Save Library Walk from being ruined!

Library Walk 2009

Library Walk 2009

Library Walk has always been one of my favourite locations in Manchester, a haven of peace from the hustle and bustle of the city, an architectural gem created in the empty space between the Central Library and the Town Hall Extension, both designed by E Vincent Harris in the 1930s. The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester. I also love the town hall extension, a fabulous mix of traditional and modern.

There’s nowhere else quite like Library Walk. I’ve photographed it many times, fascinated by the shapes and textures of the architecture, the play of light and shadow. The echo of footsteps is fascinating too, though you can’t photograph that! Imagine my reaction when I saw plans for a ‘glazed link’ to be inserted into Library Walk. It was closed in 2011 for the renovation of the library. Many people were of the same opinion. They signed a petition and wrote letters of protest, leading to a Public Inquiry.

It’s important to note that the Public Inquiry was about the Stopping Up order. Should the right of way be abolished or maintained. If the right of way is maintained, then the glass structure is literally in the way and a solution will have to be found.

It has already been put up, though is not quite complete. The council say it will improve access and encourage more people to visit both buildings. Objectors say the ‘pod’ spoils Library Walk and the right of way should not be lost. I attended the public inquiry which took place at the town hall over six days in September and November. The decision will follow some time in the new year. I sincerely hope Library Walk reopens looking as it did from 1937 to 2011. If not, then one of Manchester’s most precious and unique features will have been ruined.

Close-up of the 'glazed link' blocking Library Walk.

Close-up of the ‘glazed link’ blocking Library Walk.

Library Walk with the 'pod'

Library Walk with the ‘pod’

Library Walk in happier times, 2004

Library Walk in happier times, 2004

Demolished buildings in Manchester

Demolished Hacienda

The Hacienda building, demolished 2001, with Whitworth St and former GMEX, now Manchester Central

When they’re gone they’re gone. Once a building is demolished that’s it, there is no visual collective memory it ever existed. Except in photographs or maybe films. Only photographs preserve the building with a good level of detail. Over the years, I’ve tried to capture buildings before they were demolished. I’ve not always got there in time. In the past, Manchester Corporation City Engineers Office employed photographers to document the city which was constantly changing due to demolition and construction. Today in the era of digicams and smartphones, that task is left to interested members of the public. But how many photos are being taken to the standard of the dedicated practitioners of the past? Many people are using lower quality phonecams and they are not always storing the photos securely and with proper backups. In 100 years time, will there be a complete visual portrait of what Manchester looked like around turn of the millennium? Often, a building is treated like an old sofa. No longer fit for purpose, to be thrown on the scrap heap and replaced with something more modern and presentable. But how many times have we regretted getting rid of that old item that later turned out to be worth quite a lot? Buildings are like people. When they’re gone they’re gone. But like Tony Wilson, who said of the Hacienda building ‘Let them tear it down,’ often we wish they were still here. 

Which of these buildings should have been saved?

To see old photos and films go to the excellent Archives+ section in the Central Library, or search online.

Manchester University Mahts Building 8 Oct 2004

The Maths Building in 2004 shortly before demolition, replaced by the SCAN building, renamed University Place.  

Demolished Northcliffe House, Deansgate Manchester

Northcliffe House, the art deco former Daily Mail building on Deansgate, demolished 2003, site of RBS building.

Former Hyde Road Hotel, later City Gates, where the club that became Manchester City was founded. Demolished 2001

Former Hyde Road Hotel, later City Gates, where the club that became Manchester City was founded. Demolished 2001

Liverpool’s magnificent attractions just a few steps from Lime St Station

Liverpool has a breathtaking group of architectural attractions, and they are right next to each other, just opposite Lime Street Station.

St George's Hall 1960s and recently, from Lime St Stn

St George’s Hall 1960s and recently, from Lime St Stn

I’m talking about St George’s Hall, the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Central Library and the whole row of magnificent buildings on either side. In my opinion they are on a par with London in their grandiose qualities. On the south side of St George’s Hall we have St John’s Gardens, named after the church that once stood here, and on the north side, St George’s Plateau, with its statues. My Liverpool photo walk begins on the steps of St George’s Hall and most of the time I stay in this area, as there are so many things to see and photograph.

