|READER MESSAGES March 2002|
From: Bill Hayes
In the sixties (before Kathy Come Home days) if you became homeless and you were a single teenage male you either spent the night at the Sally Army hostel on Chepstow St or you went to stay with some relative or other.However there was a third option you could join the Beat Generation.
Manchester city center in the early sixties was the Beat capital of the north,forget Liverpool and the Cavern, Manchester had it all,it was truly a twenty four hour city.The area where the Arndale Center now stands was a maze of side streets and back alleys,once you turned off Market St late at night ( after the Cinephone had closed ) you entered a twilight world that could have put 1920s Berlin to shame.If you knew where to go you could have entertainment at anytime of the day.
Having no relatives interested in allowing me to live with them and not being partial to the Sally Army I grew my hair long and became a Beat ( Hippies were in the distant future).The places that I and the other beats frequented are just names from the past now but I am sure some of your readers will remember such places as Snacktimes,The Sovereign,Dicky Ewens,The Heaven and Hell,The Twisted Wheel (not the Whitworth St one).Then there was The Union Hotel,The New York,The Rembrandt and not forgetting the Pie Stalls on Cannon St,Piccadilly and Blackfriars Bridge.
A typical weekend in 63/64 would run something like this ..Friday night at about 10 join the queue at the large bakery ( I forget the name ) on Cakebread St near Ardwick Green and get yourself picked for casual labour on the night shift,the wage was about 30bob ( £1.50 ) for a ten hour shift plus some damaged bread or cake.Then at 8 0clock on Saturday morning make your way to the gents wash and brush up at Victoria Station where for 6d you received a clean towel,soap,razor ( if you shaved ,which I didnt ) and all the hot water you needed.After cleaning yourself up you went to the left luggage and retrieved your haversack and put on some clean clothes.Then it was off to Woolies café for a bit of breakfast and to meet up with your mates,after being thrown out of Woolies for falling asleep at the table or for pestering the girls behind the counter you crossed the road to Piccaddilly Gardens to join the rest of the beats hanging around near the fountain.At about 2 in the afternoon it was off to the Wheel (the Twisted Wheel coffee bar on Tib Lane (not Tib St )).These were the days before discos and northern soul and the Twisted Wheel was a leftover dive bar from the beatnik days.Here you would sit around drinking masses of black coffee and discuss the merits of Alan Ginsbergs poetry or Jack Kerouacs latest work or you could even listen to Bob Dylan ( the only place in Manchester where you could ) on the jukebox.Its funny how attitudes have changed,in the early/mid sixties Dylan was looked on as being subversive and dangerous and being found in possession of one of his LPs would bring accusations of oh so your one of Them are you,just what one of Them was I still dont know.
Anyway to get on with my story .After leaving the Wheel at about 5/6 ish you made your way to Snacktimes for some food (usually meat and potato pie with gravy) and a cup of tea.Again you would meet up with other friends and aquaintances and talk about whatever was topical at the time, this usually meant politics, music, CND or just whos doing what and where. Snacktimes I might add stood on the corner of Newton St and Back Piccadilly, it was a Greek or Cypriot owned café that boasted the finest Art Deco frontage and interior anywhere outside London,if you ever seen it after dark when it was fully lit up you would know what I mean,it was all glass brick and neon lighting. It was a loss to Manchester when it disappeared ..Leaving Snacktimes at about 8 ish you then made your way to the New Union on Princess St/Canal St corner.
Back then the Union was a little known public house off the beaten track as far as normalpeople were concerned, there were far more livelier pubs such as the Cheshire Cheese or the Band on the Wall or even Tommy Ducks, but the Union had a charm all of its own, and regulars that all knew each other. Thats not to say that the other pubs were shunned, far from it, doing the rounds ie the Union, the New York, the Cheshire Cheese, Tommy Ducks and the Rembrandt was a favourite pastime amongst all the regulars at the Union and vice versa. Anyway to carry on .it was important to get to the Union before 8 oclock on a Saturday in order to grab a seat in the backroom before it got crowded and the live music started,then the party would begin. Some of the turns went on to become household names eventually and most probably would not like to be remembered as they were then ( I shall mention no names). So we stayed in the Union until about 10-30 when there was a mad dash to the other venues in the city center.The chosen venue for my group was the Sovereign Club.
