A few months ago I
had a strange and very vivid dream. I dreamt that the whole of Manchester city
centre had been demolished. I stood at the top of Mosley Street and
looked around at an almost unrecognisable scene. All the familiar
buildings had been reduced to piles of rubble. Piccadilly Plaza
was a small mountain of broken concrete and twisted steel rods.
The buildings overlooking Piccadilly Gardens had been pounded into
mounds of stone, brick and glass. All the major landmarks,
including the town hall, Portland Tower, the warehouses of Chinatown,
the former Lewis's, now Primark, and Debenhams had been torn down.
Only the street layout indicated that this was Manchester. An eerie
silence hung over the scene. I tried to recapture in my mind's eye the
Manchester that had been. I bitterly regretted that I hadn't taken more
It wasn't the Blitz or nuclear annihilation that had carried out the
devastation, but the over-enthusiastic redevelopment policy of an
imaginary city council, who had evidently decided to start again from
scratch. I was wondering if they were satisfied with the
destruction they had wrought, and how the new Manchester they had
planned for us was going to look, when I woke up, relieved to discover
it was all a dream - or was it?
My subconscious mind was probably reacting to what has been going on in
Manchester for some time now - widespread redevelopment and
construction, with the removal of countless older and even some newer
The vision has overtones of wartime destruction, and how people must
have felt 60 years ago. It's interesting to note that Manchester
Corporation's 1945 Plan for Manchester envisaged the clearance of all
but a handful of landmark buildings, the rest to be replaced by a grand
vision of 1940's style civic uniformity.
It's well known that the Plan suggested that present town hall might be
removed as part of a scheme for a newer and bigger town hall. It was
only a suggestion, but it still seems shocking today.
As a person interested in architecture, I'm fascinated by
demolition. One of the first demolition jobs I remember was the
old fleapit cinema on Castle Street Edgeley. I was amazed at the sight
of the building with its exterior walls ripped away, seats hanging in
mid-air, flock wallpaper and proscenium arch exposed to the
daylight. When I got home I recreated the demolition with my Lego
bricks, and finally took a gleeful joy in smashing everything to pieces,
making my father look up from his racing results and smile.
Demolition is considered to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from
the prestigious and almost god-like profession of architect. And yet it
is an important part of the cycle of urban renewal.
RIBA President George Ferguson, whom I met at a Civic Society event in
November, has proposed that there should be an 'X-list' of buildings,
mostly from the sixties, that ought to be demolished. People have been
encouraged to 'name and shame' the buildings they would like to see the
back of. Suggestions included Piccadilly Plaza and the Arndale Centre
but also Urbis and the Trafford Centre.
On a more serious note, buildings that have
clearly served their time need to be taken down. Like dead trees in a
forest, the removal of outdated and unusable structures is an essential
part of re-making the city.
The problem is, who is to decide which buildings are outdated and
In traditional Oriental cultures, the substance of buildings had no
special significance. Temples, pagodas and other structures -
mostly made of wood - were taken down and replaced every few decades or
so. Only in recent times has the Western idea of preservation taken hold.
In Manchester in the 19th century there was little regard for things
ancient. The Victorians destroyed most of the remaining medieval
buildings in Manchester. The Roman Fort had already been plundered
for building materials and the site was later covered by railway
viaducts and industrial sheds.
The trend for appreciating and saving old buildings is only a recent
phenomenon - I place the watershed around 1975. Some, perhaps
wrinklier people, would like everything old to be preserved. Others,
perhaps of a more youthful persuasion, would be happy to see it swept
away. But in my opinion it's a question of finding the right balance
between the two.
For me, buildings are more than just bricks and mortar. They are a kind
of memory bank, a record of the values and aspirations of the people who
built them, a mnemonic for our own lives. How often do we look at
a familiar building and think and remember people and events which took
place in and around it?
Once a building is demolished, another piece of the mosaic of the city
is chipped out. The city quickly adapts to its absence, all trace of it
is erased and often you'd never know it had been there. Mostly the only
definitive proof of the existence and appearance of a demolished
building is a photograph. Buildings, like people, have no power once
they have gone and can easily be forgotten.
