Salford Lads Club Blue Plaque Exhibition

Salford Lads Club name before and after renovation

Salford Lads Club name before and after renovation

The red brick arched doorway and facade of Salford Lads Club has been seen countless times in a set of black and white photographs of the Smiths taken outside the club by Stephen Wright in the mid-80s.

Since then thousands of fans have flocked to the location to have their photo taken at the same spot. But what many don’t realise is that you can visit Salford Lads Club. In fact many visitors who go there to have their photo taken are invited by volunteers to come inside and have a look around.

As you enter, the tiles, brickwork and window frames seem to exude an atmosphere of the past. The Smiths room contains memorabilia and the signatures of ‘pilgrims’ who have come here.

There is a room with snooker tables and photos on the walls showing young club members on field trips going back decades.

Upstairs the pristine green snooker tables are the orginal ones that have been used for over 100 years. In the boxing rooms I could imagine myself in a scene from the film ‘Rocky’.

But it’s important to remember this is not a museum, it’s a working club for young people, today providing activities for both girls and boys.

The building has undergone extensive renovation. Practically every room has been restored as closely as possible to how it was over 100 years ago.

Salford Lads Club is one of the most surprising and special places in the Manchester area, and wherever you’re from from you’ll receive a special Salford welcome and perhaps a personal guided tour.

To coincide with the Manchester International Festival 2017, Salford Lads Club put on an exhibition with tongue-in-cheek blue plaques. Project Manager Leslie Holmes told me he had been to London and seen them everywhere and decided to create a humorous exhibition on this theme. The plaques will put on display again at other events. I include just a selection here. To see them all you’ll need to go and visit Salford Lads Club.

Aidan’s review of Cotton Panic by Jane Horrocks – Why mainstream reviewers got it wrong

Jane Horrocks performing in Cotton Panic

Jane Horrocks performing in Cotton Panic


As I understand it, one of the aims of the MIF is to stretch artistic boundaries, to encourage people, both performers and audiences, to move out of their comfort zone, to experiment, take risks and try out new things.

That’s certainly true of Cotton Panic, a unique combination of theatre, music, on-screen projections and sound effects, narrated and performed by Jane Horrocks, created by Jane Horrocks, Nick Vivian and the electronic band Wrangler. The show was fittingly held inside the decaying Upper Campfield Market hall on Deansgate.

I looked at a few reviews in mainstream newspapers and as usual I found them unhelpful, as they didn’t understand the concept and contained petty criticisms.

I decided to write a review myself to give proper credit to this very powerful and inspiring musical-theatrical creation.

In fact, I was so impressed with Cotton Panic I went to see it twice.

So what was it about the show that grabbed me? There are many reasons, many aspects overlooked and ignored by the reviewers.

One of the most striking things is it is self-contradictory, a merging of opposites. It combines modern electronic music and imagery to tell a story that takes place in the mid-19th century. Folk songs are combined with contemporary techno, produced on stage by the three musicians working behind the semi-transparent screen. It was exciting to see an old computer with glowing lights on the left, and a reel to reel tape recorder on the right. What would the people of 1862 have made of these instruments?

A couple of the reviews describe it as ‘gig-theatre’, a term I find condescending. It’s a mixture of music, drama, dance, on-screen imagery presented on a stage in front of a standing audience.

This is a story that’s an important part of the history of Manchester. It’s our history and it’s still relevant today. The cotton famine came about due to the American Civil War. Southern American ports were blockaded by the north. The supply of cotton was stopped, causing the Lancashire cotton industry to grind to a halt. This caused huge poverty. But the workers of Lancashire remained in solidarity with the American president due to his opposition to slavery. This fact is documented in Manchester’s Abraham Lincoln statue, which appears on screen.

The story is told by Jane Horrocks, sometimes singing in her very high voice, sometimes narrating, and occasionally shrieking, against the loud, techno musical backdrop,

The three huge screens, one behind the performers and two on either side, show images projected by industrial size digital projectors. Cotton dust like a snow storm is a constant feature as well as a ghostly female figure that could be called ‘Queen Cotton’.

At other times, we see quotations by authors describing the events of the time and the terrible poverty. We see a gigantic face of Glenda Jackson, reading a dignified description of terrible poverty that’s still shocking after a century and a half.

Later we see a facial close-up of an African-British actor – I’ve not managed to find out his name – delivering more powerful quotations.

It’s always very interesting when new connections and juxtapositions are made. The deafening roar of the factory machines is echoed in the industrial beats of the electronic music. Could it be that Manchester’s electro sound was inspired by its industrial heritage? Maybe. A woman in factory overalls does a traditional clog dance to a contemporary beat. The clogs looked like they are very good quality, I wonder where they were made.

There were many transatlantic echoes. In the early part of the show, the Lancashire cotton towns are read out in time with the music, and later, towns in the southern US states. Jane Horrocks waves a mid-19th century US flag. Later there are contemporary media images of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, interspersed with glimpses of mayhem on the streets, Donald Trump and Brexit.

Jane Horrocks is the lynchpin of the performance, holding it all together from beginning to end. She is a unique actor, a talented singer and a powerful narrator, her voice often amplified with a megaphone. She can transform herself from an angry agitator into a helpless child beggar, emphasised by her very high voice.

In one section, she wanders into the audience, repeating the words ‘Can you help me a bit?’, over and over again, and then then she is lifted up on the shoulders of fellow performers. It was moving – you could see it in the reactions of audience members.

In the reviews I gather that commentators found this and other sections a bit long and perhaps self-indulgent. I totally reject this criticism. The long sections emphasise drudgery and repetitiveness, whether of a 10-hour working day in a cotton mill, or a long day spent begging in the streets for a few pennies. The architecture of the piece is spread out and not curtailed in order to pander to a short attention span.

Hall of the Upper Campfield Market

Hall of the Upper Campfield Market before its conversion for ‘Cotton Panic’

I’ve heard people complain films are too long, like 2001 ‘Oh, it was too long’. No, that’s wrong! Its length is the whole point! It’s like complaining that The Cruel Sea has too much sea in it, or Lawrence of Arabia has too much desert. Cotton Panic has long, repetitive sections that help to tell the story. If they are longer than the three second sound bite editing culture of today, so be it.

What other interesting juxtapositions are there? I loved the use of Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones in connection to the rhythm of the cotton spinning machines. In the latter stages of the story, the cotton workers decide to go for a meeting at the Free Trade Hall, which is just around the corner from the venue. She sings the words ‘Anger is an energy’ from the song by Johnny Rotten, co-founder of The Sex Pistols, who performed at an infamous gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.

I was astonished at the statistics and learned a lot. Whilst there was much poverty, some cotton Lancashire workers earned very high wages, the highest in the country. Seeing Cotton Famine has encouraged me to find out more about this forgotten period in Manchester’s history.

I saw the performance twice – on Thursday 14th and again on Saturday 16th and both times I was captivated. The second time I stood near the front, close to the stage and watched as Jane Horrocks came out into the audience just a few feet away. On both occasions I saw it, it was absorbing and the time flew.

It’s a shame the reviewers failed to appreciate these qualities. I often think that reviews should be mostly written by people who know how to appreciate a piece of music or theatre, rather than those who don’t, or perhaps they were asleep, or thinking about going to the pub afterwards.

This was a show about our city, Manchester, our history, our region, presented using the medium of the music that came out of our city – techno / electronic, presented by artists from around here. It has a clear and simple concept. It was very powerful musically, theatrically and historically and was perfectly in the spirit of the Manchester International Festival. I unreservedly give it a five star rating.


Review of Kraftwerk live in Brighton, 07.06.2017

Kraftwerk live in Brighton 07.06.2017Kraftwerk are a contradiction. They use synthesisers and computers yet their music is full of expressiveness. They deal with complex themes of modernity and technology, yet their lyrics are often slogans or single words, often in multiple languages. On stage the four band members barely tap their feet to the music, and yet their electronic beat is so infectious, it has been the inspiration for dance genres including Hip-Hop, Techno and House.

I saw Kraftwerk at the Brighton Centre on 7 June, 2017. I travelled 260 miles from Manchester by Megabus and Southern Railway, and it was well worth the journey.

There were queues in front of the hall, which overlooks the sea, and after a long wait while the audience took their seats, the lights went down, the electronic beat started, four men walked onto the stage, each wearing a body suit stamped with a wireframe design. They stood behind four electronic musical instruments, futuristic  lecterns, lit up from inside.

On a huge screen behind them, shapes, patterns and words danced in 3D. We viewed them through stereoscopic glasses provided on entry. Each band member operated his electronic control centre – or was it a keyboard – gently tapping a foot or pressing a hand on a button or key.

The show progressed with dazzling and pulsating beats, patterns and slogans: “Eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht.” For people, like me, who understand German, it was great. Kraftwerk make German sound cool.

They performed many of their greatest hits, some instrumental, others with words, sung by co-founder Ralf Hütter, who stood on the left. It was clear that he was actually playing the keyboard and singing live. The versions were quite different from the records and had an improvised feel.

I loved their live version of Autobahn with its computer-generated images of a VW Beetle and classic Mercedes driving on an imagined motorway in Germany some time in the seventies.

Radioaktivität has gained new significance since the seventies. The place names flashed up on screen told their own story: “HIROSHIMA – HARRISBURG – TSCHERNOBYL – SELLAFIELD – FUKUSHIMA”.

Each song and its accompanying graphics was an exploration in sound and graphics. Tour de France, Trans Europe Express show Kraftwerk are not just a German but European phenomenon.

The time went quickly and sadly the curtains closed. But there was a surprise in store, I won’t say what it is because it would be a spoiler! Suffice to say it was intriguing, humorous and typically Kraftwerk!

They returned for an encore, and played long, mesmerising tracks with that infectious, groundbreaking electro beat. Abstract waveforms and patterns flashed hypnotically on the screen above. A few people got up and danced at the front enjoying a mini-rave.

Finally each member went off separately, taking the final bow. Ralf Hütter was the last to depart, and that was the end of the Kraftwerk concert, an experience I won’t forget for a long time.



Before & After Manchester Volume 1 – Video slide show documenting change in Manchester

This is the first in a series of video slide show presentations on the theme of ‘Before & After’. From my archive, I have selected photographs of buildings and locations in Manchester and photographed how the same scene looked a few years later. The changes are the result of demolition, restoration, new construction.

Locations featured in this slide show include the Hacienda night club on Whitworth Street, the Rochdale Canal, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Piccadilly Basin and the Whitworth Art gallery.

I’ve tried to match up the viewpoint as closely as I can, but it’s not always possible.

‘Then and now’ is one of my central themes as someone who is interested in the local area and how it is changing. I’ve done the ‘now’ photos for several ‘Then and Now’ books, including Manchester and Liverpool.

I have taken a large number of photographs since 1996 and what I find visually fascinating is how places change, often in unexpected ways. In some cases, locations become worse, not better. I have campaigned to save buildings under threat and prevent bad construction, with mixed success.

I have written subtitles in both English and German. This is because my main activity is now language trainer and I want to provide clear German language material for my students based locally, as well as English material for people in Germany and beyond. I often give local tours to people from other parts of Europe, including Germany.

Please comment via my @AidanEyewitness Twitter account.




Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.

John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.

The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.

Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.

Review of the Strawberry Studios exhibition at Stockport Museum

Stockport Market Hall and St Mary's Church What’s Stockport famous for? It’s the last stop on the West Coast line from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, it’s seven miles south east of the city centre and it’s my home town! But what else is it famous for? Oh yes, it’s the home of a groundbreaking recording studio that existed from 1967 to 1993, Strawberry Studios.

So what made Strawberry Studios different? The first thing is that it wasn’t in London. The music industry has been mostly based in London – it still is. But in the mid-sixties, a visionary group of people wanted to set up a studio in the north.

The driving force was Peter Tattersall and Eric Stewart. It was named after Eric’s favourite song, Strawberry Field, which was released in 1967.

It originally started in another location but moved to an industrial building on Waterloo Road in 1968. Incidentally this is just by the location of the Stockport air disaster of 1967.

They wanted to provide a recording facility to match those in London, but close to Manchester. They offered cheaper rates at night so that local bands could afford to record there. They made full use of the latest recording technology.

Strawberry Studios exhibition

The band 10cc were closely involved in the studios and they recorded many classic songs there, the most famous of which is “I’m Not In Love”, which featured groundbreaking use of tape loops to create rich layered vocals. It was a number one UK hit in 1975 and reached number two in the US. Many other artists recorded at Strawberry, including Paul McCartney, Neil Sedaka, the Bay City Rollers and most notably, Joy Division.

Despite the success of I’m Not In Love, 10cc split in 1976, continuing as two separate entities. The studio sadly closed in 1993, but the name survives both as a legend of music and as the name of the building.

In the seventies I lived just 10 minutes from Strawberry Studios and though I was active in music in the eighties, I never had any involvement there. The achievements of 10cc and Strawberry Studios are a source of local pride in Stockport and so in the year of the 50th anniversary of the setting up of the studio, it was natural that there should be a commemoration and exhibition.

It opened on 27 January, 2017 and though I couldn’t make the opening, I attended in late February. It’s housed in Staircase House in Stockport’s historic Market Place. The house contains exhibits about the history of Stockport on five levels and I can highly recommend it.

For me, the high point of my visit was entering the 10cc exhibition in the basement exhibition area. The two adjoining rooms are packed with many fascinating objects, musical instruments, photographs, videos and audio recordings.

Strawberry Studios exhibition Eric Stewart's Semi acoustic guitar

Eric Stewart’s Gibson ES 335 semi-acoustic guitar is proudly placed in a display cabinet. The guitar was used on all four 10cc albums.

The exhibition is packed with lots more artifacts, including 45 rpm discs, badges, amplifiers, music cassettes, brochures, post cards and the original sound equipment used by producer Martin Hannett.

Strawberry Studios exhibition

I was intrigued to see an original Marshall Time Modulator, and another piece of equipment which had the name ‘Martin Hannett’ inside the case. There was also an example of the ‘gizmo’ a device invented by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. An electronic copy of the studio bookings diary from 1980 to 1981 contains many famous names.

I was overwhelmed by just how many fascinating items of memorabilia have been crammed into such a relatively small space. I found it all fascinating and absorbing.

I was lucky enough to meet the curator of the exhibition, music historian Peter Wadsworth. He told me that the exhibition was an extension of his PhD thesis, which is on the subject of Strawberry Studios.

For anyone who is interested in the history of music in the Manchester area, this exhibition is a must-see. And if like me, you lived through the Strawberry Studios era, and remember the artists and songs of that time, it will bring back many happy musical memories.

I am in Love – runs from 27th January 2017 until 29th January 2018. Stockport Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. Entry to the exhibition is free. Stockport Museum is located at 30 Market Place, Stockport, SK1 1ES.  

Stockport Story / Stockport Museum


Why the Bootle St plans (St Michael’s) must be rejected

Bootle St police station facade

Following criticisms of the 2016 proposals, a redesign was produced in mid-2017 by Hodder Architects. Read my initial reactions in this article.

After the police moved out of the 1930s Bootle St station, the property was purchased. Initially the impression was given that the old police building was to be converted into a hotel. In 2016 the present plans were announced. They are shocking in their scale, destructiveness and lack of respect for the surrounding area and must be rejected. Here are the reasons why.

1) The area doesn’t ‘urgently’ need redevelopment.
It’s said the site needs to be redeveloped. This is not true. The site is one of countless parts of the city centre where a building has been vacated. The urgency lies with the developers, who obviously are keen to see a financial return on their investment. It’s perfectly okay for the site to remain as it is for the time being. Better to wait a few years for a better development that suits the location than to rush ahead with an inappropriate one like this.