The Sovereign wasnt actually a club as such,you didnt need to be a member nor did you pay to get in. What it actually was is something in between the Twisted Wheel and the Union but without the booze.You must remember that during the period that this story takes place licensed clubs were very rare in Manchester, of course there was some, but for the likes of us they were no go zones, there was the Stage and Radio Club on Port St, or the Dice Club behind the Cinephone or even the Revue Bar on George St ( Manchesters only strip club) but as I said these places were out of bounds.There was the International Club but you had to buy a meal if you wanted a drink and the only food they sold was foreign ( this was before the days of curry houses) ..Still the Sovereign was a very popular place to go and they did excellent beans on toast.
To try and describe the Sovereign would be an almost impossible task but I will give it a go. As the Twisted Wheel was a basement coffee bar the Sovereign was a first floor coffee bar type of place, access was gained up a narrow flight of stairs from Shudehill opposite what used to be the old bird/book and antique market facing what is now the back entrance to the defunct Arnedale bus station. Once inside the Sovereign you would have seen an assortment of antique tables and chairs, very low lighting and old pictures/ornaments on the walls. At the far end was the counter where coffee, sandwiches and baked beans on toast was served. Nowadays it would have failed every health and safety check but in those days standards were lower.The thing that made the Sovereign so special was the characters that frequented the place. As with the Union some very famous people used to frequent the Sovereign, but it also had its own home grown characters such as Grotty Bob, Frenchie, Gypo Dave, Gipsy Dave, Scouse Mick, Cat and Mouse, Jane ( wow ), Rose and even Steamer Bill, all had their own individual traits ( not all of them nice ) but out of all the characters none were more outrageous than the Drag Queens.
Wow some of those drag queens were so outrageous that you dare not fall asleep with your mouth open (say no more ), this did happen on numerous occasions to the hilarity of all. I will not mention the names of these drag queen out of respect to them but believe me a good time was had by all on a Saturday night at the Sovereign.The Sovereign usually closed around 3.30 on Sunday morning and if you had no where to go after that time ( I didnt ) then you went to the Pie Stalls.
It might be hard to believe but in those days Manchester city center was totally deserted after midnight until 7 oclock the next morning with the exception of the local police or the very occasional shift worker. Mostly the police turned a blind eye to the carryings on at the mentioned pubs, clubs and cafés but you would get the odd police raid every now and then (these are the days before James Anderton ) but it was all good natured Anyway the pie stalls served a very very important service to all who for one reason or another found themselves stuck in the center of Manchester late at night. They served as the main focal point for the ladies of the night and long distance truckers ( bringing veg/meat to Smithfield Market or rolls of news print to the newspaper offices ), it also served as a place for us youngsters to try and find a skipper ( place to sleep ) for the rest of Sunday. My preference was the ladies of the night, being young and even younger looking I seemed to appeal to these ladies who would take me under their wing ( but definitely not in a motherly way ) and take me home with them. I would be well cared for by these ladies bathed, fed, and given lessons (!) before being allowed to sleep until late Sunday evening. Others however (and me sometimes) had no recourse but to settle for the Steamers or sleep in a cold damp derelict building with no comforts at all ( I have done this hundreds of times).
So as you can see life in central Manchester was not all Harold Wilson,smog and cloth caps,it was a lively and vibrant city that has given the entertainment industry no end of household names and myself some unforgetable memories.
Well thats all for the time being but I would like to finish by quoting I wish,I wish,I wish in vain that I could sit simply in that room again (Dylan).
Your contribution is fascinating, and excellently written, I think readers will agree. I hope you've found a more secure abode than the one you had then! Thank you for your valuable insights into Manchester city centre of the early sixties. Reminds me a bit of the film 'Hell Is A City' made in 1961.