Too often, familiar buildings disappear from the cityscape without
warning. It's as if an elderly relative was taken away in the
middle of the night and disposed of, without ceremony or memorial.
In the past local authorities employed photographers to go round and
record the city prior to demolition and reconstruction. Today most local
authorities don't concern themselves with such things . Buildings
disappear unphotographed, undocumented and unacknowledged.
We live in an age of amnesia. The Manchester of just a few decades ago
is a lost era that only nostalgia buffs and dewy eyed oldies seem to
take any interest in or remember.
I remember. I have vivid memories of my pre-teen years. I've also
inherited a feel for the earlier 20th century from my father, born 1908,
and my mother, born 1917. But I'm as fascinated by the future now
as when I was a child watching Tomorrow's World.
The more buildings that are demolished, the more we forget. Even
when we renovate and repurpose new buildings, we often lose the aura and
atmosphere of the original. I've seen many Victorian interiors ruined by
home DIY-style renovation jobs. The idea of reconstructing buildings
destroyed by war, as has been extensively done in Germany and Central
Europe, is regarded here as unfashionable and retrograde.
Manchester is changing, much of it for the better. But let's
pause to remember the buildings that have quietly disappeared, almost
without our noticing, buildings that could never have been saved, but
were still worth taking note of, at least with a photo or two and a bit
of documentation. And let's also remember the perfectly viable
buildings that have been needlessly bulldozed during present and
previous waves of redevelopment.
To finish with here's a sample of demolished structures - good, bad,
beautiful and ugly, which for various reasons I wasn't able to
The Victoria Buildings near
Manchester Cathedral - demolished in the 1940s following war damage.
The Assizes Court Strangeways,
demolished after WW2 damage.
York House on Major St,
warehouse from 1911 of revolutionary design, pulled down in 1975 to make
way for a shopping centre that was never built.
St Paul's Church, near the
junction of Gt Ancoats St and Oldham Road
Longford Hall Stretford
The Lancaster Arcade, near the
present site of Urbis
The Lancashire and Yorkshire
Railway building facing Victoria Station
The former railway bridge over
Great Ancoats Street
Hulme, until the clearances of
The Hulme Crescents and
neighbouring housing developments
'Fort Ardwick' near Hyde Road
The 1960's tower built next to
Salford Museum and Art Gallery
The entire district known as
'Hanky Park' in Salford
The original St Mary's Hospital
now site of Whitworth West Apartments opposite the Palace Theatre
On the west side of Albert
Square, two Victorian buildings, demolished in the 1960s
The Grand Hotel on the corner of
Piccadilly and Portland St
The Milne Building on Mosley St
on the site of Eagle Star House, now under demolition.
All the buildings which used to
occupy the site of the Arndale Centre, most of them never documented.
The old Post Office building on
The ramshackle Mazels second
hand electronics shop, which stood on London Rd opposite the former BT
The recently demolished red
brick school building on Upper Brook St and Dover St
The former Little Chef at the
junction of Upper Brook St and Plymouth Grove
The Waggon and Horses pub Ardwick
The Hospital for Skin Diseases on Quay Street
The Devonshire pub
Tommy Ducks pub Lower Mosley
Lower Mosley Street Bus Station
Cheetham Hill Baths
Cross Street Unitarian Chapel
The residential buildings on
Oldfield Brow Salford, as drawn by LS Lowry
St Michael's Church near St
Michael's Flags, now known as Angel Meadow Park
The Grain Elevator in the
Exchange Station, once site of
the longest platform in Europe
Both older and more recent
Piccadilly / London Road station buildings
The block of dwellings next to
the River Irk on Collyhurst Road
The Rialto cinema Bury Old Road
And the list goes on... If you can think of an
interesting building that has disappeared from the city, please
contact. You can view images of many of the above locations
at the Manchester Local Studies online image collection. Go to www.images.manchester.gov.uk