On rainy days there are convenient indoor attractions, including the Walker Art Gallery with its magnificent statue hall, the Central Library, a mixture of classic and space age, and in the base of St George’s Hall, the visitors centre route through the building, where you can view prison cells and stand in the former court room and look down on the main hall from the balcony.

Few cities have so many attractions so close together and within a few steps of the main station! Ideal for a flying visit!

St George's Hall and St John's Gardens at night

St George’s Hall and St John’s Gardens at night

St George's Hall and St George's Plateau.

St George’s Hall and St George’s Plateau.

The fountain in front of the Walker Art Gallery

The fountain in front of the Walker Art Gallery

The Old Fire Station, Manchester’s most magnificent disused building

London Road Fire Station has to be Manchester’s most magnificent disused building. I pass it most days on the bus or coming out of Piccadilly Station. In my opinion, it’s a potent symbol of Manchester’s failure to make the best of its architectural heritage.

London Rd Fire Station photographed in the morning from Fairfield St

London Rd Fire Station photographed in the morning from Fairfield St

Even in its run down state, it’s magnificent, so we can only imagine how it would look if fully restored. The best time to photograph it is on a sunny morning when the light shines on both the Fairfield St and London Rd façades. It can also look good later in the afternoon when the sunlight is reflected off the Fairfield Street facade.

At night I often visualise its shiny, butterscotch-coloured exterior illuminated by floodlights, with a restaurant behind the doors where fire engines once emerged, a hotel reception by the main entrance and maybe a glitzy art exhibition inside.

London Rd Fire Station was built in 1906, vacated by the Fire Service in 1986 and has been pretty much empty ever since. There has been a long running dispute between Manchester City Council and Manchester-based owners Britannia Hotels about its future. Britannia Hotels received planning permission to develop the building but they have done nothing. Manchester City Council wish to compulsorily purchase back the building, as a first step to redevelopment, perhaps as a hotel.

The Friends of London Rd Fire Station are campaigning to have the building restored, and hopefully there will be a breakthrough soon. Their vision of the Fire Station is not just to use it as a hotel but a multi-purpose attraction with a hotel, an arts element and also as a place for people to live. The building was once home to firemen and their families.

Standing literalyl in its shadow is the site of the legendary Twisted Wheel night club, a much loved venue for Northern Soul. The quirky buildings that housed it were demolished in 2013 to make way for a new hotel. Necessary renewal or needless destruction? I think the latter. The council don’t understand that the city’s off beat and quirky qualities are what attracts students and tourists. Those students and tourists go on to recommend the city and return later. A city of barren, sterile soulless buildings is not going to gain an international reputation and attract more and more visitors. The opposite, in fact.

This post is adapted from the Eyewitness article that appeared in the Manchester Evening News in November 2014.

The old Fire Station seen in afternoon sunlight

The old Fire Station seen in afternoon sunlight

London Rd Fire Station Manchester coat of arms

London Rd Fire Station Manchester coat of arms

Maidens on the exterior of London Rd Fire Station

Maidens on the exterior of London Rd Fire Station

Twisted Wheel buidings before

Twisted Wheel buidings before

Twisted Wheel buildings after

Twisted Wheel buildings after

Relieved that Liverpool libraries aren’t going to close

I’m relieved to read in the Liverpool Echo that libraries in Liverpool will be not be closing, thanks to a ‘solution’ mentioned by Mayor Joe Anderson.

Liverpool Central Library vertical view

Liverpool Central Library vertical view

Liverpool Central Library is a fantastic building, a striking mixture of new and old. I often take my photo walk groups in there to see the Picton reading room and the roof terrace. But the smaller libraries around the city are important as well.

As a child my local library in Stockport was an inspiring place. Books are still important. They contain a huge amount of information that’s not available on the internet. They have an aura, a tactile quality about them that gives you a special experience. A place where there are lots of them all around you is in my opinion wonderful.