Name: John Nolan
Regarding: West Didsbury and Withington Hospital
Current location: Gunnislake in Cornwall
I left Manchester in 1975 when I moved to the Southwest to join the Royal Navy. I love your site. It brings back so many memories. I lived in Moorfield Road, West Didsbury between 1967 and 1975. Dora from New York (December 2001 to January 2002) talked about the field opposite Withington Hospital and the subsequent building of Elizabeth Slinger St. The field she is talking about was in fact the old part of Withington Hospital which was situated on the far side of Nell Lane. When they pulled it down they left just grass. She is right about Elizabeth Slinger Street being originally a cul-de-sac. My mate, Steve's father (cant remember his surname) was the first caretaker of the Ellizabeth Slinger School (for disabled people), for all I know he may still have been the caretaker for many years after I left Manchester. We used to play on the fields Dora spoke about. Part of the fields. The right-hand part of the fields, as your looking toward Withington Hospital, (stood on Fielden Road looking at the Hospital)was made into a hospital car park in 1972. The part of the fields you were talking about with the new Elizabeth Slinger building on, is the far left hand side of the fields and was was actually part of school playing fields. The centre part of the fields is where they extended Elizabeth Slinger Street and is the part on which the old buildings of Withington Hospital stood.
Love the site keep up the good work. Your photo's bring back some marvellous memories.
That's interesting - The last time I was in this area was for the filming of 'Derek', directed by John McCormack - the hospital scenes were done in a disused ward in the geriatric wing, which I believe is to close. Hospital scenes from the other film, 'Daddyfox', were done there too. Thanks very much for your contribution.
Catching up with Manchester online again. I'd just like to make sure I'm on your 'personal' e-mail file as I too would be interested in your upcoming book (and please accept my congratulations before the fact)
Just a few musings... I used to work at the National Westminster Bank at 55 King Street, in fact I started work there the day it opened. I remember it was a short distance to the underground Market Centre from the bank's back door, which came in very handy when one needed an emergency pair of tights. I recall buying all my shoes there, cost 2 pounds 50p, as well as jewellery, tea towels and so on. I don't remember there being any food sold there, but I could be wrong. I also remember walking through the tunnel to Kendalls in the late 50s and early 60s. It was quite exotic to me, as I seem to remember a carpeted hallway and glass cases on the walls, displaying quite high quality goods from the store. Sadly, such a practice would seem to be unwise now.
Though we lived in Sale, 'big' shopping would often be done in Manchester and I remember the vastness and high ceilings of the big stores; Lewis', C & A.,Debenhams and Kendalls. My sister and I visited Manchester last Summer for a funeral but I was quite astounded by the change in the city centre. Yes, I miss some of those old haunts, but in general we were most impressed by the cleanliness and friendliness we found there. We were staying in Stockport and drove through several of the outlying 'villages' which appear not to have changed at all. We also visited Ashton on Mersey, where we grew up, and were able to recall all the 1950's shopkeepers as we walked through. The facades are almost completely the same. I've been living in Canada since 1981 and never thought I could ever move back to England but after my visit, I think my opinion has changed. I never thought of Manchester as somewhere to spend a holiday, but I've certainly been passing such an idea to my friends.
Many thanks again for your work
Ottawa, Ont, Canada.
Ah yes, glass cases displaying foods, in Kendals' tunnel - that rings a bell with me. Two of the four department stores you mention - Lewis's and C&A have gone. Shopping nowadays is less exotic than it used to be. You can either spend a fortune - on King St, or perhaps at the Trafford Centre - or you could spend very little and still come away clutching lots of bags of shopping - Primark, which has taken over Lewis's building -seems to have very good quality at alarmingly low prices. I'd still prefer to have Lewis's back. Manchester is taking on sophisticated airs, but losing its original character and uniqueness.
Aidan, Thank you so very much for providing me with a wonderful evening of reminscence. I grew up in Manchester and left there at age twenty for the United States, I was last in England in 1992. Now in my seventies, armchair traveling is what I prefer and your website is really appreciated.
I'm so glad you appreciate Eyewitness in Manchester - It's interesting that you call it 'armchair travelling' - I'd like to make the experience closer to real travelling and I'm looking into how I can do it. I hope that you will spend many more evenings reminiscing over the photographs, articles and reader contributions.