The Abercromby pub July 2015

2) The Abercromby pub will be destroyed
Pubs have a special status, especially when they are of historical significance. They are often the only buildings to survive from the earlier city. That’s certainly true of the Abercromby, which was first built in the early 1800s. It has connections to the 1819 Peterloo massacre, a key development in history. Not only that, it is a successful business and a well-loved watering hole in the city. 4152 names are on a petition to save the Abercromby. People come to Manchester for its uniqueness and historic character. That aspect will be degraded if the pub is destroyed. The developers have tried to downgrade the value of the pub by saying that some parts were built in the 20th century. That argument is not valid as other parts of the pub are original. It’s the name, significance and role in the history of Manchester that’s important. If the development goes ahead, people will never forget that a well-loved pub was destroyed to make way for it.

Manchester Central Synagogue

3) The Reform Synagogue will be demolished.
There’s an attitude among planners that dictates ‘If it’s in our way and not listed, demolish it.’ The result of this tendency is for scores of interesting buildings in the second and third category to be lost. It’s not just the highest grade of historic buildings that help to define the character of the city. Many less remarkable ones do as well, and they should be kept wherever possible. The Reform Synagogue may not be in the highest category as regards architectural merit, but it is still a place of worship and deserves respect. It was one of the first buildings to be constructed in Manchester city centre after the war (completed 1953). Just imagine the significance of a new synagogue in Manchester after what happened in Europe only 10 years previously. It must have encapsulated a sense of hope, rebirth and optimism. And now it is to be demolished. I’ve been aware of it for many years and have photographed it quite a few times. It has an austere elegance that’s far superior to the architecture the planners want to replace it with. They say a new place of worship will be provided – along the lines of Cross St Chapel – but a new facility can never replace the history and aura of the original. The building is certainly run down and in need of renovation, and so it should be renovated. And in passing, the developers have chosen the name “St Michael’s” as he is the patron saint of police officers, whose former building they are going to demolish. But co-incidentally St Michael is also protector of the Jewish religion.


4) Bootle Street police station façade will be destroyed.
The police station was built in the 1930s and served the city through the war years and the decades that followed. It was in use for around seventy years. By the end of the period it had become unsuitable for a modern police force. It’s said it was like working on the set of Life on Mars. The police have moved out, but that should not be the end of the story for this building. I wouldn’t advocate keeping the brick built part, but the white stone eastern façade is a striking piece of architecture: stolid, traditional, neo-classical and not fashionable with today’s planners and architects. One of the superb aspects of the façade is how it fits in with the streetscape. Looking along Southmill Street, the Victorian brick-built façades alternate with the white stone facade, followed by 19th century façades leading to Albert Square. The interplay of styles, colours and materials is an essential aspect of the area. All that will all be lost if the planners get their wish and the façade is wrecked. And there’s another aspect to keep in mind. Now that the police have gone, the façade functions as a monument to their work over the decades. In this sense the façade functions as a memorial, and memorials should be kept. Some people criticise ‘façadism’ but there are many successful examples of it in Manchester.

5) Development is inappropriate in a ‘quiet zone’.
Cities don’t have to have to be ‘developed to death’. Cities should have light and shade. They should have busy parts, quiet parts and this is a quiet area. Bounded by two community assets: the synagogue and the pub. They are close to a historic concert hall façade – the Free Trade Hall – a superb piece of ‘façadism’, and the site of a memorable event in history – the Peterloo Massacre. It is already designated as a conservation area. The construction of a brash, destructive, materialistic commercial development like this is completely out of character with the area. The Friends Meeting House dates from the early 19th century and is a place of quiet contemplation. The new development with its towering blocks, bars and restaurants will just a few feet across the street from the rear of the Quakers meeting house.

6) Towers too high, too close to the town hall
One of the most damaging aspects of the plan is the imposition of two massive towers. They stand too close to the town hall. From the town hall balcony they will screen a significant part of the view to the south west. Viewed from the south west they will obscure the town hall clock tower. They will diminish and encroach upon the character and atmosphere of the mid-Victorian square. It would appear that the developers have had to resort to oversized towers in order to fully realise the commercial potential of this rather limited site. I’m a fan of tall buildings but not in a location like this. Make Architects already have a controversial development in their portfolio. 5 Broadgate in London was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup. An article on BDOnline states: “Make’s building arrogantly ignores the existing urban context.” The same looks to be true of this proposal. The black shiny exterior gives them a high-tech quality, reminiscent of a science fiction film and totally out of character in the Victorian setting.

7) It adds nothing new to Manchester
The development just adds more bars, offices and apartments to the city. There is no new cultural offering, no new significant piece of architecture, no new community benefit. It offers more of what Manchester already has an abundance of. Just one block away, the Great Northern and Bar 38 have provided the same type of amenities since 2000. Spinningfields offers something very similar just across Deansgate.

Bar 38 20 July 2000 Bar 38 and the Great Northern Piazza 20 July 2000 about 200 yards from the proposed development.

If the plan is approved, it will send out a negative message, further eroding the already tarnished reputation of Manchester City Council as regards planning decisions. The popular voice will be very harsh on St Michael’s: ‘They knocked down three buildings to make way for that? How could they do that? What on earth is wrong with them?’

If the development were located on a different site, further out of the city centre, and without the need for demolition of heritage buildings, I would have no particular objection to it.

But in this location, the development is inappropriate and harmful. I believe most local citizens will agree with me and for this reason, planning permission must be refused.

PLEASE NOTE: Since I wrote this article in 2016, a revised proposal has been produced. Read my initial reaction to it here.

Why Manchester’s Smith’s Arms pub should be saved

There are few things more important in our lives than buildings. New buildings, old buildings, they make our world, they are a reflection of us as human beings. We live in them, work in them, shop in them and do practically everything else in them.

We travel the world to see them. We look at them in awe, pay a fortune to view them stay in them. Often we hate them and complain about them. Personally, I love to draw them (see image above).

The buildings people most appreciate are old buildings and not just the big, famous ones.

So why are we knocking so many of them down? In summer 2016 several significant, arguably iconic Manchester buildings are to be destroyed.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

One of the most significant among them is a former pub, The Smiths Arms in Ancoats. It’s over 200 years old and predates many of the industrial buildings Ancoats is famous for. It was in use through the 19th and 20th centuries, surviving many upheavals, including the industrial revolution, war and industrial decline.

Like many buildings in Ancoats, it’s been out of use but has great potential for reuse. All around are stunning examples of how old buildings can be given a new lease of life, most notably Halle St Peters, which stands next to it.

Restored Halle St Peters  Ancoats

Restored Halle St Peters Ancoats

Although run down due to neglect, the Smith’s Arms could still easily be restored.

So why has Manchester City Council decided it must be demolished?

For this article I am not interested in the design of the new development, its background, or the fact that it’s a consortium of Manchester City Council and a company based in Abu Dhabi, where I worked for four years.

I am only interested in the building with its façade reminiscent of an age so different to our own. I can hear the hammers of the construction workers who put it up in the late 18th century, the proud owner welcoming customers, the echoes of the people who went in there down years.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

The Smiths Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

I can see the changing scene around it, in time lapse, at first open spaces and then a growing number of factories and commercial buildings, then dwellings and places of worship.

You can learn so much by focusing the bricks, the ornamentation, the typeface of “Smith’s Arms” lettering above the main door.

And there is an additional aspect. The Smiths is the name of one of Manchester’s most famous bands, although to my knowledge they didn’t have any connection with the pub.

The drummer of the Smiths, Mike Joyce, took part in protests to save the pub.

Now let’s move from the past into the future and let’s assume that good sense will prevail and the building is saved.

Scaffolding goes up, the builders get to work and when the covers come down there is a pristine building, unique, fashionable, a place to go and visit, hang out, contributing to the community spirit of the area. Inside much of it is new but there are some original features. It’s surrounded by a variety of other complimentary, a stimulating mix of old and new, quirky and imaginative. The new owners have made a connection with the name and there is a theme of ‘The Smiths’ inside, with photographs and memorabilia. It has become a magnet for fans of the Smiths.

Now let’s explore the alternative scenario. Manchester City Council gets its way and building is destroyed.

What’s there? Nothing. No bricks that have survived two centuries, no quirky designed lettering. It’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It never existed, or so it seems. And in its place?
Concrete, or maybe glass or maybe those awful terracotta tiles that can be seen on numerous other buildings nearby.

The Smith’s Arms and all its history, all the memories it contains, the associations it conjures up, has been destroyed to make way for an apartment building that may not last more than a few decades.

One less reason to visit Ancoats and Manchester.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

That’s the reason why we must preserve old buildings, not just the big, Grade 1 listed buildings but also the smaller less noticeable ones, like the Smith’s Arms. Because they are rich in memories and associations, because they have a power to fascinate, and that’s what most people like, both residents and visitors. Because they look good and add interest and quirkiness to the street scene.

Because they are better than anything that present day architecture can build.

And so to answer my question above, why did Manchester City Council decide it had to be demolished? I believe that the people taking the decisions don’t fully appreciate old buildings. They move within the corridors of city-based power, less visible and accountable than at the national level. The council is constantly short of money and is always looking for any means to increase its income. A crumbling old pub is just a minor barrier to be removed, and the people campaigning for it to be saved are standing in the way of progress, causing the inconvenience and expense.

The Smith's Arms frontage and lettering


If the Smith’s Arms is destroyed, Manchester City Council will in my opinion have committed yet another act of civic vandalism against the city it is supposed to be caring for. People will complain about it in strong words. They will become further alienated from local democracy and how we rebuild and renew our cities.The damage will be irreversible and yet another piece of the mosaic of Manchester will have been ripped out.

View from Tranmere – Story behind the image

Rodney Street Birkenhead looking towards Liverpool
One of the themes of the Eyewitness blog is ‘secrets behind the image’. In this post I am going to write about the creative and technical questions underlying this photograph of Rodney Street, in Tranmere, near Birkenhead on the Wirral.

About the location
I love to photograph cities. To be frank I find the man-made environment more interesting than the natural environment. I was driving through Tranmere, close to Birkenhead town centre, and glimpsed the view down a long straight street looking towards Liverpool.

The street is Rodney Street, Birkenhead, not to be confused with Rodney Street, Liverpool. The view is similar to the one in the famous photograph of the Ark Royal by the photographer Edward Chambre Hardman (1898-1988). He lived on Rodney St Liverpool and his home is open to the public. If you’re interested in photography I definitely recommend it.

The view here looking roughly east north east towards the centre of Birkenhead, with north Liverpool in the distance. I love the effect of the long, straight street with the houses on either side and north Liverpool skyline in the distance.

We can see the ventilation shaft of the Queensway (Birkenhead) Tunnel centre right. It overlooks the River Mersey, which is hidden in this view. Just to its left is the Tobacco Warehouse on the Liverpool side of the river.

Technical info
The photo was taken with my new Canon 750D DSLR camera, using the Tamron 16-300mm zoom lens. (I’ll review this camera in another post).

I took the photograph in Program Auto mode, which I use in most situations. The camera chose the settings of 1/160s f/6.3 ISO100. This indicates the light level was plus two thirds of a stop. (If you’d like to find out more about light level and why it’s important, why not take a look at one of my walks or courses.)

The lens was at focal length 70mm so it is roughly mid-way in its range from 18mm wide angle to 300mm telephoto.

Previously I used the Tamron 18-270mm lens which was excellent. The newer 16-300mm Tamron is even better as it gives you slightly more wide angle and slightly more telephoto than the previous one.

In this case, I was able to frame or crop the view at 70mm. For comparison, here’s the view taken at 16mm wide angle. It’s clear that to get the best effect, you have to zoom in, but not too far. I zoomed in so the street and houses were visible, as well as the skyline at the top.

This photo was taken in the evening. The sun is shining from the west – off to the left – and lighting up the tops of the houses. The street was mostly in shadow. I lightened up the street slightly in Photoshop. I also rotated the image by about 1.5 degrees.

For the symmetry of the composition, it’s important to stand in the centre of the street.

In summary
It’s not a perfect image. Coming from the left, the light leaves the street partly in shadow – It would probably have been better to take the image earlier in the day with the sun directly behind. However I don’t take photos for the sake of technical perfection or to win competitions. I simply take photos to capture the striking views I see around me. Whether they are of interest to the viewer is up to them!

Here’s the same view taken at 18mm
Rodney Street, Tranmere, Wirral, Liverpool region / Merseyside

Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

Four pieces of advice photographers should ignore

Manual Mode Graphic

Manual Mode is useful for a limited range of purposes


1) You need to use Manual mode all the time.2) You must always shoot RAW.

3) White balance should always be set manually.

4) Only shoot cities in dawn or dusk rays.

This is the first article on my relaunched Eyewitness photography blog, now focusing mainly on photography and Photoshop. I will be dealing mainly with questions and issues that arise on my photo walks and in my one-to-one photography training sessions.

In this article I’m going to take a look at four popular misconceptions about photography that I frequently encounter, and I would like to set matters straight with information and advice based on my 40+ years experience with photography, 20+ with digital photography.

First piece of advice to be ignored: You must use Manual Mode all the time

We’ll start that much quoted phrase ‘I need to get off Auto’.

Here there’s a misunderstanding about the true meaning of ‘Auto’. What is being referred to here is ‘Full Auto’, the one marked in green on most cameras.

It’s true that people should move away from using just Full Auto, but that doesn’t mean you must always use Manual Mode.

And incidentally it’s not true that professional photographers use Manual Mode all the time. They use the four main modes  -Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual – depending on the type of photographs they are taking.

In Manual Mode the camera’s Auto Exposure is switched off. The scale in the viewfinder functions as a light meter. You have complete complete control over Aperture shutter speed and ISO.

Manual Mode is useful:
A) For learning about photography – My method of ‘Using the camera as a light meter’ is a very useful approach to using Manual and I’ll talk about that in another post.

B) When you need to take a series of shots the same exposure, for instance photos for an eBay shop where the background needs to be the same in every photo.

C) For taking photos in extremely dark conditions, for instance astronomical photography and time exposures of longer than 30 seconds.

D) When you need to choose exactly what Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO you would like to have and have plenty of time to experiment.

E) In a photography studio where you are using studio lighting, either flash or continuous.

Manual on a digital camera is not suited to general photography. For instance if you are at an event or taking lots of photos one after the other, Manual Mode is simply not practical. It is too fiddly and time-consuming to adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO for each shot.

The best general-purpose camera mode is Program Auto with ISO Auto.

I’ll explain this in more detail in another blog post.

As far as Manual Mode is concerned, I know what I’m talking about! My first camera, a film camera, only had Manual Mode and I used it successfully for several years.

Second piece of advice to be ignored: Shoot RAW! Always!

Diagram RAW Sliders

Some people can’t resist the temptation to ‘tweak’ the sliders when opening a RAW file.


I get very annoyed when whenever I read advice like this, because it shows that whoever wrote it doesn’t have a full understanding of RAW, nor of the different requirements of the varying lighting conditions.

First of all, what is a RAW file?

RAW is a family of file formats unique to each camera manufacturer. With a RAW file, all the picture information from each shot is stored. That information includes the colour information for each pixel, plus lots of extra data. RAW files are much larger than JPEG files because all the data is kept.

The JPEG format uses the information from the RAW file and compresses it, discarding the information the human eye can’t see. It’s the equivalent to the MP3 file in audio.

Often the finished image taken with a JPEG looks no different from an image taken with a RAW file.

So why do camera manufacturers include the option of saving in RAW? Because the RAW file gives you more scope to carry out adjustments such as changing brightness and contrast.

At this point I would like to highlight an apparent contradiction in the advice we often hear.

A) You must try to get the image right in the camera so you don’t need to carry out adjustments later.

B) You must always shoot raw so that you can carry out adjustments later.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Another issue with RAW is when people become slider happy. When you open a RAW file you are presented with a set of sliders in the vast majority of photos taken in bright conditions they can be left as they are put money photographers can’t resist adjusting them often resulting in a less than satisfactory image.

The JPEG file is set to optimise brightness contrast from us images and underskilled “tweaking “of the raw sliders will result in a possibly worse over-processed image.

Okay so why should we use the raw file?