Here’s my photo of Liverpool Central Library looking up towards the oval-shaped wood-framed dome at the top of the building. Escalators cross the view diagonally, making the scene similar to a sci-fi view. The renovated Liverpool Central Library re-opened in 2013.

Mrs Gaskell’s House Manchester

The home of renowned author Elizabeth Gaskell reopened to the public on 5 October, 2014. The house is on Plymouth Grove, Chorlton-on-Medlock Manchester, and dates from around 1838.

ManGaskellHseIntA-EX16Mrs Gaskell lived there with her family until her death in 1865. Her husband and daughters continued in residence there for many years afterwards. I’ve driven past the house many times and have witnessed the gradual renovation of the exterior.

Last month I went to visit the house prior to the opening and it felt as if I was walking into the Victorian Era. The hall and several of the rooms have been restored as closely as possible to how they looked when Mrs Gaskell and her husband were in residence there. The trees and lawns of Swinton Grove Park can be seen through the windows, and you could almost imagine you are in the middle of the countryside. It’s atmospheric and has the warmth and welcoming feeling a family home.

I firmly believe that when you preserve and enhance a notable building that has been left to us, rather than knocking it down, you are creating something precious for the future. Find out more at

Very close to Elizabeth Gaskell House is the Plymouth Grove Hotel with its distinctive clock tower. Like the Elizabeth Gaskell’s House it is Grade II* listed. The Manchester Evening News reported in February 2013 that there were plans to renovate the building and re-use it as a Chinese restaurant but at present it is still empty and delapidated. I’ll be keeping a close eye on it .

This is a modified version of a feature that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on 23 Oct 2014.



Swinton Grove Park - Elizabeth Gaskell's House is beyond the trees

Swinton Grove Park – Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is beyond the trees

ManGaskellHseE907  ManGaskellHsePlqE907



My new Eyewitness newspaper feature introductory words and photos

My weekly Eyewitness column with words and photographs began on 23 October 2014. I was very pleased to have been invited to produce the content by editors at the MEN. 

Trafford Town Hall Here’s the wording for an introductory feature which I decided not to submit. I’ve decided to re-activate this blog by presenting it here, and I’ll be continuing to upload to the blog using writing and photos from the feature. I may also add additional material from outside Manchester.

In my new Eyewitness column I’ll be focusing on buildings, locations and other examples of the heritage we have around us in our great city and conurbation, highlighting what’s good and what’s threatening it! I’ve followed how Manchester has developed since 1996, writing articles and publishing photos on my old Eyewitness in Manchester website. In this column I pick up this theme again with a weekly feature illustrated with photos from my archive as well as new images. Manchester has an amazing character and uniqueness but I feel that it is under threat. Luckily there are many committed individuals and groups dedicated to fighting for our heritage and helping to save our architecture and local identity. Here’s a selection of photos from my archive showing just a few of the places I find interesting. If you have any questions or requests, just get in contact with me directly.

Jutland Street 1996 The former Hacienda 1998 Manchester city centre at dusk 2010 Manchester Central 2011 St Peters church 2010 Ancoats Mills 1998

Library Walk and Cornerhouse, the campaigns that made me return to Eyewitness


I produced my old website Eyewitness in Manchester from 1997 to 2005 and major part of it was campaigning. I protested against Manchester City Council’s disastrous changes to Piccadilly, as well as several other projects.

Since then I have become very disillusioned with how Manchester has developed for many reasons. Family involvements took me back to my home town of Stockport and I started to spend more time in Liverpool and other parts of the region.

When Manchester City Council’s plans emerged for a glass ‘pod’ to be inserted into Library Walk, I was astonished and horrified. How could they do such a thing to a well loved spot. Luckily a friends group was formed and a group of individuals, far more focused and dedicated then myself, moved ahead with the Save Library Walk campaign and I have supported it and with them, submitted letters of objection.

As for Cornerhouse, we have been aware of the move to the new location at HOME near the site of the Hacienda for a long time. What we didn’t know was that Manchester City Council have plans to – possibly – demolish the Cornerhouse building. I was very upset, and wondered if others felt the same. Then a protest group appeared, almost overnight, and immediately I ‘liked’ and shared their Facebook page.

