven priority of areas in the City Centre. Perhaps as Castlefield is the most expensive area to live and affords better results.

Peter CoppingJuly 10th 2014.

Go tell us I am trying to get the Fly Posting stopped on the Origin 'fence' I I got some original railings put by the the Grade II list building where I live. I will shortly offer again some daffs for Sackville Gardens and may be actually beat Castlefiled by doing a little weeding in under the tress (like to help?) so David Blake is not upset when he passes. Having got the sets put back by UU in Brazil Street maybe I can get the gas people to do the same. I try to get the pubs to put their bins in their bin rooms and not on the Street but need more support. I've expressed the view that we should welcome the Chinese Trade Delegation to the MMU Aytoun Street Site so long has they don't want a sky scraper (a pagoda perhaps? and welcomed replacement of the Old Employment Exchange as being 'not too offensive (unlike the German system built hotel in Whitiworth Street. by the Station where the Twisted Wheel was knocked down. Our representation on the road changes for the Cross City Bus proposals were much admired. (did not have much effect but I did have a personal meeting with the TfM Planners and saw their new toys. That's just a brief outline of what a busy body like me does... Come on Anon, sign your name and tell us ....and buy the way I only do the bit up to Princess Street I have nothing against Castlefield but I wandered around that the other Friday and there are plenty of parts that are a mess and some pretty horrid five story flat blocks with 20m alleys between them. And some wild spaces for naughty things.It's not all Posh.

AnonymousJuly 10th 2014.

Shame I can't DM you! I have reasons to keep my name off of here. But if there is ever such a residents forum set up in our area, I do look at Manchester Confidential so do inform me. So many issues round here. It is a hunch and a hypothesis that this area is not getting nearly as much support as it needs to and other areas do take slightly more priority. I am glad for them and clearly lot's they need to do in that area too. I would suggest this area is slightly more desperate for evolution and assistance that doesn't seem to be forthcoming.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

Cllrs don't care only about the part of the city centre they live in.

AnonymousJuly 10th 2014.

Finally! The 'Roman Quarter'.

JoanJuly 11th 2014.

Ali's right: this initiative is resident-led. Councillors only saw the proposals ten days ago, after consultation with the site's immediate neighbours. Manchester Confidential was instrumental in forging the Forum years ago, but there's a good deal of resident-led work gong on elsewhere in the city centre which goes unreported on here. That's understandable. ManCon isn't the city-centre residents' house journal. Beth, Kev and I are in touch with groups and do help set them up but, as with Castlefield Forum, successful groups then run themselves. Our current project is Friends of Rochdale Canal. Please email cllr.j.davies@manchester.gov.uk for info or with ideas. I hope to hear from Anon above.

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