Those sliders, if skilfully used, can transform an image taken in difficult lighting.

Whilst cameras can make a good job of capturing scenes with a good range of tones, they have great difficulty in handling scenes combining very bright and very dark areas.

Please note there are limits to how much a raw file can be adjusted if the clouds are partially overexposed and you try to darken them by dragging the highlights later to the left you will get pure white patches.

Don’t get into the mentality of  “I have made a mess of the exposure but I can always correct it in RAW”

You can’t always correct it!

So my advice is:  Use the RAW file format whenever you need it and if you don’t need it, don’t use it!

Third piece of advice to ignore: Always set white balance manually!

White Balance Symbols

Auto White Balance – Tungsten – Cloudy – Sun – Shade – Fluorescent


All digital cameras have a white balance control and by default it’s set to Auto

But first, why do we need to have White Balance and what exactly is white balance?

White light comes in different shades but I rise are not able to distinguish between the shades for instance sunlight is at the blueish and of wight what is interior lights can often be at the more reddish side of wight are human eyesight adjusts to the different shades of white and the digital camera can do this also so if you taking pictures outside in bright sunshine the camera will adjust to ensure that the white shade of white is exactly right in the artificial lighting in doors the camera is also very well able to adjust to the shade of light to the shade of white of white light whatever the light source whether it’s halogen bulbs or low energy lightbulbs.

Under normal circumstances you do not need to set the white balance manually for these or other lighting conditions.

In some circumstances the white balance can give inaccurate results, for instance if the subject is predominantly of one colour. Here the building is reddish brown in colour but the Auto White Balance has shifted the overall colour towards blue. In this case it is appropriate to switch to White Balance ‘Shade’. This is the setting that best matches the  light in the scene.

My general advice would be to use white balance  manually when there is one predominant colour that may cause the white balance to overcompensate. Or simply check on the LCD and if it doesn’t look quite right, try a manual White Balance setting.

Most of the time, however, it can be left on Auto.

Fourth piece of advice to be ignored:  It’s best to take city photographs in the rich golden light at the end of the day

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939


I have photographed cities a lot, I know that this piece of advice is wrong and the reason is simple: When the sun is low in the sky, buildings cast long shadows onto other buildings. In architectural photography, shadows on facades are not a good thing.

The other reason for not photographing late in the day is that there is a reddish brown hue to the colour of the sun. This can have an effect on the mood of the picture, it’s not always the best light to take photographs of buildings.

The best time to take photos of cities in sunlight is in the middle of the day when the sun is higher in the sky and there are fewer shadows. The higher position of the sun makes the buildings look better.




Photo-impressions: River Liffey, Dublin

Here are some photographic impressions of a new symbol of Dublin, the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The bridge exists to provide a link between the newly redeveloped Dockland areas to north and south of the river Liffey.

From the first time I saw it, I was very impressed with it. Its graceful, sweeping shape looks very pleasing. The supporting cables are eye-catching and I thought reminded me of something. Later I realised what it was: the harp, prime symbol of Ireland that can be seen on coins, government buildings and Ryanair planes.

Here are some notes and technical information on the photographs

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

This is a composite of two overlapping photographs. I rested the camera on a concrete post on the riverside and aimed the camera towards the left side of the bridge then the right. I merged the two in Photoshop. The shutter speed was half a second, that’s five stops below the standard shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The aperture is f/8, one stop above the standard of f/5.6 and the ISO was 800, two stops faster than 200. So the overall light level in this photo is minus six. That’s exactly what we would expect for a night scene

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

This is a composite panoramic photo consisting of three overlapping images. I merged them in Photoshop Photomerge. The camera settings were 1/320s f/10.0 and ISO100. Going from the standard settings, these settings are plus two and two thirds, plus one and two thirds and minus one, respectively. The light level is therefore plus three, which is typical for a scene lit by bright sunshine. The angle emphasises the width and unique triangular form of the bridge, seen from this angle.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

Looking east along the river Liffey through the Samuel Beckett Bridge towards the twin chimneys of Ringsend power station. Camera settings 1/250s f/9.0 ISO100. Plus two, plus one and a third and minus one respectively, the overall light level is plus two and one third, typical of a daytime scene in bright sunshine.

The Samual Beckett Bridge in 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam

The Samual Beckett Bridge on 5 June 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam

Camera settings are: 1/250s f/8.0 ISO100 plus two, plus one and minus one respectively. Overall light level is plus one. This photo was taken six and a half years before the photos above from a similar viewpoint. The bridge is about to be placed in its permanent position. There is smoke coming out of the chimneys of the power station. Since then the chimneys are no longer in use but have been allowed to stand as they are a such a familiar symbol of Dublin.

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

Camera settings 1/30s f/7.1 ISO800(estimatd) The camera was the Nikon D100, capture date 1 November 2006. The ISO wasn’t recorded but I would estimate it to be around 800, so the overall light level is minus three and two thirds. This moody and atmospheric view was taken from the ferry from Holyhead as it was about to dock in Dublin.

If you’re interested in finding out more about my very useful approach to camera exposure, why not come on one of my photo walks or book a one to one session.

Photo-impressions: Heaton Mersey Dusk Skies

Winter sunset over Wythenshawe

On a walk by the Mersey on 28 Dec I unexpectedly got two very interesting twilight views down the river, with the lights of the M60 out of focus in the distance. Earlier I took a photos series of the sun setting over Wythenshawe. The trees of the Mersey Valley visible in the lower part of the picture. The sun is setting behind one of the blocks of flats. A mobile phone mast is silhouetted on the right.

There are opportunities for amazing images all around us. You really don’t need to go to a distant location to capture striking images. I love the atmosphere as twilight fades into darkness.

Lights over the River Mersey at dusk

When I posted this image on Facebook, I joked: ‘This image is taken from 100 views of the Meru Sai river by the celebrated Japanese printmaker Eidan Oroku.’ I love Japanese woodblock prints, especially Hokusai and I think this image has the quality of one of his prints – the pink coloured sky, the view through the plants and the river which could perhaps be the Sumida river in Tokyo in the 1860s. The lights are on the M60 motorway. In the middle is the weir near Vale Road, Heaton Mersey. I love the out of focus street lights effect, and this is used on the film Lost in Translation set in Tokyo.

Dusk lights through branches Heaton Mersey

On my dusk walk by the River Mersey, I was struck by the ‘Chinese’ quality of what I saw in front of me. The branches form the shape of a diamond with a view through them into the distance. I moved back and zoomed in a bit, throwing the street lamps a little more out of focus – I love that effect. Below the river Mersey flows towards the west. This image has shades of traditional Chinese art, although there are no birds sitting on the branches! I am often inspired by art of all kinds. It’s essential for photographers to develop an artistic visual awareness. The best way to do that is to study art.

Heaton Mersey is in Stockport Metropolitan Borough about 6 miles south of Manchester city centre. There are great footpaths along the river and along the disused London Midland railway viaduct.

Featured book: Liverpool Then and Now


The changing face of the city has been a dominant theme in my photography since the early days. It was fitting therefore that I was commissioned by Anova books in 2011 to take the ‘now’ photos for the book Liverpool Then and Now.

I was presented with a list of ‘then’ photographs drawn from various sources including the Liverpool Records Office and Anova’s own collection of heritage images. My task was to find the locations and take the ‘now’ photo from as close as possible to the viewpoint of the old photo.

Soon I had embarked on a fascinating journey of discovery through the Liverpool area as far as Southport in the north to Speke in the south.

I also crossed over the River Mersey to visit locations on the Wirral, and in the first half of September I took photographs from Seacombe ferry terminal of visiting cruise liners docked by the Pier Head. One of these images appears in the opening pages of the book.

Liverpool Pier Head and Mersey Ferry

Locations featured in Liverpool Then and Now include: the Royal Liver Building, the Albert Dock, Lord Street, Lime Street station, the Anglican Cathedral, Bold Street, The Strand and many more.

I also discovered many lesser known places including the former observatory on the Wirral, now a private residence, the Liverpool Institute, now LIPA, the Florence Institute in Toxteth, and the exact point where the East Lancs Road begins. The old photo depicts the opening ceremony. It took me a while to discover where it had been taken but eventually I found it.

Some of the places depicted in the old photographs were impossible to locate and had to be omitted.

And I can reveal one location is wrong! The fountain I photographed in Sefton Park is not the one in the old photo.

About three months after publication I was walking in Sefton Park and discovered that the fountain I should have photographed is the one next to the Peter Pan statue in the middle of the park. No one has noticed so far!

One of my favourite views was from Everton Brow I did the panorama and the editors decided to include it even though that old photo wasn’t a panorama.

View from Everton Brow

In many places I found the people I met to be very warm and friendly, for example the man who lives near the ‘Florrie’ or Florence Institute who saw me taking a photograph, came out to tell me all about it, and gave me some leaflets.

The staff at the Town Hall were also very welcoming and helpful, and I was given a guided tour around the Liver Building and the former Speke Airport terminal, now a hotel.

Photographing Liverpool Then and Now was a great experience and I really got to know Liverpool very well indeed.

I was very proud when in mid-2012 I found the book, ‘my’ book, on the shelf in the bookshop at Lady Lever Art Gallery. I have also seen it on sale at the Walker Art Gallery, Waterstones, in the Albert Dock and at the Museum of Liverpool.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Liverpool Then and Now from, please follow the link to the right. If you’d like a signed copy for yourself or as a gift please get in touch.

Part way through the project, local author and historian Mike Royden was commissioned to write the text. His descriptions are very interesting, and demonstrate his deep knowledge of the city. The team at Anova Books in London – editors Frank Hopkinson and David Salmo – did a great job. The layout is excellent and the quality of reproduction of the photographs is very good indeed.

I am very proud to have helped to create this visually fascinating book on what is arguably the UK’s most visually fascinating city.

Movie locations in Manchester and Stockport

Stockport Railway Viaduct, 1980s

Stockport Railway Viaduct, captured on Ilford HP5 black and white film around 1987. I developed the film myself and made prints. Later I scanned the  negatives and optimised them in Photosohp.

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Friday 12 February 2016. Many movies have been made in the Manchester area but few are set there. Images from films can be a big inspiration for photography. Not many films have been made in Manchester but all of the movies mentioned here have a strong visual impact.

For me, A Taste of Honey (1961) remains my number one locally made movie. It was filmed mostly in Stockport, Manchester and Salford. Hell Is A City (1961) is a racy police thriller that reaches a climax on the roof of the Refuge building, now the Palace Hotel. Alfie (2004) and Captain America (2011) are set in New York but used the Northern Quarter as a location, due to its similarity to Greenwich Village and parts of Brooklyn. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) is a cult classic with some great city centre footage. Cliff Twemlow made films in Manchester in the 80s. Read the fascinating book about him by C. P. Lee. 24 Hour Party People is set in 80s Manchester but filmed twenty years later. The Iron Lady and Victor Frankenstein are recent projects but are not set here. That’s why after 55 years, ‘A Taste of Honey’ remains my number one as it’s a great story with wonderful characters and celebrates life here in the North. So come on filmmakers, it’s time for a modern classic movie to be made and be set around here, and I would like to be the stills photographer!

Staircase, Manchester Town Hall

Staircase near the Lloyd St entrance of Manchester Town Hall, completed 1877

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Northern Quarter during the filming of 'Alfie'

Part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter was turned into New York in September 2003 for the film ‘Alfie’.

Langley Buildings, Dale St

The Langley Buildings on Dale St have little or no modern additions, making them an ideal setting for a historic film.

Images along Manchester’s Princess Road – not Parkway!

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north

First of all, let me get one thing straight: The name of Manchester’s main dual carriageway south out of Manchester city centre, the A5103, is called Princess ROAD, not Princess Parkway. This name is valid as far as the bridge over the Mersey, several miles to the south. Then for less than a mile it is Princess Parkway until Northenden Road where it becomes the M56 motorway.

Princess Road street sign

Princess Road street sign – Princess Road runs from the Mancunian Way to the bridge over the Mersey

Princess Parkway sign

Princess Parkway runs the short distance from the Mersey Bridge to the junction with Northenden Rd where the M56 begins

Unfortunately many journalists, councillors and members of the public are not aware of the correct name of this very important road, which they call ‘the Parkway’ or ‘Princess Parkway’. Princess Parkway was planned in the late 1920s as a separate section of the road. The name was approved by Shena Simon and it was intended to be an attractive, tree-lined avenue leading to the new suburb of Wythenshawe. In later years Princess Parkway was covered over by the M56 motorway and the junction to the north, with its slip roads.

I know about these things! I took a great interest from childhood onwards. Another point of uncertainty: Why is the highway named after a princess and who was she? No one seems to know!

Here’s the article that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Monday 25 January 2016.

Princess Road is an enigma. Manchester’s grand highway to the airport, Wythenshawe and the south was begun in the 1920s but only completed in the 70s. It’s a wide, busy dual carriageway, but designated A5103, more suggestive of a minor A road. It’s called Princess Road but which princess was it named after? People call Princess Road ‘the Parkway’ but only the section south of the Mersey is Princess Parkway. The route was to have been a motorway all the way into the city. That’s why buildings were demolished on the west side. Greenheys Lane intersection is very wide. This was to have been the junction of two motorways, but they never materialised. Offices, apartments, churches, Southern Cemetery and several educational institutions are next to it including the striking MMU Birley campus building. Another enigma is why the new Metrolink stop was named Withington, a place that to my reckoning is at least a mile away. In my humble opinion it should have been called Princess Road Metrolink stop. And so who was it named after? I believe it might have been Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (1897-1965) but I can find no proof. Can anyone help?
Demolished Princess Road bus depot

Demolished Princess Road bus depot


Princess Road looking north from the Loop Line bridge

Princess Road looking north from the bridge over the former South Manchester Loop Line


MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme

MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme


"Withington" Metrolink stop

“Withington” Metrolink stop. It should have been named Princess Road

The Dublin suburb of Rathmines photos and impressions

Houses on Palmerston Road Dublin with ornate street lamp

Houses on Palmerston Road Dublin with ornate street lamp

I’ve always been fascinated by the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. To English ears it’s a strange-sounding name. There are no coal mines in Rathmines, the name just means ‘Ring fort of Maonas’. To anyone who knows Dublin, the name in the past might have conjured up various images: ‘bedsit’, ‘dormitory’, ‘sleepy’, ‘students’ and ‘old-fashioned’. But today the words we might think of are ‘property’, ‘upmarket’, gentrified, ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘residential’.

I lived at Trinity Hall just to the south of Rathmines for two years as an undergraduate. I regularly took the 14 (now 140) bus along Rathmines Road and Palmerston Road. The area left a deep impression on me.

Rathmines is located in south Dublin, around two miles (3km) from the city centre. To get there it takes around 15 minutes on the bus from O’Connell Street or you can take the Luas tram to Ranelagh. Like many parts of Dublin it has a strong feeling of the past. Everywhere there are houses from the 18th and 19th century. There are relatively few modern buildings. It seems like a vast conservation area. There are some listed buildings.

Rathmines Road at dusk 22 Jan 2016

Rathmines Road at dusk 22 Jan 2016

Rathmines Road in afternoon sun 27 Nov 2004

Rathmines Road in afternoon sun 27 Nov 2004

The former Rathmines Town Hall was completed in 1898. In 1930, the township was incorporated into Dublin City. The town hall dominates Rathmines Road with its clock tower that seems too large in proportion to the rest of the building. Today it’s occupied by Rathmines College and on my January 2016 visit the clock was not working! Other landmarks include the imposing Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners with its large and distinctive dome. Like many Catholic churches it was in the past symbolic of the dominance of the Roman Catholic church. Now it seems to symbolise the opposite.

Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines 27 Nov 2004

Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines 27 Nov 2004


Rathmines Road is a busy street, long and quite narrow, with a variety of shops and supermarkets including Aldi and Lidl. The well-loved ‘Stella’ cinema is still there but it’s empty and has a ‘to let’ sign. In the centre of Rathmines, Rathgar Road leads off to the right and Rathmines Road Upper continues to the left. The post office is still there, and there’s a Tesco supermarket opposite. Tesco wasn’t in Ireland when I was at Trinity. There seemed to be few ‘foreign’ influences then. Nowadays you’ll find many people from other countries – women with headscarves, men with Middle Eastern accents. I stopped at the Carnegie Library, opposite the town hall, to check my e-mail. In the past it might have been full of people from other parts of Ireland. Today it was full of people from other parts of the world.

Rathmines is first and foremost a residential suburb. It has every variety of house from tiny terraced cottages to grand Georgian residences. There are impressive squares, wide roads, residential streets, narrow alleyways and tiny footpaths. Here and there there are modern apartment blocks but they generally seem to blend in with the 19th century edifices.

In the past many of the houses in Rathmines might have seemed fairly average and affordable for anyone with a good salary. Today, parked outside the houses, you’ll find expensive cars and SUVs with the current year on the number plate. Rathmines has become a place of great affluence. Properties are now priced beyond the reach of most people, even those on the best salaries.

Rathmines town hall visible over rooftops

Rathmines town hall visible over rooftops


In my opinion the most impressive part of the suburb is Palmerston Road. It’s a wide nineteenth century tree-lined avenue lined on both sides with beautiful Georgian terraced houses set back behind gardens. The ornate street lamps date from the late 19th century. This area looks virtually unchanged for well over a hundred years and this is definitely a selling point.

Although Rathmines grew and developed into its present form during the 19th century ‘British’ period of Irish history, and had a Unionist (pro-British) majority until 1922, to me it seems to have an unmistakable sense of Irishness. I can’t quite explain it. It’s said that Eamon De Valera wanted to have the Georgian terraces around Merrion Square demolished as he regarded them as ‘foreign’. But he was wrong. This uniquely Irish style of architecture and town planning would have emerged no matter what the arrangements for Ireland’s government had been. Ireland became independent but the ‘British’ influence has remained and is part of the country’s unique character.

During the Second World War, Ireland was neutral, and so unlike British cities, Dublin was wasn’t bombed, apart from a few mistaken raids where the Nazi pilots thought they were flying over Belfast. Metal railings were never removed. In Britain most railings were needlessly cut out for the war effort and to this day have never replaced. The result is that Dublin has preserved its past much better than most British cities, and Rathmines is a prime example of this. You’ll see many wonderful, original iron railings in Rathmines!

My favourite place is Palmerston Park, situated next to my former place of residence, Trinity Hall. I often used to go for walks there.

Palmerston Park Dublin, 1981-2016

Palmerston Park Dubin, 1981 and 2016


It’s a beautiful Victorian park with lawns, a waterfall and tree-lined footpaths. Looking through the trees, at the houses, if you ignore the modern cars, you could almost imagine yourself back in the era of James Joyce or Oscar Wilde. That’s the great thing about a place with a strong historic character. The past doesn’t go out of date, quite the opposite: a place that has preserved its heritage is future-proof.

880 words

Architectural towers on the skyline of Manchester

Eyewitness blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News dated Thursday 14th of January, 2016. I have always loved rooftop views whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester. I still have a vivid memory of the stamp that I discovered on a letter to my mother from her Polish friend, Janina Ciesielska. Though it was tiny, it seemed densely packed with architectural details. It depicted a mysterious idealised eastern European city but in my mind, I transformed it into Manchester. Prague, Kraków, Dresden and other central European cities have many architectural towers. Manchester has only a few but they are a striking and often overlooked feature of the city skyline.<
As a child I was captivated by a stamp on a letter to my mother. It displayed a tiny line drawing, packed with buildings and towers. I thought it was Manchester but then I found out it was a city in Poland. Manchester has architectural features on its skyline comparable with a grand city in central Europe, though there are not as many as in Budapest or Kraków. Overshadowed by newer, taller buildings, these ornate and beautiful structures are often overlooked. The towers of Manchester town hall, HMP Manchester (Strangeways) and Manchester University John Owen Building on Oxford Rd – all the work of Alfred Waterhouse – need no introduction, but what about the lesser known ones, at least in the eyes of visitors? The east tower of Manchester town hall is as impressive as many civic buildings in smaller cities and towns. Manchester’s classic architecture is a connection with Europe. It’s featured in the work of emigré painters such as Adolphe Valette and Georg Eisler. If you’re lucky enough to live or work at roof level you may be familiar with them. If not, look high above the rooftops! My next photo walk is on Saturday 13 February.

Sights along the A62 from Manchester to Oldham

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Seed sculpture by Colin Spofforth, Central Park Manchester

Seed sculpture by Colin Spofforth, Central Park Manchester

Here’s my editorial and photo feature on Oldham Road that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 7 January, 2016. It was the first article of the year. On Monday 4th, I took the bus to Oldham and then walked from the town centre back down the A62 as far as Failsworth. It was an interesting journey. On foot you notice a lot more than you do in a bus or car. I discovered the Music Rooms in Werneth Park, currently awaiting restoration, and the excellent statue of Ben Brierley next to Failsworth Pole It was created by artist Denise Dutton. There is history all around us, offering hidden stories and glimpses into a local area that felt very different in past times.

The A62 to Oldham is like a barometer of the times. In old photos we see a busy road, with shops, trams, industry and working class homes. Today it’s a post-modern mix of regenerated flats, new offices, and housing from the 19th and 20th centuries. Off to the left, Central Park is futuristic with its Metrolink stop and ‘seed’ sculpture. At the municipal boundary, Oldham Road becomes Manchester Road and soon we see the timeless tableau of St John the Evangelist church, the Royal Oak pub and Failsworth Pole. There’s a garden with a statue of the weaver and writer Benjamin Brierley (1825-1896). At Hollinwood we cross the M60 and the land rises. To the right is Werneth Park, where the mid-19th century Music Rooms are to be restored. From here there are magnificent views down onto the plain and over the West Pennine moors. On the top of the hill stands Oldham with its modern Civic Centre. The town centre offers an interesting mix of old and new. There’s always something new to discover when you go out and explore. Why not come on one of my photo walks, next date Saturday 13 February, full price £35, MEN readers, £25.


Statue of Ben Brierley by Denise Dutton

Statue of Ben Brierley by Denise Dutton


Failsworth Pole

Failsworth Pole


The Music Rooms, Werneth Park awaiting restoration

The Music Rooms, Werneth Park awaiting restoration


View of the West Pennine Moors from Oldham Road,, Werneth

View of the West Pennine Moors from Oldham Road,, Werneth

The fate of 1930s buildings in Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News that appeared on New Year’s Eve, Thursday 31 Dec 2015. In the first line I made a reference to the famous character Shrek and what he said to Donkey. Unfortunately the editors had to remove it! Presumably for brand usage and copyright reasons. Other than that the article that appeared in print is the same as here. The article has a sting in the tail, as I remember Library Walk, once a unique and atmospheric spot that was ruined in 2014 with the insertion of a clumsy and unnecessary glass cylinder.

As Shrek said to Donkey: ‘Ogres have layers!’ and so do cities. Their fascination lies in the many facets left over past decades and eras. The 1930s is an interesting period in Manchester but much of its legacy is disappearing. This year Century House on St Peters Square was demolished and the impressive 1930s facade of Bootle St police station may go the same way. The striking art deco Northcliffe House (1931) was taken down over a decade ago. Other 1930s buildings stand proud : Ship Canal House, the former Midland Bank, Sunlight House, Arkwright House on St Mary’s Parsonage. The former Kendals, now House of Fraser, was completed at the end of the 1930s, as was the Daily Express building. A year later, 75 years go, a firestorm rained down on Manchester that would change its character forever. But the inter-war period is still alive. If you look up, it’s as if time has stood still. One of the most precious things is when a corner is left untouched. This was true of Library Walk between the Central Library (1934) and the town hall extension (1937) , until a modernist style glass structure was placed within it, the controversial link building which opened in 2015. Let’s hope Manchester’s ‘layers’ remain in 2016 and beyond.
Century House St Peters Square 1 Oct 2012

The 1930s office building Century House overlooks Peters Square and helped to give St Peters Square a strongly inter-war character. It was built for Friends Provident, set up by the Quakers. It was demolished in 2015.


Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester

Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester


Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester built in the early 1930s

The magnificence of Lime Street Station past, present and future

Liverpool Lime St Station, August 2005 with office block, now demolished

Liverpool Lime St Station, August 2005 with office block, now demolished

Lime St Station is probably the best known and most used building in Liverpool. People from the suburbs and beyond take the train to Lime Street and so do those travelling from further away, such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and London.

There are two parts to Lime Street Station, the main line terminal at ground level and the underground station on the city centre loop line.

It’s not widely acknowledged that Liverpool Lime Street is one of the oldest stations in continous use anywhere in the world. When the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened in 1830, the terminus was at Crown Street to the east of the city centre. The site is now a green area. Lime Street Station opened for passengers in 1836. The present train sheds date from 1867 and 1879.

The view from the main entrance at the front of Lime Street is one of the most magnificent in any UK city, with St Georges Hall on the right.

This is the place where I meet the people who come on my photo walks, at the top of the steps outside the main entrance.

Liverpool Lime Street front entrance and new steps

Liverpool Lime Street front entrance and new steps, meeting point for my photo walks.

Inside the station near the front entrance there are two statues by Tom Murphy representing Liverpool personalities, the comedian Ken Dodd and the former councillor Bessie Braddock. They were unveiled in 2009.

The north train shed is fronted by an ornate former hotel. This was the North Western Hotel, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of Manchester town hall. Now this building serves as as a residence for students at John Moores University.
Next to the former hotel is the impressive main facade of the station. For many years, this frontage was spoilt by a row of shops that stood in front of it. In the 1960s an office block – Concourse House – was built on the corner. It was typical of the 1960s that a modern office tower could be constructed within a few feet of a precious heritage building from the 19th century. It also cast a shadow on the front of the station for much of the day.

Liverpool Lime Street Station at night

Liverpool Lime Street Station at night with floodlighting.


In the 2000s, the building was demolished, along with the row of shops and a new area at the front was created with steps and ramps. It is magnificent and allows us to admire the magnificence of the architecture. It looks particularly good at night, when floodlighting is switched on.

Whilst the exterior has been beautifully renovated, the interior has remained less attractive, but in 2016 a new renovation is set to go ahead. The station will be closed for a period during the works.

I look forward to seeing the newly renovated Lime Street Station and to continuing to arrive and depart from one of the oldest and most magnificent railway termini in the world.

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St 30 Oct 2003

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St Station Platform 8, 30 Oct 2003


Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St 27 Apr 2009

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St Station, Platform 8, 27 Apr 2009

Shadows and open spaces in Ancoats Manchester (MEN article)

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Marina, Ancoats Manchester

Marina, Ancoats Manchester


This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News in late 2015, along with a selection of photographs. I’ve been following the development of Ancoats, Manchester for many years. It’s a place with a unique history. It was the first urban industrial district in the world. It has a unique collection of warehouses and other buildings. Some lie inside the conservation area, others further south lie outside and many have been lost. Today Ancoats is developing but there are problems with the filling in of empty spaces.
Ancoats has been in the news recently due to objections to a proposed car park next to Cutting Room Square. Local residents say it will cast a shadow over the open space. It’s not the first time that buildings considered to be over-sized and out of place have been proposed in Manchester. A glass structure for Castlefield was rejected after a residents’ campaign. An apartment building in Northenden was found to be six feet too tall. Development means building and filling spaces, but when you do that, inevitably shadows are cast, sightlines are blocked. This 1998 view of the Royal Mills in Ancoats is now hidden by residential buildings. There’s no easy answer. In Berlin they like to leave gaps, maybe we should do that here. In another part of Ancoats, you’ll find New Islington Marina, a newly created stretch of water, a canal basin, with footpaths, trees and grassy areas around it. It’s very photogenic though there’s been criticism of it. You’d think you were a long way from Manchester and yet it’s just a 10 minute walk from Piccadilly. If you’ve not been to Ancoats recently it’s worth a look. You can explore the area on one of my photo walks More information at
Ancoats 1998 prior to renovation of mills and construction on neighbouring sites

Ancoats 1998 prior to renovation of mills and construction on neighbouring sites

Ancoats St Peters 1999

Ancoats St Peters 1999


Ancoats Card Room Square

Ancoats Card Room Square

Best view in the UK – Liverpool waterfront seen across Mersey

Liverpool Waterfront seen from across the river Mersey at dusk

Liverpool Waterfront seen from across the river Mersey at dusk

For years, the Liverpool waterfront has been one of my favourite subjects. I’ve photographed it quite a few times, especially at dusk. For me it’s the best view in the UK. Better than London, because the skyline is not so crowded and the river is wider. Better than Newcastle, although Newcastle’s great, with its series of bridges, and better than Glasgow which has quite a wide river but lacks the cluster of tall buildings that we have in Liverpool.

It’s been spectacular for decades. In the late nineteenth century, they decided to fill in St Georges Dock and create the reclaimed area of land known as the Pier Head. Three buildings were erected directly on the foundations of the three former docks, which explains why we have three architectural gems standing side by side.

Silhouette of the Liverpool skyline April 2005

Silhouette of the Liverpool skyline April 2005

Almost as soon as the Liver Building was finished 1911, it became a major landmark and symbol of the city. The Cunard and Port of Liverpool building were completed a few years after. Over the course of the twentieth century, more buildings appeared on the Liverpool skyline: The Anglican Cathedral, The Metropolitan Cathedral, St John’s Beacon, now known as Radio City Tower. A few were lost, including the Customs House, which was damaged in the war and could easily have been restored. The Liverpool Overhead Railway was another integral element of the waterfront which sadly closed in 1956.

In the 70s the ‘Three Graces’ were cleaned and for the first time, the pristine-looking white stone could literally shine in the afternoon sunlight. As a child on visit to Liverpool, I was visually captivated by the buildings – for me they seeme to sing. Out on the Mersey on one of the famous Mersey ferries, the waterfront even more magnificent than before.

Liverpool Waterfront from Seacombe 2003

Liverpool Waterfront from Seacombe 2003

But in recent years, still more new buildings have appeared at the north end of the waterfront, around Princes Dock, including the Beetham Tower, Katherine Tower. The Unity Building appeared just behind St Nicholas Church, now the oldest building on the waterfront.

Since 2004, Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City has been a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site

After some controversy surrounding the addition of a ‘fourth grace’, the Museum of Liverpool appeared in the second half of the 2000s. It stands at a respectul distance from the older trio, and the views from inside are stunning.

It seems the waterfront has never looked better. But there has been a threat to the UNESCO world heritage status. Officials have expressed concern at the height of proposed buildings that are part of Peel Holding’s Liverpool Waters development to the north of the waterfront. In late 2015 the situation wasn’t clear though Liverpool City Council were said to be ‘taking the threat seriously’.

In December 2015, the Liverpool Waterfront was chosen as England’s greatest place in the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Great Places award.

I’ve taken the view of the waterfront many times from both Woodside and Seacombe, the two ferry terminals on the Wirral side of the river. But perhaps my favourite view is at dusk from Magazine Promenade. I often go for a walk there and like to look back at the waterfront as the light fades. There’s nothing more magnificent than the skyline, its light shimmering above the water.

Liverpool waterfront with rainbow and rainy skies

Liverpool waterfront with rainbow and rainy skies

Manchester’s magnificent Old Fire Station – soon to be renovated

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

The Old Fire Station, London Rd Manchester in sunny weather

Over a period of many years, London Road Fire Station has been without doubt Manchester’s most magnificent disused building. Every day, thousands of people pass by it on the bus or going in and out of Piccadilly Station, but not everyone notices its faded grandeur.

To me it has been a potent symbol of Manchester’s failure to make the best of its architectural heritage. It was given Grade II* listed status in 1974.

