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Along the A6 ancient north-south route across Salford and Manchester

From north west to south east, the A6 descends through Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire via Salford and Manchester into Cheshire and over the Peak. It's one of several key highways that help to put Manchester on the map and unlike others, it still runs mostly along its original route. Let's go for a drive down the A6 and see what we find...

The A6 is one of England's ancient roads, linking Carlisle (Westmorland/Cumbria) in the far north west with London in the south east. The present A6 ends in Luton, the old route into the capital can be completed by joining the A5.

For this journey across Manchester we'll begin in Chorley town centre. Actually, the main road now passes around the town centre, but the ancient route still runs through the middle along Market St. The name Market Street is echoed in Manchester. There are more repeated types of landmark along the route including town halls, police stations, cinemas and libraries, all facing onto the A6.

As we head south down the A6 we notice its characteristic configuration, mostly straight or gently curving, with occasional sharp bends. The A6 is not one of Britain's Roman roads, which often proceed in a straight line.

At Adlington, the A6 enters the Bolton metropolitan district. Confusingly the sign on the other side says 'Welcome to Lancashire'. Actually we won't leave the real Lancashire until much further south, but that's another story. Note there is also an Adlington in Cheshire not far from the A6.

The A6 continues running over gently undulating terrain, passing three roundabouts which link it with the M61. Effectively, the M61 is the A6 by-pass, since it runs parallel with it. Further north, the M6 fulfils this purpose.

We are now on high ground and there are spectacular views south over Cheshire to the Pennines and the Welsh hills. To the north east is Winter Hill with its famous transmitter mast.

The road leads into the City of Salford council area, passing through Little Hulton. Here we can see a familiar 'look' echoed at many points along the entire A6: a medium width road lined on either side with two-storey 19th century terraced houses.

Soon we are in Walkden with its shopping centre and five way junction and before long we pass under a series of concrete bridges. These carry the M60, and slip roads leading to the M61 motorway. This will be a charging point under the congestion charge proposals. Drivers will have pay to pass along the A6 under these bridges, depending on the time of day or direction of travel.


Swinton Town Hall later Salford Civic Centre (top left) and Stockport Town Hall (lower centre) both face onto the A6.

Now we are in Swinton, headquarters of the post-1974 Salford City Council area. The splendid town hall is on the right. It was opened as Swinton and Pendlebury town hall in the 1930s. On the left is 1960s style Lancastrian Hall on the left. Most would consider this building to be hideous, though I personally think it would be a shame to knock it down.

Shortly after, there is an 'elbow' where the A6 bends to the left, passing the Manchester Childrens Hospital and arriving at the A580 East Lancs Road roundabout.

At this point the A6 merges with a 6-lane dual carriageway extension of the East Lancs Rd. The road layout can be complicated so watch the signs, or your satnav, if you use one! This highway was built in the 1960s, when much of this part of Salford was obliterated. The original A6 runs parallel and is for local traffic only.

Now we are homing in on what's now called the Regional Centre, i.e. the area at heart of the Manchester conurbation. The Regional Centre takes in much of Manchester city centre and part of the old Salford. Pendleton is on the right with its blocks of flats. The traditional district known as 'Hanky Park' was obliterated to make way for what many still consider to be an eyesore. I lived in Thorn Court during 1986, but moved out. Over the railway bridge, past Salford Crescent Station is Salford Crescent itself, with Salford University on the left.

The Crescent was widened in the 60s and runs around a curve of the meandering river Irwell. At the traffic lights we see the former Salford Royal Hospital, now apartments, on the left, and the site of the 1930s Trades Union building on the corner which was demolished to make way for a contemporary style apartment building.

Chapel Street was once bustling street full of shops, banks and other businesses,but went into decline. In recent years it has been in the ascendancy again.

Further down on the left is another town hall building - the old Salford town hall, more recently Magistrates Court. Salford Central Station is on the right. The Deva Centre, former Threlfalls Brewery is on the left, and off to the right, the luxurious 5 star Lowry Hotel.

When we reach Sacred Trinity Church we will deviate from the route used by traffic and follow a more ancient route. Due to city centre traffic restrictions and pedestrianisation, we will do this on foot.

We cross Blackfriars Bridge over the River Irwell, leaving Salford and entering Manchester. At the traffic lights we have reached the A56, which still carries traffic through the centre along its original line. We walk up the street named St Mary's Gate, by the foot of No1 Deansgate, with St Ann's Square on the right, and the Royal Exchange tower on the corner. We reach Cross Street in the heart of Manchester's shopping district.

The IRA bomb of 1996 exploded just a few feet to the left on Corporation Street.


Corporation St in 1992 looking from the corner of Market Street.

And just to reiterate, Market Street is on the line of the old route from Carlisle to London. Up till the 1970s it was still possible to drive along Market St between Blackfriars Bridge and London Rd. I have mixed feelings about pedestrianisation, and think that traffic should be partially reintroduced to Market Street, but that's another story!

And there we will take a break! There are plenty of places round here to have a tea or coffee! how about the food court (Food Chain, formerly Voyagers) which is on a bridge directly above the street. We will continue our journey south along the A6 in 'Along the A6 Manchester to New Mills' in a follow-up article!


Dear Mr O'Rourke,

I was interested to read your piece on the A6 but was surprised that though you stressed the antiquity of the route you made no mention of the fact that it was followed by the Jacobite army in 1745 (advancing and retreating). Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have stayed in a house in "Scotland Yard" in Manchester, a courtyard just off Market Street now presumably buried under the Arndale Centre. When I was a teenager Scotland Yard used to be the place to buy tickets for FA Cup games from the touts who hung around there.

Best wishes with your photographic projects,

Chris Sawyer

Thanks for this contribution. I wasn't aware of this, though I know of Bonnie Prince Charlie's Manchester connections. A very valuable point that makes the route of the A6 even more historically interesting.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-08-15

Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs his Eyewitness photography walks in Manchester, Liverpool and other locations. He offers one-to-one tuition in Photography and Languages. He is a high-level speaker of German and can offer photography walks and tours through the medium of German. Visit www.aidan.co.uk

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