For some time I have felt that my blog, Twitter posts and Facebook updates need to be more focused on one theme, and the one theme that still motivates me is my anger at the continuous eroding away of the essential character and uniqueness of the city, just like it did when I was documenting Eyewitness in Manchester.

Therefore I have decided to go back to using the Eyewitness name, but not Eyewitness in Manchester. I am too disillusioned with Manchester to focus on it solely, the place I call home is not Manchester or Greater Manchester but the North West region. I regularly spend time in Liverpool and prefer being there to Manchester. I love to travel around Cheshire, Lancashire and beyond.

So the name of the Twitter handle, new Facebook page and this blog will be @AidanEyewitness (with our without the @). The name identifies me and re-uses the name I called myself in times past, not a trademark or copyright name but one that is associated with me. Do a search under Aidan Eyewitness to find many archive pages.

To be effective, I really must post very often and I hope to do so, drawing on my archive of photos as well as taking and posting new ones – many on my iPhone – highlighting what’s best in our local area, and also places further afield – I can’t be limited to just one city, one region or one country – I’m well travelled and I have interests overseas. There are plenty of examples in places I’ve visited that could be a model for us here and I will highlight them.

The theme makes use of my photography, writing and video as well as my writing projects, including a 110,000 word coming of age story set in the North West, to be launched in a few weeks.

The new drive will be mainly Facebook based. I don’t have the time to spend on a detailed blog with large numbers of photos. It would be good also to find a channel in other media such as print and on other online publications, we’ll see.

I hope that I will achieve a higher profile and that will be good for my overall publicity and general success as a writer, tutor, speaker, photographer and video maker.

So that’s it, goodbye @TutorWriterUK hello @AidanEyewitness


And I picked up one new follower in the process, my namesake, the brilliant Scottish-based fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke @obanfiddle

History of the railway from Piccadilly to Crewe – A new book with archive photos

I’ve always been fascinated by local history. I love to imagine how things were in different times, whether during my childhood or 100 or more years ago. I have a special interest in railways. I grew up near Cheadle Heath station and travel between Stockport’s Edgeley station and Manchester’s Piccadilly Station on most days.

I was contacted by Manchester-born railway author, Eddie Johnson, whom I first met 14 years ago. He told me he has just published the second part of his detailed history of the railway from Manchester to Crewe. The first part, published in 2007, covered the part of the route via Styal known today as “The Airport Line”.

Piccadilly to Crewe Eddie Johnson

This newly published book covers the railway from Manchester London Road station (now Piccadilly station) via Stockport to Crewe. All the intermediate stations are covered, including Levenshulme, Heaton Chapel, Heaton Norris, Stockport, Cheadle Hulme, Handforth, Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and all stations to Crewe. To help commemorate the First World War, there is a special section on railway traffic along the line during the period around 1916.

The book comes with a detailed map and of course there are lots of local photographs including many unpublished ones from Eddie Johnson’s collection.

The book is 144 pages long, and is available from the Ian Allan bookshop on at the bottom of the approach to Manchester Piccadilly station, price £23.99.

I haven’t obtained my copy yet but when I do I will write a bit more.

Looking north from Stockport Edgeley Station across the railway viaduct. Photo by Aidan O’Rourke

My first photos in New York – Lament for Kodachrome

In this video I talk about at one of the first photographs I took with my first film camera, the Fujica STX-1 SLR. I bought it while I was working in New York in the summer of 1981. It was the very first long exposure shot I ever did.

I’ll never forget the excitement of buying my first good quality camera. It was a basic and affordable single lens reflex (SLR) which I found in a camera shop not far from Times Square. It came with a simple 50mm lens. My first film was Kodachrome 25. I wanted to achieve the best possible image quality and so I felt I had to choose colour slide film.

I taught myself photography from the book by Andreas Feininger entitled ‘The Complete Photographer’. It was quite technical and very thorough and methodical. I loved the mystique and fascination of photography and film, and the classic photographs of the past.

This is one of the first videos in my new YouTube channel The Audio-Visual School. I intend to post instructional videos on a range of subjects including photography, video, travel, local interest, art, English language and foreign languages.