At night I often visualise how it would look if its shiny, butterscotch-coloured exterior were illuminated by floodlights. There would be an upmarket restaurant behind the doors that were once used by fire engines. Inside the main entrance would be a hotel reception by the main entrance and there would be an art exhibition inside the inner courtyard.

The exterior of the Old Fire Station in afternoon sunlight

The best time to photograph it is on a sunny morning when the sun is shining from the south east along Fairfield Street, lighting both its main facades. It’s also possible to take it in the afternoon when the light reflects off the smooth, reflective surface of its tiles.

London Road Fire Station was built in 1906 around the same time as the Victoria Baths. The Victoria Baths is often called Manchester’s Water Palace. The fire station also looks like a palace but it’s devoted to another element – fire. On the exterior there above the door there is a frieze with women symbolising the elements fire and water.

Fire Maidens - sculptures on the exterior of the Old Fire Station

It served Manchester for most of the 20th century, including two world wars and the uncertain post war years.

It was vacated by the Fire Service in 1986 and most of the building has been empty since then.

Former owners Britannia Hotels had planned to redevelop the building but for various reasons they were unable to proceed. They were criticised for allowing the building to deteriorate, though I have heard that they carried out some work on parts of the building to prevent further damage.

In late 2015, the building was purchased by Allied London who have plans for restoration. Shortly after purchasing it, they announced a new name: ‘Manchester Fire House’.

The Friends of London Road Fire Station have been campaigning for long time to save and restore the building, and are said to be very happy that the building has been sold to Allied London. As I understand it, the Friends would like it to be restored as a combination of a hotel and perhaps an arts centre, with other possible community uses. Manchester City Council would like it to be re-opened as a hotel.

Manchester coat of arms Old Fire Station

Standing in the shadow of the Old Fire Station is the site of the building that from the early 70s to 2012 was the home of the legendary Twisted Wheel night club, famous for Northern Soul. Club nights took place in the basement with its arches, similar to the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

With their irregular facades, the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam. With the approval of Manchester City Council the buildings were demolished in 2012 to make way for a modern style hotel. In my opinion, they should have been retained.

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - After

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – After

Scenic wonders along the A664 Manchester to Rochdale

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Misty sunset over Salford from Collyhurst 2001

Misty sunset over Salford from Collyhurst 2001

Here’s my editorial and photos that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 17 September 2015. Recently I’ve been tutoring at a company in Castleton, the town that lies in the Borough of Rochdale to the north of Manchester. It’s not a tourist spot and yet it’s a very interesting place. I used to travel to the assignment by train but I switched to the number 17 bus, operated by FirstBus, as it’s cheaper and more frequent. I became interested in the sights along the way, and came up with the idea of an article showcasing the interesting sights along the way. I realised a sunset photo I took back in 2001 would be ideal for the piece, and presented it alongside some old and newly taken images.

Like spokes on a wheel, the main roads around Manchester extend to the surrounding towns. I like to ride on the top deck of the bus, observing landmarks along the way. This week I feature the A664 from Shudehill to Rochdale, around 10 miles along the 17 bus route. People may not think of Collyhurst as scenic, but this misty Salford sunset from Rochdale Rd railway bridge proves otherwise. Past Harpurhey on the left is a quaint Victorian post box, and down the hill on the right, mysterious Boggart Hole Clough. After Middleton Town Centre, look out for St Leonard’s Church on the top of the hill. The Rochdale Canal crosses under the A664 in Castleton, a town with a fascinating hidden heritage. Hopefully soon the East Lancs Railway will be extended to Castleton Station. As we approach Rochdale, we see Broadfield park, restored to its original glory a few years ago. Other attractions include the newly uncovered bridge and the Pioneers Museum. People need to open their eyes to the hidden attractions all around. Photography is a good way of doing it. Why not come on a 3 hr photo walk around the city centre? £25 for MEN readers, standard price £35.


Victorian post box Harpurhey Manchester

Victorian post box Harpurhey Manchester


Gates to mysterious Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester

Gates to mysterious Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester

Middleton St Leonard;s Church

Middleton St Leonard;s Church


Rochdale Blue Pits Highest Locks no 51

Rochdale Blue Pits Highest Locks no 51


Rochdale Broadfield Park and town hall clock tower

Rochdale Broadfield Park and town hall clock tower

Here’s how the article looked in the Manchester Evening News, dated Thursday 17 December 2015. The headline reads ‘Bus journeys – A window to our worlds’. The headline, introduction and layout are done by staff at the Manchester Evening News.

MEN Thursday 17 Dec 2015

New squares in Manchester city centre – MEN Nov 2015

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Sadlers Yard newly created square in the NOMA district

Sadlers Yard newly created square in the NOMA district

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News in late November 2015 and is on the subject of new squares in the city centre. It’s an example of how the city is constantly developing, altering and reinventing itself. Sometimes this process isn’t always for the best. Generally I like to keep the tone upbeat and positive, with some suggestions of my own and maybe the odd mild criticism.

Manchester is the city that likes to reinvent itself. One aspect of this is the creation of new squares. It happened in the past: St Peters Square came into being after the church was demolished over 100 years ago. Exchange Square appeared in the late 90s. Today in the heart of the NOMA district, a new pedestrianised square is nearly complete. They asked the public to choose names. I suggested ‘Co-operation Square’ but the panel chose ‘Sadlers Yard’. James Sadler made the first manned balloon flight in Manchester in 1785. In Spinningfields there are several squares including Irwell Square but I can’t find any street signs marking them out. Spinningfields Square is the open space by the John Rylands Library but the sign says ‘Spinningfields’. In the First Street area there’s Tony Wilson Place but I can’t find any street sign with that name, only direction signs. Here’s my suggestion for a new square: the open space between Motor Street and St Mary’s Parsonage. Why not call it ‘Motor Square’, or maybe some would like to call it ‘George Best Square’ as his boutique was there. If you’d like to explore Manchester and learn photography come on one of my photo walks: £25 for MEN readers. Gift vouchers available. More information on

Tony Wilson Place in the First Street district of Manchester city centre

Tony Wilson Place in the First Street district of Manchester city centre

Sign pointing to Tony Wilson Place

Sign pointing to Tony Wilson Place

Construction on Exchange Square 15 Sept 1998

Construction on Exchange Square 15 Sept 1998

Motor Street Manchester pedestrianised area

The pedestrianised area around Motor Street

Manchester CIS tower and one Angel Square building

Manchester CIS tower and one Angel Square building 22 Nov 2015

Greater Manchester’s forgotten bridges revealed

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Partially uncovered Hanging Bridge next to Manchester Cathedral

Partially uncovered Hanging Bridge next to Manchester Cathedral

 Here’s my feature on forgotten bridges which have been uncovered and restored or will soon be. I’ve always been fascinated by bridges. They have an aesthetic quality, they’re also historic and tell us so much about geography. Many bridges are buried under layers of development. A few have been uncovered and will see the light of day again.

We take old bridges for granted. Often we don’t even notice we are crossing them. Many lie buried and forgotten, but a few are being rediscovered. In Stockport, the 19th century Lancashire Bridge reappeared after many years. A section of the covering was cut away to reveal the bridge and river below. A similar project is in progress in Rochdale. The bridge remained out of sight from 1824 until last year. As part of the ‘Revealing the Roch’ project, the surface layer has been removed to reveal the river Roch and bridge underneath. I find it fascinating as it transforms the town by going back in time. In Manchester city centre, part of the medieval Hanging Bridge was revealed in the late 90s. It’s part of the Cathedral visitors centre. And down on the Irwell, one of Manchester’s oldest and most significant bridges has been partially hidden for over a century. It’s the Stephenson Bridge built in 1830 for the Manchester to Liverpool railway. The Ordsall Chord will have an impact on the Grade 1 listed bridge on the Manchester side but the works will also cause part of it to be exposed, a ‘consolation prize’ or ‘extra benefit’ depending on your viewpoint. Discover Manchester city centre on one of my photographic walking tours, £25 for MEN readers. More info on

Lancashire Bridge, Stockport, uncovered in 2014.

Lancashire Bridge, Stockport, uncovered in 2014.

Rochdale Bridge and River Roch

Rochdale Bridge was uncovered in 2015 as part of the ‘Revealing the Roch’ project

Princes Bridge and Stephenson Bridge

Princes Bridge (left) and hidden in shadow, the 1830 Stephenson Bridge.

Rivers around Greater Manchester – photos & editorial for MEN

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

River Irwell from Cromwell Bridge, Broughton
Here’s my article and photos published in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 10 December, 2015. During the previous days, record amounts of rain fell on the UK and Ireland, causing major flooding. Thankfully, Manchester was spared the worst. I decided to produce a photo-feature and editorial piece on the subject of local rivers. As ever I had to cram what I wanted to say into 200 words. Below are photos of rivers, including a couple of unpublished ones. Usually there is space for only four or five photos in the piece. The title and introduction were written by staff at the MEN.

Manchester’s waterways have played a big part in the way the city has developed – from ancient times and the industrial rvolution right up to the present day, when the flow of nature is still a powerful force.

Manchester is defined by its rivers. The three stripes on the City of Manchester coat of arms symbolise the the Medlock, the Irk and the Irwell, which forms the boundary between Manchester and Salford. In the 20th century, Manchester spilled south across the Mersey into Cheshire, reaching as far south as the Bollin. Around Greater Manchester we have the Douglas, the Tame, the Roch, the Etherow, the Goyt and many smaller streams such as Bradshaw Brook in Bolton and the Lady Brook in Stockport. Rivers are put under pressure when heavy rain falls, as we’ve seen in recent days. Not many remember the floods along the Irwell in Salford in the 40s and 50s. The Anaconda Cut, completed in the 70s, straightened out an elbow of the Irwell, allowing more water to flow. Levees were added to the Mersey as a protective measure, but there is still occasional flooding along Ford Lane. Rivers are places of recreation, where you can cycle, jog or do canoeing. I prefer to walk and occasionally stop to take carefully composed photos! I’m now taking bookings for my photo walk in the city centre, Sunday 13 Feb, £25 for MEN readers.

River Mersey flooding on Ford Lane Northenden, 6 Nov 20000

River Mersey flooding on Ford Lane Northenden, 6 Nov 20000

High water on the River Irwell by Regent Rd Bridge, Manchester city centre

High water on the River Irwell by Regent Rd Bridge, Manchester city centre

The start of the river Mersey in Stockport

The start of the river Mersey in Stockport

River Mersey weir and salmon ladder 30 July 2003 - not published in the MEN piece

River Mersey weir and salmon ladder 30 July 2003 – not published in the MEN piece

Source of the river Goyt in the Pennines

Source of the river Goyt in the Pennines

Heaton Mersey dusk image through branches

My thoughts on the resignation of Anton Corbijn from professional photography

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

Anton Corbijn exhibition Berlin

The celebrated photographer Anton Corbijn has announced that he is ‘bowing out’ of professional photography. From now on, photography will be just a hobby. This is according to an article I read on the Economist blog in November 2015.

The news coincides with a retrospective exhibition at the C/O gallery in Berlin. Anton Corbijn is famous for his portraits of rock musicians and actors. He has a raw visual style emphasising graininess and high contrast. All the photographs in the exhibition were taken on film and printed in the darkrom. Most are in black and white.

He has been active in photography since the mid 70s and went on to photograph U2, Joy Division and many others. I once met and shook hands with him in Manchester at the press conference for his film about Joy Division: ‘Control’.

He is one of the leading photographers of our era but now he has decided – apparently like many other less well known photographers – to give up photography as a profession.

But shouldn’t we take his words with a pinch of salt, like David Bowie’s announcement in 1973 that he would no longer be performing live?

I find it difficult to believe that a photographer as famous as Anton Corbijn can simply resign. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of him or his photography.

But there is an important issue which is brought up in the Economist article. Photography today is very different from the days of film. That expression makes them sound like they are a lost era but they lasted for 180 years from the 1820s until we reached the ‘film to digital tipping point’ , by my reckoning around the year 2000.

Previously Anton Corbijn would spend days photogaphing a band. Nowadays the shoot is limited to a few hours. Photography is no longer a slow process, resulting in a small number of high value images, rather the opposite, or so it seems.

How does it feel to have grown up with film and then to witness the gradual takeover of digital? In my opinion although photography has become more convenient, it has lost its quality of exclusivity. Maybe that’s both a bad thing and a good thing.

Anton Corbijn’s exhibition is on at C/O gallery on the Hardenbergstraße Berlin, from 7 Nov 2015 to 31 Jan 2016.

The Economist: Anton Corbijn is bowing out of professional photography

Shaun Keefe ‘Guitart’ book – Available on iBooks.

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O’Rourke – Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest


Earlier this year I featured Shaun Keefe who has developed a highly individual style of art. It’s guitar art or guitart for short. He takes high quality photographs of classic guitars, prints them out and then adds colour in the form of paint, to turn them into striking artworks. Now he has released a book of his guitart on the iTunes bookstore. It’s full of these sumptuously coloured and lovingly crafted images of guitars, along with explanatory text and a foreword by Rupert Hine, musician, songwriter and record producer.

With their rich, saturated tones and detailed patterns and textures, these images come across particularly well on a computer screen. As you flip through the pages, the images fade or slide in and out, adding to the effect of an on-screen presentation, but it has the look and feel of a book that you could pick up and browse.

The price of Shaun’s book is £3.99 and you can sample and purchase it on the iBooks store:

Shaun Keefe produced the excellent image of Eric Bell’s guitar which appears alongside my photomontage of the Thin Lizzy co-founder. The images are used on the cover of his 2015/2016 album ‘Exile’.

Exile album front and back imagery

Here’s the audio slide show I did in early 2015 featuring Shaun Keefe’s images of guitars.

Featured photo: The Cloud (hill) seen over snowy Cheshire landscape

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O’Rourke – Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire, photography, art, travel, local interest

The Cloud seen over snowy landscape in Cheshire

As I post this image, it’s the middle of winter in December 2015 but there’s been no snow yet! I decided to pick a featured photo from the archive with a snowy landscape. This photo was taken not far from Macclesfield, Cheshire on high ground not far from the village of Gawsworth. We are looking south east towards The Cloud – that’s the curved hill rising up in the distance.

This photo was taken on 31 Dec 2001 using the Nikon Coolpix 990, the first digital camera I owned that was good enough for day to day use. It’s a great camera, I still have it and it still works. Here is the exposure information:

1/344s f/9.9 ISO100. The setting was Program Auto, which is the best general purpose setting.

A shutter speed of 1/344th of a second is about two and a third stops above the standard 1/60th of a second.
The aperture f/9.9 is around one a third stops above the standard f/5.6
The ISO was at 100, one stop below the standard 200.
Therefore the light level in this scene is plus 2.6 above the standard.

Using this information you can work out any combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Exposure is very easy! I teach my unique approach to Manual mode on my walks and in one to one sessions.

Visions of old and new in Greengate Salford across the Irwell from Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke 

Whilst massive new construction proceeds, historic buildings lie derelict in Greengate

Whilst massive new construction proceeds, historic buildings lie derelict in Greengate

One day in November 2015 I had an appointment on Bury New Road and I took a short cut across the Greengate district of Salford. I was astonished by what I found there. I’ve known the district over many years and remember seeing it from a steam train as a child. In late 2015 there is huge construction work going. Many of the older buildings remain including quite a few derelict ones. Sadly some have disappeared, including the industrial building with the words Greengate and Irewell 1950. An industiral icon of the post war period in Manchester that was demolished around 2004. I took a few photos – the light wasn’t very good – and put together this piece, which appeared in late November in the Manchester Evening News.

