Manchester's past & present

Posted on December 11, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments


Bridgewater canal in Castlefield


Like human beings, all cities have their own characteristics, memories and energies. Having lived in several major cities at different stages of my life, I have come to realised that some cities' energies and mine just don't blend well (possibly to do with feng shui?). There are cities that I find inspiring and uplifting, yet there are some that I find depressing and draining. Whenever I am in a city, I'd like to play the role of an outsider (even in London), because it allows me to detach myself and observe the city and its people more objectively. I want to use my senses to perceive a city... the architecture, urban landscape, smell, pollution, colours, people's facial expression, behaviour and fashion are all details that we can easily miss if we don't pay attention to them.

Cities are constantly evolving, some of their histories may have been forgotten or be buried underground, but their intrinsic essence rarely changes over a short period of time or even after major disasters (e.g. New York). Most importantly though, it is the citizens who largely contribute to the collective energy of a city.


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Although Manchester's city centre is vibrant and bustling, I regard the historical Castlefield as the 'soul' of the city. Not only this is the birth place of the city, it is also said to be the start of the industrial revolution because of the arrival of Bridgewater Canal, the world's first industrial canal built in 1764, commissioned by by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater.

Since I was staying in the area, I decided to stroll along the canal in the morning. The vibe was calm and subdued, very different from the hustle and bustle vibe in the centre. I was fascinated by the varied styles of railway and foot bridges here, and while standing under them, I began to imagine when this place was full of activities and working people. I could sense the history here, many untold stories seemed to be hidden underneath these massive steel bridges and old warehouses.


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Another historical part of Greater Manchester is Salford on the other side of River Irwell. However, the area has suffered from high-levels of unemployment and social issues for decades, and even the recent regeneration scheme has had many setbacks. Wandering on the edge of Salford, I was surprised by the slightly rundown and quiet streets. Like Castlefield, there is a big contrast between this part of the city and the centre, but again, one could sense its historical past.

I was particularly intrigued by the facade of a historical-looking pub tucked away on a desolate back street called Eagle Inn (also known as The Lamp Oil). Later, I found out that the pub dates back to 1848 at its current site, and it is housed inside a Grade II listed building from 1903. In recent years, the pub was under-threat due to the regeneration of the area; luckily it was saved and the interior of the pub has since been restored, with the cottage next door being converted into a live music venue.


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The streets surrounding the pub look rather derelict, but I found them more interesting than the glossy buildings in the centre. These derelict sites tend to capture my imagination, they trigger my curiosity about the histories and stories behind them. I once read that people's interests in derelict or abandoned places or ruins are related to our own mortality. Perhaps so. I think we are all subconsciously (or consciously) aware that whatever possessions we own will inevitably be destroyed, lost, disintegrated or be given away one day. These places remind us that nothing will last forever.


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Like humans, cities may experience prosperity and declines throughout their existence. Countless cities had been destroyed throughout history due to human destructions or natural disasters, yet many ancient cities have miraculously survived too. Cities are never static; buildings and roads are constantly being constructed or rebuilt, people come and go daily, and they all silently leave their visible or invisible imprints behind. Cities are fascinating because everything is man-made; and behind each creation, there is at least one human story to be told.

I have come across many cities that feel utterly 'soulless', but Manchester is certainly not one of them. And I believe it is the many human stories behind this city that make it special and enticing.


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 Street art in Manchester


This post was posted in Architecture, Photography, Travel, Street art & graffiti, Street life, British heritage, Britain and was tagged with architecture, graffiti/ street art, Manchester, street life, England's canals