MANCHESTER IN 1953 a smoke-blackened, war-damaged, smog-ridden city. You can drive down Piccadilly and Market Street but beware of traffic jams. Steam trains huff and puff around a decrepit and underfunded local railway system. Rationing is still in force and money is 'tight' but at least it's a peaceful and crime-free place, or maybe not...
Ordsall Hall stands in the midst of postwar housing, not far from Robert Hall St.

A GANG ATTACK on a school in Salford caused 899 worth of damage in early February 1953. Salford's "Z" gang left its trademark - a blood red Z painted on a blackboard in Trafford Road Girls School on Robert-Hall-street Ordsall after systematically wrecking the interior of the school and then setting it on fire. Drawings by children were ripped down and ink poured over them. In one of the rooms the words 'This is the Z Gang' were scrawled on the wall.

EWM says: This report illustrates how vandalism and gang-related crime existed in an era people remember as carefree and safe. Trafford Rd Girls School and the nearby street which inspired 'Coronation St' have long since been replaced by new housing. One of the few buildings in the area still there today is Ordsall Hall.

The River Mersey at Northenden, with the Tatton Arms pub. Once a centre for boating, strengthened banks on both sides of the river prevent flooding.

ARCTIC BLIZZARDS caused havoc in the Manchester area during February 1953. Many villages were cut off by snow. And on the 14th of February the Mersey banks were threatened by high water.

EWM says: Cold winters and flooding are less of a problem in the Manchester area than in the past. Winters are generally milder, and the Mersey and Irwell banks have been strengthened. In Salford, an elbow-shaped curve of the River Irwell near Strangeways was straightened out, improving water flow and putting an end to flooding in Salford. The work was finally completed in 1971. Find out more in the Salford Local History Library at Salford Museum and Art Gallery.

Looking east along the now disused South Manchester Loop Line towards Levenshulme South Station. Just ahead is A6 Stockport Rd bridge and 1891 station building. The line is now used as a greenway or footpath. This section has since been cleared and covered in tarmac.

THE STATE OF THE RAILWAYS in and around Manchester is the subject of much discussion in 1953. An article published on Feb 16 discusses the future of suburban railways in Manchester.

There are two alternatives for the railway system in Manchester. Either 1) abandon all but the most important stations and confine train services to long and medium distances, or 2) modernise the system in the hope of recapturing a larger share of traffic. Since the early part of the century the importance of the railways has been in decline. It is doubtful if the revenue from the 100 or so stations in the Manchester area justifies maintaining them.

One of the problems is that the fare structure is complicated and people think that it is expensive. A simplified fare structure and an easy to remember timetable might be able to attract large traffic. The chief disadvantage of the rail system around Manchester is the lack of a north-south route, requiring passengers to cross between Victoria Station and London Road.

The recently reported electrification of the Stockport and Wilmslow lines is currently being considered, though it is unlikely to go ahead while severe restrictions on transport investment continue. Proper planning will be required and an independent commission will need to find out if a modernised rail system in Manchester is viable. If not suburban lines will have to close and the railways will concentrate only on long-distance services.

EWM says: Contrary to expectations, electrification of the Manchester Wilmslow London line went ahead and was completed in 1960. New station buildings were constructed at Oxford Rd and London Rd, which was renamed Piccadilly. In the 1980's a short stretch of track was built in Salford enabling trains from Bolton to travel via Oxford Rd and the south, and from 1992, Metrolink trams started operating on local rail lines, as well as city centre street. Piccadilly Station was rebuilt in time for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Rail passenger numbers are increasing, and improvements are being made, but the network still suffers from many shortcomings. Find out more about the history of bus transport in Manchester at the Museum of Transport, Boyle St.

Early morning view from the end of Victoria Station over what was once Exchange Station which only the cast iron footbridge remains. Europe's longest platform ran by the tracks lower left. Landmarks include Trinity Church, flats off Chapel St and Threlfalls Brewery, renovated as high tech offices and named The Deva Centre,

TRANSPORT IS EXPANDING in 1953, with many special offers on both trains and planes. Here is a small sample of the fares on offer:

British Railways Manchester to London 'penny a mile starlight special' 30s 6d nonstop train time 4 hours, compared with the coach time of 10 hours. Whit Week runabout tickets issued at Manchester Exchange and Victoria Stations 31/- third class (children under 14 half fare) for travel to and from Southport, Blackpool and other Lancashire resorts as well as the Lake District. Ticket valid on Lake Windermere BR steamers. A return to London for the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday 2 June costs 38/3.

Manchester to Dublin return on Aer Lingus 6, to Belfast 5.10s and to the Isle of Man 4.18.0. A single to New York on the Royal Sabena Service every Saturday from Jan 1954 costs 137.10.0. A winter season return is 211.8.0 with a free baggage allowance of 66 lbs. Tourist fares on the Wednesday departure cost 95.7.0 and return 146.12.00, with a baggage allowance of 44 lbs. In November the Lord Mayor of Manchester flew to New York on the new service from Ringway by Sabena Belgian Airlines. Travel expenses were covered by the airline.

EWM says: Wasn't the old money confusing! 30 shillings (30s or 30/-) is in today's money £1.50. Sixpence (6d) is two and a half pence. . 38/3 'thirty eight shillings and thruppence' was... I'll leave you to work that out. Today you can fly Ryanair to Dublin for less than £6. A return tourist flight to the US will cost around £300 - the baggage allowance remains the same 20 kilos. View archive photos of Manchester Airport at the Aviation Viewing Park.

The disused Manchester to Sheffield railway line runs along the Longdendale valley, part of Cheshire in its original boundaries. Below us is the entrance to the Woodhead Tunnel. The line is now used as a footpath.

DURING 1952 and 1953 engineers were carrying out work on the Manchester to Sheffield electrification scheme. Work is running a year behind schedule due to material shortages and bad weather. It is hoped that by spring of 1954, Manchester and Sheffield will be linked by 65mph electric-hauled expresses, the first of their type in Great Britain. Electrification with its overhead cables is not pretty but it offers cheaper and quicker travel. The Bo Bo electric engines running on 1500 volts can draw freight trains where two steam engines were required.

EWM says: The electric service via the Woodhead tunnel began in 1954, but the future didn't live up to expectations. The outdated 1500 volt electrics and a chronic lack of investment caused operational difficulties. The line was closed on 17 July 1981 and is now a walkway, but the tunnels are still intact. Find out all about the Woodhead line in 'Woodhead: the Electric Railway' by local railway historian Eddie Johnson.

All photos and articles © Aidan O'Rourke

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