Last week, by chance, I took a short cut across Greengate, the district across the Irwell from the Cathedral, home of the restored war memorial featured in last week’s MEN. I remember Greengate as glimpsed from the window of a steam-hauled train carriage leaving Exchange Station: a grimy industrial quarter by the murky River Irwell, an area of small factories, workshops and chimneys pouring out smoke, watched over by a strange-looking brick tower – the tower of Strangeways prison. Today things have changed. Greengate is being transformed. A new mixed used development with state-of-the-art towers is under construction on the site of Exchange Station. Thoughtfuly, they’ve incorporated the bridge and sections of the walls. It’s part of the expanding city centre, now referred to as the regional centre. But as you explore the streets beyond you find a curious mixture of futuristic and faded. Point your camera one way and you are in 1950, shift a little to the right and you’re in 2050. Glitzy apartments stand cheek by jowl with derelict buildings. The most remarkable is Collier Street baths, an abandoned relic of the mid-Victorian era propped up by scaffolding. If this were Vienna, it would be a tourist attraction. When will we be able to say the new Greengate is ‘finished’? Not for a while yet.

The iconic Greengate & Irwell 1950 industrial building in 2003. It has since been demolished.

The iconic Greengate & Irwell 1950 industrial building in 2003. It has since been demolished.

Abito Apartments Greengate Salford next to Manchester

The curved walls of Abito apartment building echo the shape of the abandoned building next door.



Greengate construction on site of Exchange Station

Greengate construction on site of Exchange Station

Stone plaque on Collier St Baths, the year MDCCCLV - 1855

Stone plaque on Collier St Baths, the year MDCCCLV – 1855

Collier St Baths 12 November 2015

Collier St Baths 12 November 2015

Streets in Manchester named after famous people

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Mosley Street stone carved sign

Mosley Street stone carved sign


Street names can tell us a lot about the heritage of a place. Unfortunately most street signs in Manchester and the rest of the UK don’t have any information on the origin of the name and in particular the person after whom a street is named after. In France and Germany, there is often a smaller plaque with information about the person. In this article I picked out some street names with names of people and researched a little into their origin.

In France they love to name streets after historical figures. Above the street sign they provide a notice with information about the person. Maybe we should do that here. I’ve picked out a few in Manchester: John Dalton Street is a permanent reminder of the famous scientist who pioneered modern atomic theory. Whitworth Street is named after Joseph Whitworth, engineer and philanthropist. Mosley Street is named after the Mosley family, who were lords of the manor and prominent landowners. Oldham Street is named after Adam Oldham, a wealthy feltmaker. Jack Rosenthal Street is part of the recently created First Street district, home of HOME. He scripted many episodes of Coronation Street as well as one of my favourite sitcoms, The Lovers. Other streets around First Street honour Annie Horniman, James Grigor, Isabella Banks and of course there’s Tony Wilson Place. A section of the A6010 in the Bradford area of east Manchester was named after Alan Turing. The plaque commemorates the opening in Sept 1994 by Michael Meacher, who recently died. Kingsway was begun around 1928 and named after King George the Fifth. In France they’d probably call it “Avenue George-Cinq”. Hmm, I think we’ll stick with Kingsway!


Alan Turing Way next to Sportcity

Alan Turing Way plaque

Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street

Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street

Kingsway Manchester

Kingsway Manchester


Mosley Street Manchester

Mosley Street Manchester


Oldham Street facades, Manchester city centre

Oldham Street facades, Manchester city centre

Whitworth Street Manchester

Whitworth Street Manchester

Interview with Bill Rogers Manchester crime author

Bill Rogers captures the darker side of Manchester in his crime novels. We met at the Portico Library and he told me about the inspiration he draws from Manchester and how he has found success as a self-published author. Interview date: October 2015.

Aidan O’Rourke: Tell me about your connection with Manchester.

Bill Rogers: My connection with Manchester started in 1963. I had been born in London within the sound of Bow bells, and had spent all my life in and around London, but in 1963 at Saint Mary’s College Twickenham, I met a Lancashire Lass from Tyldesley, and later that year headed North to meet her family.

I stepped out of the station in Manchester into a smoggy, grimy, dark, almost foreboding city. The car wended its way past Mosley Common Pit where her uncle was the manager, and into Tyldesley with its five working mines and cathedral-like red brick cotton mills. it was a world I had only glimpsed in Charles Dickens’ novels.

It was massive culture shock, but I immediately fell in love with the people, and with the food! It was Christmas time, and as we went from terraced house to terraced house I found myself plied with strange yet enticing delicacies such as meat and potato pie, Lancashire hot pot, black pudding, and fried Lancashire cheese with bacon.

No surprise then, that when we finished college we bought a house in Standish, Wigan, behind a slag heap. before moving to Bolton. I have now lived in Greater Manchester for 43 years.

Angel Meadow Postcard
Angel Meadow ‘ Location in the crime novels of Bill Rogers

Aidan O’Rourke: And your career was in education?

Bill Rogers: Yes. I taught in London briefly, in Chorley, and in Wigan. My subjects were English and History, Games and PE. I was a Senior Pastoral Tutor at a St John Rigby Sixth Form College in Orrel, Wigan. I was Deputy Head and Head of Sixth Form at Saint Mary’s RC High School, Astley.
After 22 years of teaching I went into the Inspectorate in Manchester as a District Inspector, and over the course of the next 18 years I worked across the whole of the City of Manchester, ultimately as Principal Inspector and the Head of the School Improvement Service. My work took me to every part of the city. I think I’ve been into every school and educational establishment in every part of the city, from pre school to University, and everything in between.

That’s one of the ways in which I came to appreciate the city, came to know it intimately, the people as well as the places.

Aidan O’Rourke: Tell me about your connection with the police service.

Gorton Monastery
Gorton Monastery ‘ Location in the crime novels of Bill Rogers

Bill Rogers: I’m steeped in the police service. I come from four generations of Metropolitan police officers. My great grandfather came over from Kerry and ended up as a Station Sergeant in the East End. My grandfather was a founder member and Head of the Flying Squad. He was at the siege of Sidney Street as Winston Churchill’s bodyguard. My father was a PC during the war in London and my sister was a WPC in London. You could say that I was the one that got away!
How are you inspired by Manchester and how does that manifest itself in the books and stories?

They say you should write about places you know and people you know, and I came to really love Manchester as a city. I was born in a city, I love London and still do, but Manchester is where I’ve lived for the bulk of my life, and I’ve been inspired by the way in which the city has changed. I taught Economic History and so I understood about the Industrial Revolution and the part that Manchester, and Greater Manchester played in all of that. The evidence is all around you. I was fascinated by the industrial archaeology of it.

But more than that, it was the way in which the city has transformed itself that has fascinated me. When I started working in Manchester we had a very left-wing administration. I lived and worked through the way in which the administration changed, whilst managing to stayed true to its socialist principles. It has grasped the potential of the New, and remodelled this city, physically, culturally, and economically. In the main it’s been successful, Manchester is rightly regarded as The UK’s second city.

In that time I’ve seen many changes. The Crescents in Hulme for example were infested with drugs, crime and poverty, and immediately post the Moss Side riots I visited schools and parents who felt isolated and under threat. As in much of the city demolition and regeneration has changed the physical and emotional landscape. Largely, but not exclusively, for the better. Being part of these changes inevitably provided ideas and inspiration for my novels.

During those 18 years I worked very closely with Greater Manchester police and the Chief Constable on initiatives to do with combating crime affecting young people, in particular knife crime, street robbery, drugs and gang membership. We introduced the first Police Schools Liaison Officers in the country. An initiative that is still going, and which lot of places have copied. I’m proud of that.

Bootle Street Police Station
Manchester Bootle St Police Station Oct 2004

Aidan O’Rourke: What’s the name of your main character and where did he come from?

Bill Rogers: DCI Tom Caton. He is probably the police officer I would have been if I’d followed the rest of my family into the Police. There is a lot of me in him. He is accused of being too politically correct, but that’s what I had to be in Manchester. In a way, I would have been like that by choice. He finds it difficult to an extent, being a straight copper. He isn’t Rebus. He isn’t drunk and disillusioned and miserable and depressed. He is in quite a good place now that he’s married, and has a child. He’s got a lovely team around him, and I quite admire him!

Aidan O’Rourke: Which are the most important locations in the books?

Bill Rogers: All of them are important. Let’s take The Cleansing, which was the first DCI Tom Caton novel, published in 2009. That begins in St Johns Gardens at the back of Deansgate. And all of the subsequent settings in the city, like New Broom Street and the New Broom sculpture in the Northern Quarter, the Gay Village, Manchester Town Hall are of particular significance within the city. They also have a special meaning for the perpetrator, and also in relation to the way in which the city has developed.

Chinatown features very very strongly in the Tiger’s Cave, which is about Chinese gangs,Triads, working within the city. Castlefield figures partly because it’s where Tom Caton had his first apartment at the beginning of the series, and partly because there are a couple of crime scenes and other developments in the area. Salford Quays figures in several of the novels, The Head Case in particular. The Monastery and Friary of Saint Francis in Gorton figures quite strongly in one of the novels. I could just go on and on. In every part of the city you could mention, there is going to be a crime scene, which I have then put in the book of walks around the city, based on the novels.

Castlefield ‘ Location in the crime novels of Bill Rogers

Aidan O’Rourke: And how important is the Manchester setting for your readers?

Bill Rogers: It was really important for me personally. I felt the books had to be anchored by a deep sense of place. I am relieved and delighted to discover that the majority of people who read all of my books do so partly because they love reading about the city, about the settings, especially those who used to live in Manchester and no longer do. Expats in Australia, Canada, America, even Europe, even Scandinavia will email me and say ‘I love the way you wrote about Moss Side” or Hulme or Gorton or Wythenshawe or north Manchester or Middleton’ ‘I remember going to the Rylands Library when I was young” So yes, it’s very important. The city is another character in my novels, as important as the protagonist.

Aidan O’Rourke: You are very successful as a self-published author. Do you think there are advantages to self-publishing in comparison to traditional publishing?

Bill Rogers: There are clear advantages. The most significant is that you have total freedom in terms of what you write and how you publish it. On the other hand, You have to take responsibility for editing, proofreading and so on. But you have the freedom to write what you want to write, when you want to write, to conclude when you want to conclude, to start again when you want to, and not be driven by timetables. I don’t have to pay 15% to an agent; I don’t have to pay a publisher; I get all of the royalties that I’m entitled to without anybody taking a slice. And yes, I love the freedom.

But on the other hand, I have just received an offer from a major publisher who has asked me to write a spin off series for them, whilst continuing to self-publish the DCI Caton series myself. If I accept, I know that I will have to make sure that the constraints of the publisher’s timetable do not begin to impact on my freedom and my creativity. You have to balance those out.

Aidan O’Rourke: You have made a success of being an independent, self-published author and you are earning royalties though your creative work?

Bill Rogers: Yes, I have, and I’m earning considerably more than the average writer in Britain, and more than some published authors, and I feel very very lucky and quite privileged. But I’ve worked hard.

Bill Rogers - Caton's Manchester book cover
Bill Rogers ‘ Caton’s Manchester book cover

Aidan O’Rourke: How many books are there in the series, now?

Bill Rogers: Thirteen now, ten of them in the DCI Tom Caton series. Nine of them are complete, and the tenth is underway at the moment. And I’ve written another one in the spin-off series the publisher requested.

Aidan O’Rourke: How long will you keep writing?

Bill Rogers: For as long as I am still able to and people continue to tell me that that they enjoy reading what I write. I’ve discovered that creativity is a kind of addiction. But like all addictions it has to be controlled, and my Lancashire Lass and I have another life firmly rooted in reality!

Find out more about Bill Rogers on his Bill Rogers Amazon author page and at

Northern railway journey photographs and travelogue

Northern Rail DMU at Carlisle Station

Northern Rail DMU at Carlisle Station

In December 2014 my late evening train from Liverpool was delayed. It stopped just beyond the platform at Lime Street. It was just a minor fault and after 15 minutes it was on its way, but I missed the last train from Piccadilly. I sent a complaint to Northern Rail and a few weeks later I received a written apology and a special ticket for one day’s travel anywhere on the Northern Rail network.
I had planned to use the ticket on the longest Saturday of the year, 20 June, and go to Newcastle and Middlesbrough via Leeds and Carlisle. In the end I went on the 31 July, via Leeds and Carlisle but then I took a different route. It was a fantastic day out and here’s my travelogue.
Manchester Victoria Station panorama of the new roof

Manchester Victoria Station panorama of the new roof

It’s 5.50am when I arrive at Victoria Station and would you believe it, the train is late! Not the train I intend to take, but the previous one, the 5:46 departure. It has not yet left and so I am able to hop on board and get ahead of schedule. Late trains are not always a bad thing.
We head out through the north of Manchester, hillier and more rural than the south. Soon we are leaving Rochdale station, and shortly after, we enter the tunnel that seems to mark the transition from Lancashire to Yorkshire. Beyond the tunnel is actually historic Lancashire, only since 1974 designated as Yorkshire. More on boundaries later.
The train is still quite empty when I fall asleep but when I wake up it’s full of commuters travelling into Leeds. It’s standing room only and I have to give up the seat next to me.
Leeds is so similar to Manchester and yet so different – Different region, different accent, a white rose rather than a red rose. I have one hour and twenty minutes to wait. What can I say about Leeds station? Big. Modern. Functional. Efficient. Fit for purpose. The only part that retains an air of the past is the art deco style entrance hall, now occupied by shops and cafes.

I sit and have a cup of tea, check my e-mail and then it is time for my next train, the 8:49 to Carlisle, which is waiting at the platform, just a few steps away. It’s a DMU, that’s Diesel Multiple Unit, like most Northern Rail trains. Rail enthusiasts will be aware that this is a British Rail class 158 Sprinter. I take my seat, it departs on time and I drift into another snooze. Some time later I open my eyes and see a glorious landscape coming into view on either side. We are about to go onto the Settle to Carlisle railway. It is cloudy today but the views are still magnificent.
It’s hard to imagine that the Settle to Carlisle railway line was once scheduled for closure but after a campaign, it was saved and today it is a thriving transport link, moving people and goods through this otherwise inaccessible but spectacular region of northern England.
The train moves north along wide valleys, tall hills, small farmhouses, steep slopes, sheds, houses, lanes, fields full of sheep, and soon we are in sight of the famous three peaks: Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent, a Welsh type name that reminds us of England’s Celtic heritage.
The train slows down to cross the Ribblehead viaduct, and then gathers speed. There is plenty more spectacular scenery along the way. This is how I like to travel – sit back, look through the window and admire the view – I’m taking lots of photos of course! I want to prove that a trip like this provides plenty of photo opportunities and you don’t even have to move from your seat. The only disadvantage is that on modern trains, there are no open windows, so you always have to shoot through glass.
North of Ribblehead we leave Yorkshire and enter Cumbria. In traditional terms we travel through the county of Westmorland and then Cumberland. In 1974 Cumberland, Westmorland and part of Lancashire came together, with a few boundary adjustments, to form the present county of Cumbria.
Panoramic photograph of Carlisle Station

Panoramic photograph of Carlisle Station

When the train arrives at Carlisle I am sorry the journey is over and would like to do it again in the other direction. Everyone should travel on the Settle to Carlisle railway, it is one of the most spectacular railway lines anywhere. At the end of the platform there’s a display about the campaign to re-open Gilsland station on Hadrian’s Wall. This sounds like a great idea.
Carlisle Station retains the grandeur and history of the 19th century railway age, though it’s been updated for the present with modern signage and facilities. I take photographs including a panorama but if I don’t hurry I’ll miss my next connection, the 12:08 to Barrow-in-Furness.

This is another DMU, a Class 153 railcar, and almost as I jump on, the doors slide shut and it starts to move. The first part of the journey is uneventful but before long, the sea comes into view and we are travelling south along the coast of Cumbria (here, historic Cumberland). Dumfries and Galloway is visible across the water like an island, in front of it is a vast offshore wind farm. This is Robin Rigg wind farm, completed in 2010.
NwRailWasp-F731The train moves on at around 30 mph, rounding curves. We are just a few distance away from the shore. We stop at station after station. There are lots of people getting on and off. This coastal rail link is obviously very important for the local economy. The train continues its journey south, and then I catch a glimpse of a place I’ve heard of since childhood: the word that comes into my head is Windscale, but for many years it’s been Sellafield, the nuclear power station. It and the facilities associated with it now being decommissioned. Though there’s plenty to see outside, I notice a wasp on the inside of the window, and I carefully photograph it.
Just a bit further, one more station stop and we are at Ravenglass station and it’s time to get off. This is a small town by the sea with Roman connections – there was once an important port and there’s a Roman ruin. It’s the only coastal town in the Lake District National Park. Now it’s famous for the intriguing Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. The station is just opposite the mainline station and as we enter, we see the tiny railway carriages parked on narrow gauge tracks.

At the top is a scaled down version of a steam train. With its shiny green paintwork and brass fittings, it appeals to the child in all of us. But it is a fully functional steam locomotive capable of pulling a train fully loaded with adults and children. It was originally a mining railway but has been a visitor attraction since the early 1960s.
I take my seat in one of the open carriages, the guard checks the tickets and we are ready for departure.
A tree-covered hilltop seen from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

A tree-covered hilltop seen from the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

With a toot of the whistle the train moves forward and gathers speed. Once we have left the station we enter an attractive, hilly landscape with views over the river estuary and hills in the distance. To the right, there are steep tree-covered hillsides and to the left, woods full of wildflowers. After being cooped up inside the modern train, to sit in an open miniature carriage is literally a breath of fresh air. The train gathers speed and heads up the long and gently winding narrow gauge track. Every so often the driver toots the whistle but he pulls very gently, as tiny water droplets fall on the passengers, including me! The train stops half way at the passing point where we stop next to the down train, then we continue our journey into the hilly landscape. After a final curve to the right we arrive at Dalegarth Station.
There are lots of people on the platform. At the very end of the tiny track, adults and children watch as the drivers push the locomotive around on a small turntable and then move it down to the bottom end of the train for the journey back down to Ravenglass.
The station looks well used and very popular with visitors. On a plaque I read that it was opened by Pete Waterman, pop producer and railway enthusiast.
We climb in for the return journey. I get into an open carriage again. Now it’s an easier journey for the miniature locomotive as it’s downhill. We pass by more wonderful landscapes of woodland, hills, trees and views over distant mountains and finally we are back at Ravenglass and the end of our narrow gauge journey.
After taking a few final photos, I rush back to the mainline station expecting to see the Barrow train arriving, but there is no sign of it. I overhear from people on the platform who’ve phoned for information that it’s half an hour late. That’s fine as there is plenty of time for my connection from Barrow-in-Furness.
Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive 37610 named TS (Ted) Cassady about to arrive at Ravenglass Station

Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive 37610 named TS (Ted) Cassady about to arrive at Ravenglass Station

Looking up along the line, in the distance I see what looks like a freight train hauled by a diesel locomotive, but as it approaches it reveals itself to be a passenger train. It stops and I realise this is a ‘real’ train, an old-fashioned diesel locomotive hauling older-style carriages – they look to be from the 1980s. It’s not operated by Northern Rail but by Direct Rail Services. I discover that they are a railfreight company connected to British Nuclear Fuels. Earlier in 2015 they were contracted to provide some of the services on this route, freeing up Northern Rail’s DMUs for use elsewhere.
The train screeches to a halt and I see that there are many passengers on board. I get on board, and it’s like going back a couple of decades. The carriages are old but spacious, with slam doors, windows that open and wood interior finish. There are even compartments at the front – I thought they had disappeared from the British railway network years ago.
The train is quite full, so I stand next to the door to take photos through the open window and with a loud grinding sound from the diesel locomotive – it sounds more like an agricultural machine – the train slowly gathers speed. The coastal line continues to offer stunning views over the Irish Sea. Inland further south the hills have taken on rich colours, and then we drift away from the coast and look out over distant expanses of water, and finally the train turns towards the west and arrives at Barrow-in-Furness station. We are now in historic Lancashire, the north west section that became part of Cumbria in 1974.
We get off and I pause to photograph the locomotive with its vintage yellow and blue livery. There is another loco at the other end of the train, ready to pull it back along the coastal line and on up to Carlisle.
I am disappointed that Barrow Station is smaller than expected. I would like to visit this historic town, but that can wait for another day. Soon a train moves up to the platform. It’s going to Preston. I’m disappointed to be back on a modern style DMU. The old fashioned carriages were a much more enjoyable experience and much better for photography.
Diesel locomotive at Barrow-in-Furness Station

At Barrow-in-Furness station, Class 37 diesel-electric locomotive 37610, built 1963.

Now heading along the line from Barrow-in-Furness towards the east, there are more wide vistas with water on both sides – the railway was built on causeways that cut in a straight line across land and water along the uneven coastline. The main road, the A590, passes north of here, no cars can venture into this watery landscape, and as dusk falls, we are approaching the town of Arnside. The houses overlooking the water seem to be to be built upon one another. After a brief stop at the station, we head further towards the main West Coast line further inland.
Now we are in Lancashire, both historic and current, heading towards Lancaster. After a brief stop we continue along the main West Coast line to Preston where I get off. There’s one thing I need to do: Walk into the town centre and photograph the famous Preston Bus Station.

I return to the Preston railway station and get on the train that passes through Blackburn, where 25 minutes later I change to my final train of the day, which will take me back to Manchester Victoria. Now it is dark. All I can see in the window is my own reflection.
As the train approaches Manchester Victoria I looked over towards Strangeways prison and imagine what it would be like to be inside. No days out on the railway. No days out, full stop. Thankfully that’s not my place of residence and I’m very glad that today I have been able to enjoy the freedom of taking any (Northern) train and going anywhere I want on the network.
That freedom to travel is precious.
Northern Rail is the main train operator in northern England. It’s run by a joint-venture Serco and Abellio. Serco is a UK company that provides outsource public sector services including public transport. Abellio is a subsidiary of the state railway company of the Netherlands Nederlandse Spoorwegen. Northern Rail has held a franchise since 2004 and it expires in 2016. Northern rail operates the largest number of stations in the UK, 462, nearly a fifth of the 2550 stations in the UK’s rail network.

Photography workshop in Manchester with 3 Mobile

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

In August 2015 I was asked to lead a photography workshop for bloggers to be held in Manchester. It organised by the 3 mobile phone network via London-based PR agency Arena Media. Participants would be able to try out the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and learn some photography techniques.

I was very excited to take on the challenge. The emphasis would be on a smartphone camera rather than a compact or DSLR. I’m experienced mainly DSLR cameras but I often use the iPhone to take photos for my articles and blog posts.

Photo taken with Samsung S6I tried out the camera by taking aircraft exhibits at the Manchester Airport Runway visitor park. The pictures were extremely sharp and well-exposed. Arena kindly sent a Samsung S6 Edge by courier for me to try out. As soon as I took my first photos on the S6, it was clear that the camera is a state of the art device, producing very high quality images. It has a large image size – 5312 x 2988 pixels, nearly 16 megapixels, and the capability to capture a wide range of tones, performing better than many compact digital cameras.

Later I drove into the country and stopped by a wooded area near a country road. I experimented with the ‘Pro’ settings, using Exposure Compensation to take a series of bracketed shots. I tried out the panoramic image function and was very impressed by the sharpness and tonal depth.

Samsung S6 - Woodland in Cheshire - Panoramic image

Back at home, I studied the list of participants – all bloggers, many on the subject of fashion and cosmetics – and all female. I looked at their blogs, and was very impressed with many of the photos. I picked out a selection of good photos and some photos that could be improved. I included these on a USB along with some of my photos taken on the S3 and a selection of my fashion photos.

The next day I arrived at the venue – the Ziferblatt Gallery on Edge Street. The workshop was in one of their meeting rooms. Representatives from Three Mobile from Arena PR were waiting, along with a freshly brewed cup of tea!

As the only male in the room, I felt a little bit nervous but I was made to feel very welcome.

Soon all the participants had arrived. I have to say I’ve never worked with a more glamorous bunch!

We started off with personal introductions, and I showed them a scrapbook with my weekly articles from the Manchester Evening News.

Then, on the digital projector, we looked at the photos on the USB, starting with a few of my fashion photos, then the test photos taken on the Samsung S6. Then we moved on to the photos I’d chosen from the participants’ blogs. They were very curious and maybe a little apprehensive to see which ones I had picked out.

The main suggestions for improvement were:

  • Make sure there’s even, diffuse light on the subject.
  • Use a reflector to bounce light onto the subject.
  • Make sure the lens or the protective glass is clean.
  • Use exposure compensation to adjust the brightness up or down

The time flew and soon it was 4pm, when we were scheduled to go for a walk around Manchester’s Northern Quarter to take photos and try out some of the techniques we’d covered.

On my photo walks, I always make a point of looking carefully at each person’s photos, offering positive feedback and suggestions for improvement. I don’t hesitate to give praise when I see exceptionally good images and this afternoon I saw quite a few!


I was amazed at some of the things they picked out that I hadn’t noticed. They discovered many new angles on a district I thought I knew very well! Before returning we stopped at a street off Stevenson Square that I’d never bothered to look at before. They produced some great images, including a selfie-of-a-sefie-of-a-selfie! I always learn from students. I see myself as a facilitator, helping others to develop their own unique photographic eye. I’m very impressed with the infographic by seeingspots listing the photography points.

Summary of photography points by seeingspots

Reflector image with seeingspots

Northern Quarter image by nazma_afb

Back at Ziferblatt, we enjoyed some tea, coffee and cakes. The participants were very quick to post the best of their photos on Twitter, under the #PicPerfectWithThree hashtag.

Finally I set up my continuous studio lighting kit in the next room. There were two bright daylight balanced low energy light bulbs in softboxes. They took selfies but I insisted also on taking photos of them the old fashioned way: photographer and subject.

Sayyyyyy cheeeeeessee! #picperfectwiththree @threeuk @ziferblatedgest

A photo posted by Becca (@beccajtalbot) on

For me the afternoon was a very enjoyable and productive experience and I think we all learned new things.

Many thanks to the people at Arena Media for inviting me to lead the workshop.

To find out more about the Samsung S6 Edge, go to

Visit the participants’ blogs to take a closer look at their work. Some did a write-up of the day with some amazing photographs and even notes on the photography points! [Write-up]

see also Irena’s music site with examples of her songs [Write-up]

Aidan O’Rourke is one of Manchester’s most experienced photography tutors. He has developed an approach that combines clarity and simplicity, putting the student at the centre of things. He is preparing a number of e-books on photography technique. He offers city photo walks, workshops and one-to-one tuition as well as customised workshops in association other organisations, such as this one organised by Three Mobile.

Buildings in Manchester we love to hate

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Manchester Civil Justice Centre

Manchester Civil Justice Centre

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News in August 2015

There are some buildings people love to hate. I’ve listened politely to many opinions on Manchester’s newer landmarks.

As I often say, architects are like gods. They create our world, or at least, our built world. But they can get things wrong. When something new appears, people often start to moan: “Monstrosity!” “I hate it!” “Looks like a child’s toy” “Rubbish”.

Beetham / Hilton Tower Manchester

The Beetham / Hilton Tower

Agecroft Colliery before demolition - Photo by Brother Anselm Keogh

Agecroft Colliery before demolition – Photo by Brother Anselm Keogh

One, the Avenue, Spinningfields

One, the Avenue, Spinningfields

Number One St Peters Square

Number One St Peters Square

Architects have a difficult job, they can’t please everybody and they are subject to limitations. I remember Ian Simpson pointing out that his design for the Hilton tower (2007) was influenced by a budget that was much smaller than for a similar building in London. And I often wonder if the boxy design with the overhang was influenced by the demolished Agecroft Colliery.

By contrast, the Civil Justice Centre (Denton Corker Marshall, 2007) cost £113 million. One The Avenue (Sheppard Robson, 2009) is structurally interesting with its paralellogram diagrid construction, but it stands right next to the Victorian Gothic John Rylands Library (Basil Champneys,1900).

Does that make it a carbuncle? One St Peters Square (Glenn Howells) is a dominating building but is it too dominating? How do I feel about these four buildings?

Actually I like them, especially the Civil Justice Centre, and maybe with time, more people will too.

Article and photos originally appeared in 2014 in my weekly column in the Manchester Evening News

Manchester’s Oxford Road – chaotic but fascinating

Eyewitness 2015 photos and editorial published in the Manchester Evening News

Oxford Manchester 3 July 2015

Oxford Road begins at the River Medlock under the rail bridge and extends to Moss Lane East by the Curry Mile.

Oxford Road and the area on either side has a remarkable assortment of facilities: Four third level educational institutions, five hospitals, a strangely shaped theatre, two Catholic churches, one of which looks like a French cathedral, two parks, one of which is the site of an Anglican church after which surrounding area is named, several music venues, two former cinemas, a neo-Gothic Victorian building containing a natural history museum and opposite it, a thing that looks like a fuel storage tank.

There are two bridges over Oxford Rd and a 50m swimming pool. It’s said to be Europe’s busiest bus corridor and possibly its smokiest, as there are still many older diesel buses in operation. The BBC was here but now the site is a car park.

Oxford Road is chaotic but fascinating, a piece of pure Manchester and I love it just as it is. But soon general traffic will be diverted away to make more room for bikes and buses. Will it retain its character? We’ll see. In mid-2015 my Victoria Baths videos are still showing on the Corridor Manchester Digital Screen opposite Grosvenor Street.

Ancoats Dispensary – its future secured

Ancoats Hospital 25 April 2004

Few places symbolise the true character and spirit of Manchester more than Ancoats Dispensary. It’s not a stately home or a concert hall or a grand municipal building.

It’s a former hospital that served the people living in and around Ancoats, the first industrial suburb in the world.

It was mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s book Mary Barton, and painted by LS Lowry in 1952.

In the nineteenth century, the poverty and illness endured by local people were unimaginable to us today.

Ancoats Dispensary helped those communities for 115 years until it closed in 1989.

It stood derelict and was almost demolished until a group of committed local people intervened, with the aim of saving it.

They managed to secure support from a wide range of people and organisations.

I went to their ‘Sharing the Vision’ event in February 2015 and was impressed with their determination and professionalism. It was held at Hallé St Peters, a building that demonstrates the massive power and potential of regenerating forgotten buildings.

They ran a crowdfunding campaign on Spacehive under the title The Beating Heart of Ancoats and thank goodness, they achieved their target.

So it seems the future looks promising for Ancoats Dispensary. Another determined group of campaigners took a stand, and against the odds, they won.

This article is adapted from one that appeared in the Manchester Evening News in late 2014.

Futuristic buildings in Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Urbis Manchester, 2002
Manchester has been called the ‘shock city’, where the future arrives early, and this is reflected in some of its buildings. When Urbis was under construction in 2001, I thought its roof would make an ideal launch ramp for UFOs, the ‘spike’ at the front used to moor them, like airships.

The CIS tower was revolutionary in 1962, and since 2004 it has been the UK’s biggest solar project. The newly built One Angel Square across the street has the qualities of an intergalactic spaceship, with a ‘bridge’ at the front. I can imagine it with a curved glass bottom travelling to another galaxy and floating above a lush planet. As a child on the 92 bus, I was astonished by a monolithic new white building next to the Mancunian way.

I didn’t understand the big white letters UMIST at the top; something to do with ‘Interplanetary Space Technlogy’ I thought! There’s a striking similarity between this now disused 1960s building and Manchester’s newest skyscraper, the Student Castle. And at the western end of the Mancunian Way is the ‘lunar pod’, actually a property rental and sales office. I love modern architecture when it’s wacky and fires the imagination, but what I’d like to see most is an observation tower.

An amazing artwork that took shape before my eyes

Abstract artwork by Karen McBride

As a followup to her recent Stripped Back exhibition and launch evening, I visited photographer and artist Karen McBride at her apartment and studio.

Mixed media artwork by Karen McBrideShe has a cabinet full of classic film cameras as an office full of photo books, negatives, lighting equipment and an with Apple iMac with thousands of images on it.

We talked about the Stripped Back event. All those who attended agree it was a big success. There was live music, an interview with Karen, her iconic photos were on display, both music photography and a few subtle and artistic nudes. She also exhibited a couple of paintings. I wasn’t aware that she was an artist before she became a photographer and has a lot of experience drawing and painting on canvas.

The works she had on display used a semi-abstract style of painting, often made using fingers, with thick layers of multi-colour paint. One of them was a mixed media image that included a photographic nude image. Others are entirely abstract, with shades of one or two famous painters.

As we were chatting she mentioned that she was planning to do something with a photographic canvas she’d bought it in a second hand shop.

It was a striking photograph depicting a field of lavender, but over time she’d grown tired of it and wanted to re-use the canvas for something new. I didn’t quite understand what she had in mind. It involved covering it with emulsion paint.

She brought in the canvas which measures about three feet by two, and placed it on a large plastic sheet on the floor. Then she got a paint of standard white emulsion paint that was left over after decorating.

Karen McBride Artwork B

She poured the paint onto the canvas and started to spread it around on the surface of the photographic canvas with a sponge. Soon the image was mostly covered and some areas the emulstion started to dry. Then she got some glitter – blue and red and sprinkled it onto the canvas. With her hands she started to move the glitter around, dragging lines with her fingers.

Then came gold paint which she poured onto the surface. The obvious and superficial comparison was with Jackson Pollock, but this was something quite different.

She spent a few more minutes dragging her fingers across the wet and drying emulstion, and then took the canvas and hung it on the wall.

We chatted some more and then she went back to it. ‘Come and have a look at this,’ she said and I looked. Something extraordinary was happening. The emulsion paint was drying and cracking, like an old master. The gold paint had cut through the layer of emulsion paint and was interacting with the original colour of the photograph underneath. Weird shapes, colours and patterns were emerging.

Karen McBride Artwork CIn the upper right, there was what looked like cut or opening with lips, and through it there was a shadowy cityscape or maybe a scene from a 1930s surrealist painting by Max Ernst. Another blob of silver paint had turned blue with a drop running down, giving the impression of a balloon in flight.

Standing back, there was an energy on the canvas movement from left to right and upwards, a sense of something being set free.

In some areas of the canvas, there were strange shapes, faces, animal-like figures. It was a bright image, feminine, sky blue with glitter but with a few darker areas.

The slow moving drips began to congeal. Just an hour or so after the emulsion was first poured, an artwork had come into being, as good if not better than many I’ve seen in private galleries, maybe on the walls of famous museums.

Is it less of an artwork because it was created so quickly and without any premeditation? I don’t think so. The important thing is the uniqueness and integrity of the artwork and the body of work of which it’s a part. So far I’ve seen only a small body of work but I hope to see more.

My eccentric/nostalgic short film The Train to Funky Island made on a DSLR


The Train to Funky Island is my ‘against all odds’ film project, made between 2010 and 2013, and here are the reasons why you should watch it!

Reasons why you should watch The Train to Funky Island

  • It’s a unique story that’s a little bit crazy.
  • It’s strongly psychological in its themes – there are many hidden meanings.
  • It’s made in Stockport, Manchester and the North West – Support Local Filmmaking!
  • It’s produced by an independent writer-cinematographer – Support Non-Corporate Creativity!
  • It’s in an untrendy style with no rapid cuts, violence or bad language – Don’t go with the herd of today!
  • It’s a part of my portfolio. If you’ve seen my photos, read my books and articles, you should definitely watch this.
  • Many people who have seen it have enjoyed it – You might enjoy it too.
  • It’s free! But I will request that you donate to a charity. I’ll tell you which one.

Are you listening to me?

The plot:

In a northern town, a 12 year old boy lives with his family but he is unhappy. He is withdrawn and finds it difficult to communicate with his parents. He hears a song on the radio that fires his imagination. The song inspires him to go on an epic journey. But is it fantasy or reality?

Interesting facts about the film:

  • It was made on a budget of about £300.
  • During the making of the film, I taught myself how to direct and edit movies.
  • There are many special effects: the boy getting on a train is not actually getting on a train!
  • The film was made to educate as well as entertain.
  • I’ve used it very successfully with students learning English as a Foreign Language.
  • I wrote and recorded the theme song ‘Funky Island’ and the flute melody.
  • The final sunset displays a very rare atmospheric phenomenon: green flash
  • The production stretched out for more than three years.

No we have not been having any problems of that nature.


  • Overall reception has been positive. Some like it, a few love it, one or two hate it.
  • It has been rejected by three film festivals so far.
  • Some say it is roughly made and badly edited. Others say it is beautifully made and superbly edited.
  • I showed it to my Italian students learning English, they clapped.
  • Many people say it is an appealing story and the acting is good.
  • One person said that the sound levels are uneven.
  • Psychology and psychiatry professionals have been very enthusuastic.
  • More about the reception in this blog post

Reactions to the film

Hi Aidan
I watched your film and really enjoyed it.. it’s bittersweet and beautifully filmed – such lovely quality, I noticed this especially in the scene with the boy’s hands against the piano keyboard. It reminded me how young people can often escape somewhere that feels safe when ‘real life’ feels too hard – and also of a therapeutic resource called the ‘Safe Place’ – an imaginary place which is consciously created in sensory detail, to help people who are experiencing trauma or intrusive thoughts/memories. My favourite scene was the train journey with the changing scenery through the window. I also really like the music – right up my street!

Heather Greenbank, Counsellor, Supervisor

Please note:

  • The film can only be seen at private screenings or online by invitation – If you contact me now I will be able to invite you.
  • I am looking at new ways to make use of the film in different ways both in education and to raise money for charity.

You can view the complete film online by contacting me and requesting a viewing. If you run a film, video or photography club, I can come and give a private screening with introduction and Q&A. To contact, email info(at) or use the contact form below.

Thanks for your interest in my ‘against the odds’ short film The Train to Funky Island.

The video below features the theme song ‘Funky Island’ written by me, Aidan O’Rourke, sung by Michael Pal and Mary Ellis.

Manchester Day Parade photographs

Here are a few of the photos I took this afternoon of the Manchester Day parade as it passed down Deansgate. It was a wonderful experience to see the parade which was very colourful and there were some amazing large scale figures, including Cruella De Ville, an eagle and a dog representing Greater Manchester Fire Service.

I took some very rough photos with my Canon in my right hand and a small amount of 3D video with my left hand.

The Manchester Day parade is an affirmation of Manchester’s uniqueness, cultural diversity and the vitality of its communities.

I have posted a larger number of images in a gallery on my AidanEyewitness Facebook page

Interview on BBC Radio Manchester 10 June 2015

Here’s my interview on Radio Manchester on the morning of Wednesday 10th of June 2015. The transcript is below. Due to a technical problem with YouTube, I have not yet managed to add subtitles to the video.

Announcer: Alison Butterworth and Phil Trow BBC Radio Manchester

Phil: It’s nine minutes away from eight, Megabrain on the way in a couple of moments time, first though yesterday we were talking about the former Pauldens Department store in Manchester city centre

It was based on Market Street but the name was lost in the 1970s when Debenhams rebranded the store in their name. Let’s join our reporter Michelle Adamson, she’s in Piccadilly this morning to talk about those long lost Manchester department stores. Morning Michelle.

Michelle: Morning, yes beautiful blue sky is here in Piccadilly gardens this morning, and the backdrop to that beautiful blue sky is amazing different sorts of buildings. Actually, I’ve never really scrutinised the skyline year and I’ve just realised how many different architectural styles and dates of buildings there are here, and how they’ve changed as well, not only in the way they look but in the usage as well. In terms of how things have changed over the years there have been quite a few changes, and to tell us a bit more is Aidan O’Rourke, who’s a photographer, a local writer. He runs photography walks through Manchester City centre. Now we were scanning the skyline this morning and things have changed haven’t they over the years. Some of them quite recently over the years people will remember stuff that wasn’t that used to be here but isn’t now.

Aidan: Well for instance is Lewis’s which is now Primark. Lewis’s was the first department store in Manchester and it survived until not so long ago, and unfortunately it couldn’t continue, along with the one in Liverpool, so it’s just a memory now. I remember going there when I was a child and buying my first album which was Ziggy Stardust in 1972, and it cost £2.35.

Michelle: Wow [laughs]

I have many other memories of Lewis’s and so it was a great place to go, and recently as well, maybe 10 year 10 or 15 years ago, I remember giong there and I bought food there and clothes occasionally.

Michelle: And we’ve been talking about Pauldens.

Aidan: Pauldens, now Debenhams, It became Debenhams, I believe, in 1973 but prior to it being Pauldens, it was just a warehouse. It was just a department store, it was just a warehouse until Paulden moved in. I wasn’t aware of that until recently. We think of it as being a department store, it looks like a department store, but it was a warehouse and it was built by Rylands of the famous John Rylands, whose wife built the library in his memory

Michelle: And looking at some of the other buildings you’ve been pointing out how they’ve changed as well.

Aidan: Well we have Piccadilly Plaza on the left, which was completed in 1965. One notable change is the disappearance of Bernard house which was the building on the far end of the Mosley Street end which had a distinctive, and I’ve written it down here, hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

Michelle: Wow, that sounds impressive [laughs].

Aidan: Yes, but unfortunately the building was in quite a bad state, and it was difficult to let. I’ve just been reading about why they had to… I’m not sure that they really had to… it could’ve been kept, but for a number of reasons it was difficult to retain and so they demolished it in 2001, January to March. And another building has appeared in its place but it’s certainly not as impressive as the original it doesn’t really fit in the way that the old building did. Because I regard Piccadilly Plaza, in its own way, and people will disagree with me, I regard it is interesting and important as a cathedral. Now you wouldn’t knock down part of cathedral and stick up something off a trading estate, would you?

Michelle: [Laughs] Right, oh right! We are going to have the benefit of Aidan’s expert knowledge bit more. We’re going to scoot around to another part of the city centre a bit later… [fade]

Phil: Yesterday we were talking about the former Paulden’s Department store. Blimey, we’ve added a few layers to this, this morning, from where it was originally to buses that have crashed into it.

Alison: It was in 1957 that the fire gutted the original store that was in Hulme. They moved to the top of market Street then.

Phil: The Paulden’s name actually disappeared from Manchester is high street in the early 70s and the store was rebranded as Debenhams.

Alison: Our reporter Michelle Adamson is in Manchester City centre, Where she’s been hovering all morning, Michelle.

Michelle: We have, we’ve had a great time just nipping around the city centre looking at buildings that were once amazing iconic places and we’ve just hopped along from the Debenhams site which used to be the Pauldens store, and we’ve just come next to Piccadilly railway station, and we’re looking at are very unremarkable brand-new building. It’s a hotel, a brand-new hotel. Not much to distinguish it from any other modern building, a cream coloured building very plain really. But actually in its former guise, it was someone very important, A little clue is on the left hand side of the building there is a plaque and it says “Site of the former iconic Twisted Wheel club. pioneer of soul and R&B music the birthplace of Northern Soul”. Right here, we’re standing opposite, looking very different now. With me is Aidan O’Rourke, he’s a writer and photographer. One of our iconic buildings disappeared, but it’s got a plaque to remind us, but it’s looking very different now.

Aidan: Mm-hmm. Well if it was so iconic why did it disappear? Well, the buildings were rather run down, slightly quirky Victorian looking buildings there was a little gate in the the middle and I think it was unoccupied upstairs. But it reminded me of some buildings in Amsterdam, You know, it had a lot of character and with a bit of renovation it could’ve been turned into something really nice. But I’ve got the photographs I’ve got the before photographs from two angles and I’ve got the after photographs from two angles. I just wish the old building was there and in the future when and when the old fire station which is just behind us and I’m sure it will soon be restored. that old building just across the street, the site of the Twisted Wheel club, could’ve been a really nice place to complement the old fire station, But as you say we have a modern hotel.

Michelle: Now you were just telling me as well we are next to Piccadilly railway station now that’s seen some changes over the last few years not just the very recent modernisation but it’s undergone a couple of transformations.

Aidan: Yeah, the recent modernisation was in 2002 when the station was rebuilt and the train shed was restored, and that was by BDP architects, but it was also rebuilt in 1960 and so in the space of just over 40 years the station was rebuilt twice. I remember the 1960 rebuild and I remember going as a child and being very impressed with this entrance hall with lots of wood and the building prior to that was the old Victorian building, I think dated from the 1840s which was a bit of a ‘hulk’, smoke black and from the photographs. And that was demolished three.’s half of the old building was demolished with the new tower and then the old half demolished with the new concourse but then all that was swept away again 42 years later.

Michelle: Wow I wonder how many people remember that’s the first transformation in the 1960s, of Piccadilly railway station which was what used to be London Road railway station.

Alison: Fascinating stuff and thanks to Aidan who’s been with Michelle in Manchester City centre, photographer, just talking about the the iconic buildings which were proud to have. The phones have been alight all morning and it is a subject which I think were going to return to tomorrow.

Second ALL fm radio show on Ancoats Dispensary

ALL fm group show: The Tuesday Club with Heather Madden and Aidan O’Rourke by Aidan O’Rourke on Mixcloud

Today we recorded the second show following on from the ALL fm radio training course. It should have been live but due to a timetable clash, we didn’t have access to Studio 1. Also, two members of our group were unable to attend today. No matter, fellow student Heather Madden and I recorded the programme in Studio 2 and it has come out sounding fine.

My section starts about 14 minutes and 30 seconds into the recording. And at 19 minutes I read my piece about Ancoats Dispensary.

Here’s my introduction and the draft wording of my piece on Ancoats Dispensary, one of the most interesting conservation projects in Manchester at the moment.

Hello and welcome to the Manchester Update with Aidan O’Rourke, looking at the past, present and future of Manchester.

Later in the programme I’ll be taking a look at a place that for me truly symbolises the spirit of Manchester past, present and future, and I’ll give you a clue, it’s located in Ancoats.

First let’s listen to the first of three Manchester songs chosen by my vinyl collector wife Ann, who’s listening at home! It’s The Smiths and I started something I couldn’t finish.

That was The Smiths with I started something I couldn’t finish.

Few places symbolise the true character and spirit of Manchester more than Ancoats Dispensary.

It’s not a stately home or a concert hall or a grand municipal building.

It’s a former hospital that served the people living in and around Ancoats, the first industrial suburb in the world.

It was mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s book Mary Barton, and painted by LS Lowry in 1952.

In the nineteenth century, the poverty and illness endured by local people were unimaginable to us today.

Ancoats Hospital 2005

Ancoats Dispensary helped those communities for 115 years until it closed in 1989.

It stood derelict and was almost demolished until a group of committed local people intervened, with the aim of saving it.

They managed to secure support from a wide range of people and organisations.

I went to their ‘Sharing the Vision’ event last February and was very impressed by what they had achieved.

It was held at Halle St Peters, a building that demonstrates the massive power and potential of regenerating forgotten buildings.

They ran a crowdfunding campaign on Spacehive under the title The Beating Heart of Ancoats.

Thanks to a last minute contribution by a mystery donor, they managed to raise £55,000, releasing a further £770,000 from the Heritage Lottery.

It was an amazing and nail-biting achievement!

Next Monday, 8th of June, they’re holding an exhibition entitled Creating Our Future Histories. It’s at Halle St Peters in Ancoats, and runs from 5.30 to 8pm.

There’s going to be music performances, art and an opportunity to share your thoughts and memories.

So why not go along on Monday 5.30 to 8pm at Halle St Peters? That’s 40 Blossom Street, Manchester M4 6BF, about ten minutes walk from Piccadilly.

Halle St Peters, Ancoats

And now let’s listen to another Manchester track and the connection is this band played with the Halle, who rehearse at Halle St Peters, the band are Elbow and the song is Reasons for Divorce.